Shady Foliage Combination

Helleborus Brunnera Athyrium foliage combination
Helleborus Brunnera Athyrium foliage combination

Brunnera, Helleborus and Athyrium ‘Ghost’ make a great foliage combination in the garden. I especially like these three shade plants together, as their leaves look good all season, even when they are not flowering. This group of perennials is flourishing in a shady garden area with about an hour or two of direct sun a day, a bit of dappled light, and some extra light in spring before the leaves come out on the willow. You can click the pictures to see the whole photo, if you’re viewing at a smaller resolution.

The Brunnera macropylla ‘Looking Glass’ (Siberian bugloss) leaves start off with more green in the spring, but by summer the foliage develops a mainly silver colour, with small green lines along the leaf veins. This colour is very eye-catching, especially in the shadows of the shade garden. In spring this perennial has a bonus of very beautiful light blue flowers above the leaves, which last for 6 weeks or more. The Brunnera add pretty heart shaped leaves and a frosty silver colour to this foliage combination for the rest of the season.

The Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ has very dark green, stiff leaves, with faint light green markings on the veins. I really like the contrast next to the Brunnera leaves, with the inverse colouring. The beautiful green leaves are displayed very early in the spring, when most everything else is still underground or brown. I would plant another group of ‘Ivory Prince’ in another shady garden area, but I can’t find any around locally this year, so I’ll have to wait for this group to expand. This is a great shade plant for its long season of  interest, and I especially like the thick, dark green foliage next to the other perennials in this combination.

I’m pleased with how long the Helleborus has held onto the colourful bracts for the flowers. In early spring these had rose pink buds, that opened to cream, pink and green flowers. The bracts which hold the flowers have a greenish yellow colour and are still holding up, looking like flowers three months later.

Athyrium' Ghost' Helleborus 'Ivory Prince'
Athyrium' Ghost' Helleborus 'Ivory Prince'

The Athyrium ‘Ghost’ fern has very silvery fronds, even when they don’t have shafts of sunlight highlighting them, as they do in the first photo. The dark purple axis down the middle of the frond really sets off those silvery pinna. The silver fronds stand out when surrounded by darker leaves in the shade. The feathery texture of the foliage contrasts nicely with the other solid leaves in this combination. The ghost fern comes up later in spring than the other two perennials, but by mid summer the plant is taller than the Helleborus or Brunnera.

This trio of perennials is one of my favourite foliage combinations  in the shade garden right now.  Are you enjoying any particular combinations in your garden?

16 thoughts on “Shady Foliage Combination”

    1. Anna, the Brunnera and the fern show up really well in the garden. At dusk, their silver leaves are still visible as the other plants start fading into the shadows. I’ve found them both very hardy too.

    1. Birgitta, the Helleborus and Brunnera do make good partners. They both do well in the low light conditions, and their foliage looks good together. I like the Athyrium ‘Ghost’ with them too, since it has such finely cut fronds and that silvery colour.

  1. That is a gorgeous combination Shady ! .. I love the different textures with ferns and the tougher leaves from the hellebore .. I can’t wait to see the two new hellebore I have planted so now I have three in a row in the raised bed by the house .. already I am thinking of next Spring ? LOL
    Great picture .. it almost cools me off !
    Joy : )

    1. Joy, I like the texture contrast between the fern and hellebores too. I really fell for hellebores this past year, and they especially brought a real gardening lift in early spring. Isn’t it fun to look forward to seeing new perennials in the next season? I enjoy the anticipation part of gardening.

      Rebecca, the Helleborus are rated for a warmer zone, but all of the plants came through last winter perfectly fine, with just fall leaf cover. Their best feature is that the evergreen leaves are visible as soon as the snow melts in early spring. These plants made me feel like I was gardening in April in Edmonton, while most of the garden was still covered in snow. They are immensely cheering in very early spring, after a long time with no greenery except the conifers. The flowers are very early and long lasting.

  2. More beaufitul pictures, I really love the brunnera leaves. I’m not familiar with helleborus, but it is absolutely lovely. The bracts really do look like flowers and are a nice added touch. :)

  3. That is a really lovely combination. The cool silvers would just gleam in the shade and the textures really complement each other. You have an excellent eye for putting foliage together to create something greater!

    1. The Garden Ms. S, I like the way these plants look good all season long. The Helleborus group extends to the left, and the Brunnera to the right. These perennials have done well here, considering that they are planted in between large roots.

      Teresa, thanks, some large trees really give a garden a different atmosphere, with little shadowy nooks and flashes of dappled light.

  4. I always find you’re a great resource for foliage ideas, and I appreciate the details on exact amount of light these plants get. I’m planning a shady-spot planting so I’ll be reading you more avidly than ever!

    1. Pomona, it’s always fun to plan a new planting spot, and I bet you have started choosing the bulbs for it already.

      Some woodland plants really appreciate getting a good head start in the spring before the deciduous leaves come out and cut into their sunlight.

  5. You do have the nicest combinations for shade gardens~~I love Brunnera, Helleborus and Athyrium ‘Ghost’ together. I can’t wait to see how Ivory Prince does this next winter in my garden. gail

    1. Gail, the leaves of Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ came through the winter beautifully in my garden. Some of the gardeners from warmer zones mentioned that they trimmed the leaves off in in late winter, just before the flowers started, as they had faded. I think that the snow and leaf cover here helps keep them looking good. I especially like the fat pink buds as they are about to open.

  6. Very beautiful. Your website is a wonderful resource for someone trying to learn about shade gardening. :) Can you identify the plant in the upper right corner? Is it some type of hosta?

    1. Eva, the plants at the top with plain green leaves are Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley), while the one on the right with silvery gray, almost white, leaves is Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass’, and the plants at the bottom with shiny leaves, lighter veins and yellow green flowers are Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’. The fern is Athyrium ‘Ghost’.

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