Northern Shade Gardening

Perennials with Evergreen Leaves Surviving Zone 3

Wednesday, March 17, 2010 Category: Perennials

Very early spring is when I appreciate the perennials with evergreen leaves the most. We’ve had some unusually warm weather for March, so some snow has melted in pockets, and some perennial leaves are showing for the first time in months. It’s a lot of fun tramping through the snow to the little melted sections to scout for the newly revealed foliage. I value the colour boost that evergreen perennials give to the lackluster garden, before the new perennials and bulbs are up. They really lengthen the gardening season. Here are the hardy plants I found in the garden.

Asarum arifolium (wild ginger) leaves in March

Asarum arifolium (wild ginger) leaves in March

I was especially pleased to see the Asarum arifolium (wild ginger) leaves looking so fresh. These were newly planted last fall, and I wasn’t sure how they would come through, since these perennials are rated for two zones warmer, but they seem to be hardy indeed. The wild ginger are not only surviving, but are a shiny green. Those green arrows will look great  when fully released from the snow. This winter was a good test of their fortitude, since the temperatures went down to -43º C (-45º F), and into the -50’s with the wind chill. These Asarum didn’t get any leaf mulch for protection, just snow cover, so they have done well to preserve their foliage in such great shape. The Asarum arifolium are under some tall evergreens, which may have helped protect them too. I’ll be planting more of this terrific groundcover this year, and hoping that it spreads quicker than the Asarum europeaum, another good looking ginger.

Asarum europeum (wild ginger) evergreen leaves

Asarum europeaum (wild ginger) evergreen leaves

The Asarum europeaum (European wild ginger) are still looking fresh and green after being buried in snow for the past four and a half months. You would think that the severe temperatures would destroy the vulnerable plant leaves. Most plants here that stay green through the winter have the smaller surface area of needles, and a waxy coating. You have to admire a brave perennial that survives with broad, flat leaves intact.

Heuchera Plum Pudding purple leaves in March

Heuchera Plum Pudding purple leaves in March

Heuchera is another perennial that thinks dropping your leaves in the fall is for wimpy plants. The Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’ is amazingly fresh looking. The bright purple flash of the leaf underside is appealing. That purple foliage is a jolt of colour in a sea of brown. There is nothing else that comes close to this level of brightness at this time of year in Edmonton.

Heuchera 'Plum Pudding' in March

Heuchera 'Plum Pudding' in March

Here is a closeup of the top of the Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’ leaves. You can see the silver and purple tones overlaying the green patterns, with colourful veins.

Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' leaves looking fresh after winter

Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' leaves looking fresh after winter

Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ is another perennial that ignores the idea of seasons. The Helleborus motto is, “If green is good enough for summer, then it is good enough for winter.” The surrounding glacier has very recently retreated, and the Helleborus are already soaking up the sunshine. They gave me a disappointed look, because I was wearing pants instead of shorts.

Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' leaves from snow

Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' leaves from snow

Here is a closeup of the Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ collecting the first sun rays of spring. I don’t know how much photosynthesizing a plant can do in these temperatures, but the hellebores collect all they can before the deciduous trees above leaf out and shades them.

Campanula portenschlagiana (dalmatian bellflower) leaves from snow

Campanula portenschlagiana (dalmatian bellflower) leaves from snow

While the Campanula portenschlagiana ‘Hoffman’s Blue’ (dalmatian bellflower) leaves are a plain green colour, they make up for it with their quantity of foliage. Their multitude of leaves make it look like mid-summer. I have a long row of this steadfast bellflower at the side of the house, and the frozen white stuff is the only clue there that it is really not spring. By summer, these Campanula are completely covered in purplish blue flowers, but I’ll settle for some green for now. There are other Campanula (bellflowers) that are displaying their leaves too, making them a great genus for extending the gardening year.

Iris new leaves in March

Iris new leaves in March

Here is my first perennial this spring with new foliage, an iris. It doesn’t take much warmth for these tenacious plants to start growing, but this is the earliest I’ve seen the iris shooting up. I hope that their optimism doesn’t get crushed by too heavy of a snow load. It’s a good thing that they can’t read the calendar and see that it’s only March. Maybe I’ll have iris blooms in April this year! (or maybe I’ll have a bunch of frozen buds)

I love spring, the most optimistic time of the year. I can’t wait for the rest of the snow to recede, and to see if all of my old favourites will reappear. Since I took the pictures, some Epimedium have been revealed with last year’s green foliage still rising up through the snow. I’m also curious to see if the rest of last year’s new perennial additions survive a zone 3 winter. I’ll probably wait awhile to remove all of the winter leaf mulch from the garden beds. We are sure to have more cold weather before the reliably warm days arrive. This taste of spring is about a month early this year. However, when all is drab and beige around town, it is a boost to see the well preserved evergreen leaves. I’m already excited about gardening, and I haven’t even seen the first spring bulbs yet.