Northern Shade Gardening

Shade Plants by Birdbath

Thursday, August 27, 2009 Category: Garden Design
birdbath shade plantings

birdbath shade plantings

This woodland birdbath is located under my willow tree. The garden bed is backed by a fence to the south and west, so it mostly gets some early morning sun, and some dappled light during the day. These shade plants have all done well with low light, and competing with the willow roots. Very few weeds ever grow here. I always enjoy gardening in this shady green area.

You can see that the birds would have every right to complain right now. I’ve let the birdbath go dry, but it will soon be refilled. I usually check it every day or two, empty it, and refill it. The birds enjoy a good splash about in the water, or a guarded drink. Some birds are extra cautious, pausing every few seconds to check around, while some just splash away, sending water droplets spraying to the nearest plants. Some birds bring a friend to keep guard from a nearby branch.

Behind the birdbath are Matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich fern). These ones grow about 1 m (3 feet) tall, and don’t mind this shady location. They give a lush look to the planting, with their large, arching fronds. On either side of the birdbath are the much daintier looking Adiantum pedatum (maidenhair fern). Both ferns sway in the breezes. A few Dryopteris expansa (spiny wood fern) and Onoclea sensibilis (sensitive fern) grow on the far left edge.

Asarum europaeum (European ginger) grows at the front of the bed. The rounded leaves make a great groundcover here, very close to the tree trunk.

The heart shaped leaves with silver highlights are Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’, and make a nice contrast. Behind them in the darkest, driest corner, grows the uncomplaining Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley).

Just out of sight to the back and right there are Polygonatum commutatum (solomon’s seal). Their slender arching stems form a bracket to this group. Just to the left of the photo are Brunnera macrophylla ‘Mr. Morse’, which have very similar leaves to the Jack Frost, but with white flowers in spring. All of these shade plants have done very well in this garden under the willow.

frog birdbath

frog birdbath

Here is my other birdbath, under a pine tree. This one has a hexagonal shape.There is a relief of a frog on a lily pad inside the bowl, and carvings of lily pads around the pedestal. It gets double the amount of birds as my other one. There are tall shade plants around this birdbath, but above it is more open than the birdbath under the willow. The Hydrangea paniculata has just started blooming, and the white flowers are halfway open. A large Matteuccia struthiopteris frond is just about as tall as the shrub on the other side. To the left grow some Pulmonaria plants.

woodland birdbath with water

woodland birdbath with water

Now the woodland birdbath is filled with water, and ready for some feathery customers at the bird spa.

Campanula Haylodgensis a Double Bellflower

Tuesday, August 25, 2009 Category: Perennials

Campanula ‘Haylodgensis’ (haylodge bellflower) is a sweet double flowering Campanula with small lavender blue flowers on a dwarf plant. The many folded petals on each flower are exquisite. These bellflower plants looks delicate, but they have overwintered in zone 3 very well.

Campanula haylodgensis (haylodge bellflower) blue flowers 2

Campanula haylodgensis (haylodge bellflower) blue flowers 2

Haylodgensis is a cross between Campanula cochlearifolia (fairy thimble bellflower) and Campanula carpatica (carpathian bellflower), both of which grow well in my garden. You can see many of their traits in these plants. The double flowers remind me of the C. cochlearifolia ‘Elizabeth Oliver’ double, but these are about twice the size.

My group of Haylodgensis are currently growing in a spot that’s probably a little too shady, but they still get a good number of flowers. They are not as upright, because their current garden site gets more shade than I thought it would when I first planted them. They have tolerated a low amount of light in my garden, but when they are finished blooming this year I’m going to transplant them to a part-shade garden area that gets a bit more sun.

Campanula haylodgensis (haylodge bellflower) blue flowers 3

Campanula haylodgensis (haylodge bellflower) blue flowers 3

The  flowers of haylodge bellflower are like miniature rose flowers, with petals that curve back slightly. They face mostly upwards and outwards, so they are easy to admire. In the above photo I seem to have captured mostly the back of the pretty flowers, but it does show their wonderful colour. These plants didn’t start blooming until the beginning of August in my garden, which is the latest of all of my Campanula. I wonder if they would start blooming earlier with a little more light too.

The dwarf perennials are about 10 cm (4 inches) tall, so they look good at the front of the border, where you can easily admire the beautiful lavender blue petals. Mine are planted next to a sidewalk, and they soften the edge.

Campanula ‘Haylodgensis’ are more hardy than their dainty look suggests. They are a charming little perennial, covered in  beautiful flowers, with a multitude of petals. You can read about another double bellflower, ‘Elizabeth Oliver’, in this follow up post.

Campanula haylodgensis (haylodge bellflower) blue flowers 1

Campanula haylodgensis (haylodge bellflower) blue flowers 1

Cornus Canadensis, a Woodland Groundcover

Sunday, August 23, 2009 Category: Perennials
Cornus canadensis in Banff National Park

Cornus canadensis in Banff National Park

While hiking in the Rocky Mountains last week, I saw the ground under the conifers covered with a lovely carpet of Cornus canadensis (bunchberry), rising up through the moss. The little white flowers stretched out in the distance, making a wonderful groundcover among the evergreens.

I was inspired to recreate the little woodland floor scene of the first photo in my own garden. The reality of the bunchberry planting is getting a little fuzzy now, compared to the picture in my memory. I have a suburban sized garden, so the planting would have to be a smaller version. Back in town this week, I looked around the greenhouses for some Cornus canadensis, but I only found three healthy looking plants. My picture of a carpet of these perennials under my conifers was reduced to a carpet sample. Also, the ground under my conifers in front is rather dry, so no moss grows there. However, I do have a small group of this little woodland groundcover now, and they are charming, if a little downscaled from my imaginary garden. It reminds me of when they lowered the Stonehenge model in the movie Spinal Tap.

Here are my three bunchberry perennials in their pots still. I might try transplanting some of the moss from my back patio to the garden area under my spruce, around the Cornus canadensis. It’s certainly shady enough, and maybe with a bit of watering in, it might get established., even if it’s not the really beautiful moss of the forest floor.

Cornus canadensis in pots

Cornus canadensis in pots

In the montane forest where I saw the bunchberries, the trees were competing with each other for light, so most of the branches were up high, and the area underneath was fairly open. The forest was mainly Douglas fir, lodgepole pine, and white spruce. It was damp, and wispy lichen hung from the trees. Mixed in with the Cornus canadensis on the forest floor, were some Linnaea borealis (twinflower). These woodland groundcovers made a very serene scene.

My garden conditions are not quite the same as the montane forest. I have pine and spruce, and the spruce have branches close to the ground. It’s also drier, and I’m missing the wispy lichen, but I think the bunchberry will add a woodsy feel to my suburban forest site.

Bunchberry gets large clusters of red berries after the flowers fade. Perhaps some of the local wildlife will enjoy the berries from these plants after I’ve enjoyed the flowers. In the fall, the foliage turns bright colours, which will extend the interest. You can see the fall colour change of bunchberry in this post.

For now, I have a smaller version of the woodland floor from the Rockies, with Cornus canadensis plants. I can always extend it next year. Do you ever get inspired by natural areas when planning your garden?