Hardiest Flower in the Garden

We’ve had a number of frosts down to -7º C (20º F). Far too chilly for most plants, but the perennial that keeps flowering is Campanula rotundifolia (harebells). The pretty blue bells are suspended from thin flower stalks, looking ethereal and graceful. Although they appear too delicate for the weather, they are actually extremely hardy flowers. The snow was thick and heavy before it melted, and I’m surprised they didn’t get flattened like other plants in the garden.

Campanula rotundifolia harebells in snow
Campanula rotundifolia harebells in snow

You can see in the photo above that after the recent snow, I’ve grown slack with my deadheading. However the Campanula rotundifolia continue to bloom, and actually have a fair number of flowers. Perhaps I will be tromping out in my boots this winter, and brushing the snow aside in order to keep deadheading the spent flowers. ;) They are doing their best, and I don’t want to let them down. These hardy perennials have been in bloom since June, with those pretty petals that flare gracefully at the bottom. This link shows how the harebells look in summer.

An honourable mention goes to Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ for faking it by keeping the flowers bracts for so long. ‘Ivory Prince’ tried to convince me that you don’t need petals, stamens or a pistil to be considered a flower. I threw in bonus points for it having started flowering last April, but it still came in second place. Campanula portenschlagiana (Dalmation bellflower) is another runner up for hardiest flower, but it doesn’t have as many blooms as in previous years.

Campanula rotundifolia flowering in late fall
Campanula rotundifolia flowering in late fall

There are many foliage plants that still have great looking leaves, but very few perennials want to keep flowering at the end of the season once they’ve been snowed on, and when the temperatures drop so low. I have a lot of respect for Campanula rotundifolia, and its willingness to continue flowering for so long. Now excuse me while I do some deadheading, if my fingers don’t go numb. What is the hardiest flower in your garden?

Campanula rotundifolia harebells closeup
Campanula rotundifolia harebells closeup

Helleborus and Brunnera in Fall

Helleborus and Brunnera in fall leaves
Helleborus and Brunnera in fall leaves

As the fall temperatures bring down the perennials in the garden one by one, I’m enjoying the plants that are evergreen, or at least keep their leaves until the deeper frosts. Here is a garden border that still looks good at the end of October. The Helleborus will keep its foliage until spring, but the Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian bugloss) will lose its leaves when we have colder weather. We had our first frosts back in mid-September, so the stoic Brunnera have provided long interest in the garden. I took the above photo this weekend, just before the snow hit.

In the picture above, the Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass’ plants are at the front of the photo in a light-toned silver colour. In the middle are the wonderful leaves of Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’, which just keep going year round.  Then at the back of the picture are the etched leaves of Brunnera macrophlla ‘Jack Frost’. The ferns on the right of the shot have mostly died back now.

Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' with flowers in October
Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' with flowers in October

The Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ foliage is still in pristine condition, preserving its dark green with a slightly marbled effect. On the upper left of the picture, you can see some have even retained the yellow flower bracts since April. If you can count them as a flower, then these are definitely my longest blooming perennials. :) I wonder if they will still be on when the new flowers emerge next April? Because we have good snow coverage in winter, the Helleborus leaves are still in good shape in spring, with just a few that need tidying up.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' leaf detail in October
Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' leaf detail in October

‘Jack Frost’ is a most photogenic plant. Above is a closeup of  a ‘Jack Frost’ leaf, showing the fabulous patterns created by the green veins running through the light silver leaf. The stained glass effect created by the green and silver is fascinating on an individual leaf, and very showy on a group of plants. These Brunnera have conserved their leaves through a number of frosts down to -4º C (25º F).

Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass' in October
Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass' in October

‘Looking Glass’ has a more overall silver colour, with much narrower green lines through the leaf, and a green rim. The silver grey colour reflects a lot of light, so it stands out in the shadowy areas. As your eyes follow along a shady garden bed, they stop to rest on the brightness of  ‘Looking Glass’.

Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' and Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass' in fall
Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' and Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass' in fall

Here is a nice contrast between the dark green hellebore leaves and the light-toned Brunnera leaves. This is another Helleborus that still has kept some of the yellow flower bracts from six months ago. All of these perennials are planted at the base of a willow tree, and thrive in this location.

As many perennials retreat underground to survive the winter, those that keep their leaves through the first frosts are invaluable in the late fall garden. Tonight the temperatures are supposed to drop to -10º C (14º F) so even the tolerant perennials like Brunnera will most likely die back finally. However, the Helleborus will still be green when the weather warms up next weekend, and the snow melts. I’m still enjoying gardening, and I’m not ready to retreat inside and look out the windows at conifers and decorative sticks yet, so I really esteem the Helleborus, Asarum, Heuchera, Tiarella and other semi-evergreen perennials that beautify the shade garden still.

Tiarella and Heuchera under Spruce

I’ve become very enthusiastic about Heuchera and Tiarella, for their terrific foliage, and ability to grow under the trees. I’ve been extending the garden under my large spruce trees, digging out more lawn and planting shade perennials with evergreen leaves. Some of the new plants are Heuchera ‘Raspberry Ice’, Tiarella ‘Jeepers Creepers’ and Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice’. These are all shade tolerant, and they will look great until covered up with snow. The Tiarella have very pretty flowers, and I’ve been adding some Heuchera that have showier blooms, too.

Tiarella 'Jeepers Creepers'
Tiarella ‘Jeepers Creepers’

Tiarella ‘Jeepers Creepers’ (foamflower) is supposed to be midway between a clumping form and a running form. These perennials are so attractive, that I wouldn’t mind if they spread more like a running type. You can see in the picture above that the leaves have a nice glossy look. The plants have been extremely healthy looking so far. I’ll let you know next year how they grow and overwinter in zone 3.

Tiarella 'Jeepers Creepers' hairy leaf
Tiarella ‘Jeepers Creepers’ hairy leaf

Tiarella ‘Jeepers Creepers’ has shiny, green leaves with dark centres radiating out along the lobes from the middle. The foliage is very fresh looking and attractive. The leaves have small white hairs when you look at them close up. You can click the photo above to see how hairy they really are.

Tiarella 'Jeepers Creepers' flower
Tiarella ‘Jeepers Creepers’ flower

One ‘Jeepers Creepers’ plant has a single flower still on it, since it was planted this month. It should be covered in these white spikes next year. I was very impressed with the length of the flowering time of Tiarella ‘Pink Skyrocket’, so I’m looking forward to seeing how long these ones bloom next year. You can see more photos of these Tiarella, and read about how beautifully they are doing in this followup article. Another Tiarella with light green leaves like Jeepers Creepers is ‘Neon Lights’.

Heuchera 'Raspberry Ice' 3 plants
Heuchera ‘Raspberry Ice’ 3 plants

Heuchera ‘Raspberry Ice’ (coral bells) has outstanding silvery purple leaves that look dramatic in the shade garden. There are three plants in the group above, already making a nice sized clump. The silver colour is reflecting the light underneath the spruce, so they show up well. I have a group of these in my backyard too, where they have no problems with the shade.

Heuchera 'Raspberry Ice' pink flower
Heuchera ‘Raspberry Ice’ pink flower

These new ‘Raspberry Ice’ are out of synch with the seasons, so they have a single pink flower on them still. You can see how pretty the dark pink bloom looks, especially against the silvery background.

Heuchera 'Raspberry Ice' silver purple leaves
Heuchera ‘Raspberry Ice’ silver purple leaves

Some Heuchera have gorgeous leaves, but insignificant flowers. The winning combination of fantastic foliage and showy flowers make Heuchera ‘Raspberry Ice’ a great garden plant. I have two other Heuchera that combine great foliage with pretty flowers.

Tiarella 'Sugar and Spice' green and purple leaves
Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice’ green and purple leaves

Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice’ (foamflower) has foliage very similar to ‘Jeepers Creepers’, green lobes with darker purple  centres. The colour contrast makes the perennials a little bolder looking and pleasing in the garden. They can be placed next to green leafed plants to add a little pizazz, or make a bridge between plants with purple leaves and those with green foliage, coordinating them together.

Tiarella 'Sugar and Spice' foliage
Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice’ foliage

I also have  some ‘Sugar and Spice in my back garden, and the foliage is glossy, reflecting extra light. This makes them valuable in the shade, where they brighten the shadowy areas. Plus, the shiny leaves are a joy to look at, even when there are no flowers out.

Tiarella 'Sugar and Spice' flower
Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice’ flower

The flowers of Tiarella  ‘Sugar and Spice’ are white, but they emerge from pink buds, so they have a light pink appearance from a distance, but they are not as dark pink looking as ‘Pink Skyrocket’.

Heuchera and Tiarella under spruce
Heuchera and Tiarella under spruce

The picture above has ‘Raspberry Ice’ at the front and ‘Jeepers Creeper’ behind. Next spring I’ll know more about how these survive a zone 3 winter, but I anticipate them doing fine. My other Heuchera have been very hardy, preserving most of their leaves under the snow for an early spring display. We generally get reliable snow cover, which helps save the evergreen leaves from the bitter cold. You can see in the photo above that they are entirely unaffected by our first frosts. These are great plants for shade gardening in a cold climate.

Heuchera and Tiarella under evergreens
Heuchera and Tiarella under evergreens

As many perennials have turned brown in Autumn, disappearing for the winter, those with evergreen or semi-evergreen leaves provide texture, colour and garden interest. In zone 3, the dieing back can start early, leaving the garden looking bare. However, perennials like Heuchera, Heucherella, Tiarella, Asarum (ginger), Helleborus (hellebore), some Campanula (bellflowers) and some Pulmonaria (lungwort) lengthen the gardening season with their evergreen foliage, until finally covered with snow. Then in spring as the melting snow reveals bare earth in most of the  garden, these perennials are showing colourful foliage for a quick start to your shade garden. In a short growing season, this trait is especially appealing.

Tiarella 'Jeepers Creepers' great leaves
Tiarella ‘Jeepers Creepers’ great leaves

You can read and see more about some some other Heuchera and Tiarella I grow in theses posts, Heuchera foliage in fall, Tiarella ‘Pink Skyrocket, Heuchera ‘Cinnabar Silver’, Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’, and Heuchera ‘Mint Frost’.