Here is a picture tour of the perennials that grow under my willow tree. All of these plants have done well in this shady spot with dappled light. There is a fence to the south and west, so the garden area gets sun in the early morning, and then some dappled light through the shifting willow branches during the day. These plants have managed to compete with the willow roots, and thrive in this area.
The walk goes clockwise, following along the edge of the bed, so mostly the pictures below just show the shorter plants in front. The photos overlap slightly, as you walk along. It starts with the blue flowered Campanula, which are just outside the edge of the willow leaves, and ends at the Epimedium.
There are lots of silver leafed plants here, because the silver colour adds some sparkle in the shadows. The light colour shows up well in the shade, and looks good next to the different shades of green. The main silver colour comes from the the Brunnera macrophylla (siberian bugloss) and Pulmonaria (lungwort). The Athyrium ‘Ghost’ (ghost fern) has silver fronds, and Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ (Japanese painted fern) has highlights of silver mixed in with green and purple. There are also glints of white from the variegated Hosta ‘Francee’. The darker green colours tend to fade into the background under the willow, so the groups of lighter colours make it much more interesting, and the darker colours show up well against them in the shade garden.
Some of the perennials, like the ferns, have very light textures, and some, like the Hosta, have much heavier textures. The plants with the finest cut leaves are the ferns and the Aruncus aethusifolius (dwarf goatsbeard). The most robust ferns here are the Athyrium filix-femina (lady ferns). They send up new fronds all summer, and grow thick and lush. At the back, with just the occasional frond poking into the photos, are some Matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich ferns). These ferns grow the tallest in my garden, and have a vase shape with fewer fronds. The Dryopteris expansa (spiny wood fern) is medium sized fern, and mostly keeps to itself. My smallest perennial here with finely cut leaves is the Aruncus aethusifolius. It is about 30 cm tall, and has done very well so far, planted very close to the willow tree trunk.
The perennials with the largest most solid leaves under here are the Hosta, Brunnera, Asarum and Pulmonaria. These look great next to the ferns, and keep the bed from being a solid mass of shapeless green.
The tallest perennials that I’ve been able to grow under the willow shade are the Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’ (white bleeding hearts), and the Matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich ferns). The ostrich ferns are in some of the darkest corners, but the bleeding hearts are in a lighter part of the canopy. I’ve planted some Polygonatum commutatum var Giganteum (giant solomon’s seal), too. So far it’s only 60 cm (2 ft) tall, but I do have hope that it will take its name more seriously as it gets older. I tried Aruncus dioicus (tall goatsbeard) under here, but it didn’t do well, whereas it thrives in other shady spots.
Once you get to the Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Lilafee’, you’re at the other edge of the willow canopy. All of these plants have thrived here under the swaying branches of the willow. I love this tree, which forms a wall of green in this corner of my garden, and I’m glad these perennials will grow underneath it to create a shady retreat.