Shady Bed Under Conifers

I’ve been expanding the shady bed that I created under the conifer trees in the front yard. Some of the branches are low, so I’ve added some  shorter groundcover plants where there isn’t as much room. The newest woodland additions are Asarum arifolium (wild ginger), Hepatica nobilis (liverleaf) and Brunnera macropylla ‘Looking Glass’ (siberian bugloss).

front shade bed under conifers
front shade bed under conifers

I love the texture of the natural mulch that has accumulated under the conifers. There is a layer of decomposing tree debris that is as thick as my trowel blade. The ground is very easy to plant in. I can make the planting holes with my bare hands, since it’s so soft.  The new plants will thrive in this location.

Asarum arifolium new shipped plants
Asarum arifolium new shipped plants

Here are the Asarum arifolium plants that I ordered. They looked very healthy as I unpacked them. The rootballs were nice and moist. The leaves are in good shape for having been through the mail.

Asarum arifolium (wild ginger) under spruce
Asarum arifolium (wild ginger) under spruce

These Asarum arifolium are  good looking wild gingers. However, I’m not sure if they will be fully hardy in zone 3. My Asarum europaeum have overwintered fine, so I went with ten of these groundcover plants. If they do well, I’ll expand the group next spring. They should fill in, and cover the ground with their wonderful leaves eventually.

Asarum arifolium (wild ginger) leaf closeup
Asarum arifolium (wild ginger) leaf closeup

Aren’t the leaves a great shape? They are halfway between an arrow and a heart shape. In the above photo two above, you can see the variety of leaf shapes, from arrow on the right, to heart on the left. Some of the leaves have faint markings. The markings should get more silvery as the plants grow, so I think they will fit in well with the silver colours running through this bed.

Asarum arifolium (wild ginger) group under spruce
Asarum arifolium (wild ginger) group under spruce

The roots of these Asarum had a very strong ginger smell as I unpacked and planted them. I think they’ll thrive in all the natural mulch that has accumulated here, and the conditions under the trees. By spring I’ll see if they tolerate  the Edmonton winter temperatures.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' (Siberian bugloss) under pine
Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ (Siberian bugloss) under pine

Here is a group of  Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ at the front of the bed. The leaves are holding up well to the mild frosts.  I’ve added a group of Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass’, which will have the most silver colour of all the perennials here, since they develop a strong overall silver colour in summer. The newly added Looking Glass is just around the pine, but their leaves don’t look as good as these yet.

Hepatica nobilis (liverleaf) dormant
Hepatica nobilis (liverleaf) dormant

This is  a group of Hepatica nobilis‘, which will have blue flowers in spring. They arrived dormant, so most of the interesting parts are underground right now. You can just see the green tips of two of the plants from the group of five. They should enjoy the shady location, with lots of humus, from decomposing tree debris. I got the idea for adding these from Dave at The Home Bug Garden.

Aruncus aethusifolius (dwarf goatsbeard) under pine
Aruncus aethusifolius (dwarf goatsbeard) under pine

Here are some of the Aruncus aethusifolius plants. that are planted on the west edge. There is a group of seven plants that go around the pine trunks to the left here. They will have creamy flowers next summer.

Epimedium 'Lilafee' under spruce
Epimedium ‘Lilafee’ under spruce

These Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Lilafee’ (lilac fairy barrenwort) that were planted earlier are thriving in this location, and expanding to cover their area. The light green leaves with the asymmetrical heart shapes show up well. In late spring they will have purple flowers with long spurs, held up above the leaves.

Hosta 'Ginko Craig' under spruce
Hosta ‘Ginko Craig’ under spruce

The two little Hosta ‘Ginko Craig’ are doing well so far. They are supposed to be good spreaders, so they should fill their section under the tree. The narrow margin of white on the leaves gives a little glimmer in the darker area under the trees.

Cornus canadensis (bunchberry) plant under spruce
Cornus canadensis (bunchberry) plant under spruce

There is a group of about 15 Cornus canadensis (bunchberry) now. I’ve been adding to this group as I found more in local greenhouses. They already look as if they are a natural part of the woodland floor, and you’d hardly know they have been recently planted. I’ve seen large patches of these spreading out under conifers in the mountains, so they will enjoy this shady site.

Cornus canadensis (bunchberry) under spruce 2
Cornus canadensis (bunchberry) under spruce 2

This natural groundcover should fill in well. I might end up adding some twinflower with them, as I’ve seen that combination in the forest, and the combination is an attractive woodland look.

front bed under conifers older plants
front bed under conifers older plants

I’ve been gradually expanding this woodland bed all summer, weaving between the conifers. I’m going for a look midway between a garden and a forest floor in this shady bed. These will probably be the last plants added for this year, since we are getting much cooler temperatures now. I have some ideas for more additions, and will probably start again in spring. I’d like to add some Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’, and some Pulmonaria. I’ve been very pleased with how healthy all the plants have been so far. They seem to be doing very well under the conifers. In spring, I’ll see how they overwintered here, and will expand this bed out to the north, to the next spruce tree. Here is an earlier post, about when this shade garden was first planted. This post shows some of the additional shade plantings. Here is another update from 2010 of the shady garden plants under the evergreens. You can read about many of the Tiarella (foamflowers) I have planted under these trees in this article from 2012.

20 thoughts on “Shady Bed Under Conifers”

  1. What a lovely combination of plants. I have the wild ginger on my wish list. I will be interested to here how the two different species perform for you. Great to add some Pulmonaria but there are lots to choice from, I have several but there are lots more varieties I would love. I haven’t started any autumn planting yet, let alone finished! I hope to do some dividing but have another month at least before I need stop for the winter.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

    1. Sylvia, I like the Asarum europaeum (European ginger) as it has been hardy here, and has shiny leaves. I love the leaf shape of A. arifolium, so I’m hoping that it is hardy too. The hardy gingers make great groundcovers. I like the silvery Pulmonaria, and of course those pretty blue flowers in spring. You are fortunate to still have gardening time ahead. We are getting lots of frost this week, and probably some white stuff soon, so I have to wrap it up, though I still have some ideas for new expansions.

      Helen, I would love a shredder. I get many fallen willow branches. Right now I do various manual methods of shredding the leaves for my other beds. There is a thick layer of needles, cones, scales, and twigs under the conifers here. There is also an accumulation of decaying deciduous leaves that blew in there over the past years, accumulating under the evergreen boughs. The top is very light and spongy, a really nice texture.

      Rebecca, I ordered the Asarum from Fraser’s Thimble Farms in BC. I also ordered bulbs from them, and was pleased with both orders. This was the first time I ever ordered from them. The plants were at my door 4 days after I ordered them. The bunchberry is starting to look a lot like it does in the woods. I would love to get some moss growing there, too, but it might be too dry. I’ll see next year.

      Deborah, I hope your bulb order arrives before the snow. I ended up planting just under 900 bulbs, so I hope they get time to settle in.

      The gingers are slow growers, but I would love for them to spread faster. Since my European ginger have not spread much yet, I haven’t divided them, but I would love to increase their numbers. Perhaps next year.

      Dave, it’s good to hear that your Hepatica nobilis has toughed out some adverse conditions and bloomed. This is a blue form, so I’m looking to seeing the pretty flowers in spring. I hope there is sufficient light for them.

      It is interesting to see which plants thrive and take off, like your bluebell, and which are more reserved. We plan and plant, but when working with living things, nature takes over, and I love seeing how it turns out.

  2. Looks like a lovely work in progress. One thing I need to do in my dry shade garden makeover is build up the surface mulch. I don’t have evergreen needles to add naturally to the soil, but I have a lot of maple leaves which always go onto the garden. As they tend to mat down come spring, there’s one thing I’d like to invest in: a shredder.

  3. Terrific additions, the ginger & brunnera go so well together. Do you mind sharing where you ordered your asarum from? I’ve been looking for some this summer, with no luck. You’re lucky to have such quality planting soil beneath the tree. Your bunchberry looks great for having been recently planted, I suspect it will fill in very quickly. I *think* I have all of my fall planting done, but one can never tell for sure.

  4. Except for bulbs (I am still waiting for Veseys order), I am finished my fall planting. You never really know when it will snow, and I prefer not to be out ther planting then, and I am sure that my plants would appreciate it too. Last year there was snow in Owen Sound the middle of November, and it never went away until late March.
    I have European ginger in my garden, this is its second summer. Is it hard to divide? I would love to increase it.

  5. Hi Northern Shade,

    You certainly have been busy – and such a spectacular combination of shapes and colours! I hope the Hepatica nobilis does well for you (or I guess my name will be mud gardener). Mine has survived two cold winters, a transplant, and this summer’s drought and bloomed profusely the last two springs. I wish I could say the same for my Hepatica americanum – planted on the same day, but in decline since. Last month I transplanted it to what I hope is a better site, along with an accidental division of a Siberian Bluebell (Mertensia sibirica). The bluebell has taken off and completely overgrown the hepatica, but I’m not sure I mind since it is a very nice plant. I suppose we will see who wins out (or coexists) in the Spring.

    I’m all done my Fall planting except for the Dutch bulbs that have yet to arrive. Given the forecast for the next week, I hope I don’t need to break out the pickaxe to get them into the ground. I just turned off the pond bubbler and took out the pump and filter – two weeks earlier than usual, but given the forecast, prudent. Always a sad day for me, because it means Winter is really on its way.

  6. Hello NS !
    You have been very busy and I love all of your plantings ! .. I didn’t know if those plants truly smelled of ginger or not .. now my curiosity is VERY peeked .. I would love to have some myself now : )
    I want to have many more Jack Frost next year so I have to start saving my pennies up .. mine at the moment still looks wonderful .. what an all season plant that is : )
    Lots of great ideas in this post so thank you ! I have the last of my bulbs to put in .. the daffs .. so today that is number one job on the list : )

    1. Joy, I really noticed the ginger smell of the Asarum, since they were bare rooted. It’s not as noticeable once the roots are buried. The arrow shaped leaves are very appealing on them. If they peek up next spring, I’ll continue the planting around the spruce.

      I really appreciate the long season of attractiveness on the Jack Frost. They make it through the first light frosts with pristine leaves. The new Looking Glass are one plant group over, on the other side of the Hepatica, behind one of the pine trunks.

      Joanne, the ginger plants got their first taste of Edmonton last night. I woke up to a layer of white outlining the shape of the garden. The first snowfall is actually quite pretty, but of course it grows tiring after a few months.

    1. Gittan, some of the perennials that I added in the summer at the front have already grown and filled in, like the Brunnera, Epimedium, Athyrium and Aruncus. Some of the newer additions are very little still, and are also slow growers, so it will be interesting to see how long it takes them to fill in and form a carpet. It’s that fourth dimension of time, that makes gardening so fascinating, and keeps me eager to see what will happen next.

      Barbarapc, I’m glad to hear that the ginger might pick up the pace later. I would love to find some volunteers. I laughed as I planted the Hepatica, since there were just the little green growing tips visible. Like bulbs, it is a leap of faith to anticipate the new growth next year.

  7. Got the last bit of planting in today. Next week, it will be time to pull apart my pots. I really enjoy you sharing your new treasures from little nubs with us. It’s all looking very good. My gingers took at least 3 years until they started to spread – and now I’m finding volunteers all over the garden. Will be interested to see how your Aruncus does – mine seemed to be a bit water piggy. One of my favourites under my pine is the Polygonatum variegatum – gives me a bit of height next to the hosta.

  8. Hello! Thanks for your comment! Rocky mountains-what a dream it would be visiting a place like that. Your gardening projects looks very nice. I checked up how far north Edmonton is locaded and its much south of where Skellefteå lies. Skellefteå lies at the same latitud as Fairbanks Canada. But Sweden is benefitting much from the Golf stream and therefore its possible to live here. Since the climat has become warmer we haven´t had much less than 20 degrees celsius for a couple of years. But the winters are long and we ski alot both downhill and cross-country. Nice to here from you over there-see you!

    1. Northofsweden, most of my gardening is on hold, since we haven’t been above freezing for the last week and a half. However, the temperatures are supposed to warm up over the next few days. I will try to get some of the perennials cut back, but I won’t be doing much digging now. As the perennials die back, and the snow comes, the conifers really start to star in the garden.

  9. Hello! This is a very interesting post for me, since I have tall conifers growing on two sides of my garden. The soil under them is hard and dry. The conifers’ roots create a thick mat and steel all the water. I might read more about the plants which you planted, to see if they’ll grow in a dry/part sun place. You have done a great job with this area. Brunnera is especially attractive. Thank you!

    1. Tatyana, Epimedium are great for dry shade. We’ve had a few weeks of consistently below freezing temperatures, and their leaves still look great, so they have a long season too. I wish that the cold weather hadn’t come so soon, though, as I would like to continue planting this garden area.

  10. Northern Shade, I’m so proud of you! This is becoming quite the beautiful shady flower bed! You have put a lot of thought and effort into it. :-) Your Ginko Craig will “clump” with more new plants before too very long that you can divide and move around to make it thicker. I love your Ghost Lady Fern. I have it too, and it is so much taller and more noticeable than the Japanese Painted Ferns (which I also have and really like!). Your dwarf aruncus look great. I have only one little plant… perhaps I will be able to divide it sometime? I’m not really familiar with Hepatica nobilis. I did a search and it looks so sweet. I wonder if it would grow here? I planted some Lilofee epimedium this Summer. I look forward to seeing what they do next year. Thank you for continuing your updates. Have a great day!!

    1. Shady Gardener, thank you. I’ve had a lot of fun planning and planting this shady area. Because it meanders between the conifers, it’s been easy to do a section at a time, as I figure it out. When it’s planting time in spring, I’m going to continue it across a short stretch, to the next spruce. I’m eager to see how the plants fill in next year. I really like the Ghost fern too, and it is definitely more robust than the Japanese painted fern. The light silver colour lightens the garden in the shadows. I’ve been pleased with how well the dwarf Aruncus has done so close to the trees. I hope there is enough light for the Hepatica nobilis to bloom well, since they have bright blue flowers.

  11. Love your shady garden. I garden in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina and I have almost all shade as we have many large oak trees on our lot. We have lot’s of ferns and hosta’s, and I try to grow perennials around them. Also have the Jack Frost & Looking Glass Brunneras. You have given me a lot of good ideas. Thanks so much.

    1. Val, it sounds like you have a beautiful place to garden. Those Brunnera have gorgeous leaf patterns, and would look great with your ferns and hostas. Have you tried Mr. Morse yet? It has the same leaf colours as Jack Frost, but with white flowers.

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