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.

17 Responses to “Perennials with Evergreen Leaves Surviving Zone 3” »

  1. Rebecca @ In The Garden :
    March 17, 2010 at 11:29 am

    Wonderful post Northern! I was thinking about you today and wondering when you’d be back at it. It’s so lovely to have such hardy perennials emerge from under the snow, I always find them surprising and impressive. It’s great that your new ginger overwintered so well, the leaves look completely unfazed by the cold long winter. ~Rebecca

  2. wiseacre :
    March 17, 2010 at 11:40 am

    I’m easily a month ahead this year. It’s freakishly early and I’m dreading the return of the cold. It may not happen but I’m not holding my breath this far north.

  3. liz :
    March 17, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    I can sense your excitement, and why not??!!! Seeing those first plants emerging is such an amazing time, we can sit safe in the knowledge of things yet to come :)

  4. Northern Shade :
    March 17, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    Rebecca, Most of my garden areas with bulbs are still covered in snow. I’m very eager for those sections to melt, and to start investigating for those early signs. When they start, they generally come quick. So far, I’ve resisted taking the snow shovel to the garden to speed things along. Spring weather is so early this year, the bulbs will have to cope with some white frosting eventually.

    Wiseacre, we are a month ahead this year too, with the melting snow, warm weather, and the first perennial tips. I am trying to revel in the warmth of the sunshine, even though I know there will be snow ahead still. However, I do have fantasies of everything blooming in April this year.

    Liz, as more of the garden is revealed, I can smell the scent of fresh earth, and of course those first green signs are very uplifting. There were a couple of squirrels, with bushy tails held high, practically skipping along the fence today, and I know exactly how they felt.

  5. Shady Gardener :
    March 17, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    Look at you, Northern Shade! I’m excited for you! It’s going to be your turn to enjoy a Greening Garden soon. (We have a forecast of snow/rain this weekend… perhaps it will change before then. At any rate, I have pulled a lot of my leaf-mulch off the beds today… it’s warm and sunny and the leaves will dry. If the forecast remains, I may just cover things up again for a couple of days!) :-)

  6. Deborah at Kilbourne Grove :
    March 17, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    I am so hoping that this is the start of spring, and the snow will not come back! I have helleborus blooming, they will not like it. It is great to see so many plants looking green, I am tired of the white, black and brown.

  7. The Garden Ms. S :
    March 17, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    Northern Shade, great to see you back in the garden.:) It is very inspiring to see how your plants have come through. This winter got so cold that I have been rather worried about how things survived. Most of my perennials are on the shady, snowy side of the garden so I won’t know for a while yet how they did. Fingers crossed!

  8. Northern Shade :
    March 17, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    Shady Gardener, I hope your forecast turns to rain, and gives the garden a jump start. It would be great to get a good rainstorm to wash everything clean and to help green up the landscape. If I get anymore spring giddiness, I might be tempted to pull back some of the leaf mulch to give everything a little more sunshine and warmth.

    Deborah, around town, the landscape is very drab and subdued. The earth tones of late winter are desolate, unlike the brilliant earth tones of autumn, so flashes of green really perk up the garden.

    I love it when the Helleborus start blooming, and even their buds are beautiful and cheery. I will have to go out and lift a few mulch leaves to see if I can spot any developing buds on the plants.

  9. Northern Shade :
    March 17, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    The Garden Ms. S, I was surprised to see how well they have done, surviving some of the intensely cold days this winter. Today, even more plants were appearing at the edge of the melting snowline. The Epimediums look incongruous, with their green leaves arching over the snow. I don’t remember seeing the old leaves on them last spring. There are a number of different Campanula looking like it’s May, instead of March. I hope you start seeing some signs soon too.

  10. Kara :
    March 19, 2010 at 10:44 am

    Sweet Williams is always green for me once the snow is gone. Sometimes Johnny Jump Ups too!

  11. Northern Shade :
    March 19, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    Kara, Those are both such sweet flowers, and the early green is a bonus. Despite having another snowfall, and colder weather the last few days, more snow is melting, and today some of my Dianthus grenadin carnation leaves were showing, as well as the Cornus canadensis foliage.

  12. Barbara :
    March 21, 2010 at 1:20 am

    I agree with you, Spring is a most wonderful and so promising time, full of little miracles and surprises. Seeing your campanula p. with such rich foliage, surprised me too. Up to now I failed with this plant. Slugs always were quicker. Perhaps I should have another go. To collect heucheras with all their different colours can be addictive ;-). The same is valid for hellebores which here are in full bloom now.
    Wishing you warm and sunny Spring days!

  13. Northern Shade :
    March 21, 2010 at 9:12 am

    Barbara, there are more green Campanula showing as the snow melts, including C. poscharskyana, C. rotundifolia, and C. cochlearifolia. It’s amazing that the Heuchera keep their vivid colouration for months under the snow, making such a welcome spring sight. How fortunate you are to have your hellebores already blooming. Last year mine bloomed at the beginning of May, and were the first perennial flowers. However, I think they might be earlier this year. It would be great to see them in April.
    Happy spring.

  14. Birgitta :
    March 26, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    March is both a Winter and a Spring month. Love your pictures.
    Birgitta

  15. Northern Shade :
    March 26, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    Birgitta, we keep alternating between warm days and new snowfalls, but this warm weekend might end up melting most of the snow. I have a few more perennials with evergreen leaves that have appeared where the snow melted, and they make a welcome burst of spring. I’m hoping to see the green tips of bulbs soon.

  16. Swimray :
    March 28, 2010 at 5:46 am

    Winter and record snows delayed our spring in the Washington DC area this year, but things are back on track now. Looks like your garden is not the only thing waking up from winter. Welcome back.

  17. Northern Shade :
    March 28, 2010 at 6:58 am

    Swimray, the warm weather this weekend brought out the first bulb tips of some crocus. This looks like it will be a very early start to the gardening season this year.

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