Fresh Perennial Foliage on Shade Plants

As new perennial foliage unfurls in the spring, the tiny, perfect leaves always look so attractive. Here are some of my emerging perennials with especially nice looking leaves. Some of the early spring bulbs are still lingering, so they make colourful combinations with the new leaves. These perennials thrive in the shadiest parts of my garden. The foliage looks appealing both before and after the flowers.

Pulmonaria samourai new leaves in spring
Pulmonaria samourai new leaves in spring

The Pulmonaria ‘Samourai‘ (lungwort) has developed many silver leaves, and those fat buds promising future blue flowers.

Geranium 'Johnson's Blue' leaves with crocus
Geranium 'Johnson's Blue' leaves with crocus

Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’ has lovely fresh green leaves. They get the most light of any of these perennials, and develop a good number of flowers in a part shade location. The Crocus ‘Yellow Mammoth’ flowers behind have lasted a long time, and look great next to the Geranium. With the cool weather, the Yellow Mammoth have been blooming for over a month, the longest of any of the crocus.

Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba' emerging leaves
Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba' emerging leaves

Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’ (white bleeding heart) has narrow shoots still, rising up through the debris from the pine tree. In hotter zones these seem to die back for the summer, but they keep their leaves in my garden up until the first frosts.

Asarum europaeum emerging foliage
Asarum europaeum emerging foliage

Most of the Asarum europaeum (European ginger) keep their leaves over the winter. The new leaves are shiny, light green, making perfect little hearts. This is one of my favourite groundcovers in the shade. The only improvement I could make on these plants, would be for them to spread a little faster. Of course, planting them next to tree trunks in the deepest shade, with lots of root competition, might slow down their growth a bit.

Aruncus aethusifolius new leaves
Aruncus aethusifolius new leaves

Aruncus aethusifolius (dwarf Korean goatsbeard) shoots up these small, fluffy leaves in a tight mound. The foliage remains appealing all season. I don’t remember planting the Galanthus bulbs that close to these plants, but the white snowdrops looked good over top of the Aruncus leaves.

Actaea ramosa 'Atropurpurea' new leaves
Actaea ramosa 'Atropurpurea' new leaves

Actaea ramosa ‘Atropurpurea’ (bugbane) has a purple edge to each leaf when they emerge. The newest shoot in front is quite distinct, with a pattern of fuzzy looking white on the tightly curled ball.

Actaea racemosa new leaves
Actaea racemosa new leaves

Actaea racemosa (bugbane) has a bluish green cast when new, with purple stems and leaf edges. This foliage, which will reach 2 m (6 ft) makes a terrific backdrop for other perennials, long before the tall flower wands bloom in Fall.

Epimedium 'Lilafee' new foliage
Epimedium 'Lilafee' new foliage

The new Epimedium ‘Lilafee’ foliage has a reddish purple border when it firsts pops up, too. The foliage is particularly attractive with the asymmetrical heart shapes. You can see one tiny pink flower bud in the centre. The flowers will develop quickly now, and should be blooming in a few weeks. The plants will develop many more leaves, and make a great groundcover in the shade.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' leaves and buds
Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' leaves and buds

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ (Siberian bugloss) has a few blue buds opening over top of the beautifully patterned silver leaves . This plant is such a winner, for the gorgeous flowers and leaves, as well as its willingness to grow anywhere, but never get out of control.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass' and Chionodoxa
Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass' and Chionodoxa

The Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass’ (Siberian bugloss) leaves are already developing their silver colour, with faint green markings on the leaves. You can just see the white Chionodox ‘Alba’ bulbs blooming behind them at the back of the photo.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Mr Morse' new leaves
Brunnera macrophylla 'Mr Morse' new leaves

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Mr Morse’ (Siberian bugloss) is another winning shade plant . Although the leaves are  splashed with a little dirt right now, they are as attractive as Jack Frost.

Pulmonaria 'Majeste' with Puschkinia
Pulmonaria 'Majeste' with Puschkinia

Here is Pulmonaria ‘Majeste’ (lungwort) with the blue striped Puschkinia (striped squills) flowers behind. Majeste is supposed to have an overall silver gray colour, and did last year, but this year it is showing the more typical spotted lungwort leaves. I don’t know if it will go back to the overall silver colour, or if it will keep the spots. I actually prefer the all silver look of Samourai, but spots can be cute, too.

Pulmonaria 'Majeste' with Chionodoxa
Pulmonaria 'Majeste' with Chionodoxa

On the other side of  the Pulmonaria ‘Majeste’  are some  white Chionodoxa (glory of the snow) flowers, and you can see the edge of the blue Scilla on the upper right.

Some perennial leaves deteriorate rapidly through the summer, but I’ve found that these shade plants keep their good looks, and make good companions for other plants with or without  their flowers.

Do you have any favourite foliage popping up?

25 thoughts on “Fresh Perennial Foliage on Shade Plants”

  1. What a lovely foliage collection, and it is so nice that your Yellow Mammoth is still in bloom, what a lovely pairing with the geranium foliage. Your Chinodoxa are looking fresh & bright too. I am also happy to see new growth here and there. The daylilies, peachleaf bellflowers, peonies, bleeding hearts, jacob’s ladder & gentian speedwell are some who are sending up nice new growth. It is a long wait in the frozen north, isn’t it?

    How are your tulips? My daffs, species tulips & muscari are in bloom but I’m still waiting for the big hybrids.

    1. Rebecca, the Yellow Mammoth has surprised me by its length of bloom. I think it caught the weather just right, and perhaps it’s naturally longer blooming, too. I’m going to plant more of them in the Fall. The tulips and most of the Muscari are showing large buds, with a little colour at the edges. The Muscari azureum have started opening.

      Laura, yes, the first flush of leaves, with those extra hints of colour, are so attractive. Plus they all look perfect still.

      Joanne, everything is full of promise, and the growth is rapid this week, with the 20 ºC (68 ºF) temperatures. There are lots of swellling buds, which I check every day.

      Kathleen, I think our summers are cool enough, that the bleeding heart leaves last right through until Autumn. The Asarum gets unusual flowers. They are small and cylindrical, in a fuzzy reddish brown, and they are located under the leaves, right on the ground. They use insects like ants to spread their seeds. You can’t see the flowers unless you look for them, but they are fun to spot. The Asarum europaeum has very glossy leaves, which look fantastic in the shade.

  2. Great post. Foliage never gets nearly as much attention as the blooms. Yet some plants have more beautiful leaves than flowers. I love the lime greens and redish purples of new growth!

  3. Interesting that your bleeding heart foliage stays green all summer. Ours usually dies back too although last summer was so cool & wet, it didn’t. We’ll see what happens this year.
    You have a wonderful assortment of different foliage emerging. I would love to try the Asarum sometime ~ does yours flower?

    1. Sweetbay, those new leaves always look so perfect when fresh. It is a pleasure to watch as the garden fills with green.

      Shady Gardener, we do have many of the same favourite shade plants. The flow of emerging perennials and sequence of blooms is such a joy to watch over the seasons.

  4. Northern, We share so many shade plants!! It’s wonderful to see your Spring evolving. :-) It wasn’t that long ago that I witnessed these events. I’m so glad you’re enjoying these beautiful plants!! Happy Spring!!

  5. Hi Northern, I just saw your post on Shady’s blog re polemonium. I had powdery mildew problems with mine last year. One plant went from lush & flowering to having a broken stalk and being COVERED in mildew overnight. Only 2 came back this year, we’ll see how they fare.

    1. Rebecca, I was reluctant to try Polemonium again, after having problems at my last garden with them, so when the new ones got it again, I pulled them all.

  6. I’ve really come to appreciate how important foliage is. You have so much with pretty leaves that you hardly need flowers (although those are nice to have too :) ) I bet you’re really happy to see all your plants returning!

    1. Catherine, I especially love the leaves with patterns along the veins, like the Brunnera and Heuchera. The silver ones are great in the darker areas of the garden, as are the shiny ones.

  7. This is such an exciting time of year for perennials. I love seeing what’s coming up. Your garden is looking very promising. I am a getting a little concerned about my Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’, but maybe it is too early to really worry yet. Whenever I see a brunerra in a garden centre I think of you. :-)

    1. The Garden Ms. S, my three Dicentra are still very small, so yours might pop up yet. Although we had such a promising March and early April with plants starting to bloom early, I found the cooler weather at the end of April and beginning of May slowed down the growth.

      Sheryl, the Pulmonarias are great for early blooms too. Of the perennials, they are the third earliest in my garden, after the Helleborus and Brunnera.

  8. Hello NS…it’s been so long since I’ve visited, but you always have the most informative posts when it comes to these shade loving beauties! Since I started garden blogging I have learned about these plants from bloggers like you and Shady Gardener…both of you have introduced me to Pulmonaria, and I now have one of the varieties growing nicely in my garden (it does enjoy a bit of sun and doesn’t seem to want deep shade). Many of the others you mention I’ve added as well, such as ‘Johnsons’ Blue’ geranium. I even just planted Ginger, which I purchased at a native plant sale a couple of weekends ago. Bleeding Heart, Bugbane, and Epimedium have all been added since I’ve began blogging, as well;-) I still need to add some ‘Alba’, however–was meaning to look for it this spring. Your ‘Glory of the Snow’ is so pretty. Most of the plants that are blooming for you are finished here, where it all began so much earlier in the season.

    1. Jan, I love going to other blogs and finding out about different plants and what the gardeners think of them too. The Pulmonaria buds are open now, showing those blue flowers over the silver coloured leaves. It’s such a pretty combination. You’d like the Alba version of Dicentra in the shade, since the white hearts really glow, and you can still see them at dusk in the dim shadows.

  9. I just planted pulmonaria in my garden this spring, and I’m loving it! Now, lets see how it does through the summer. If it flourishes, it will have my heart forever! Epimediums also are growing nicely, after barely hanging on the past two years. Next on my list is brunnera. It’s interesting that some of the same plants can succeed in your climate and also in mine!

    1. Debsgarden, last winter the Pulmonaria kept many of their leaves under the snow, and they created some early spring colour, but this winter was harsher, and they were gone. The new leaves grow quickly in spring, though. I really like the flowers of Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Lilafee’, as well as those good looking leaves. All three do seem adaptable to different conditions.

  10. You have inadvertently solved a mystery for me. I was trying to remember the name of one of the plants currently blooming in my yard, and I could not remember what is was at all. I see all your lovely foliage pics, and your Actaea told me the answer: it’s a red baneberry (Actaea rubrea). I knew there was a reason I need to read more garden blogs!

    1. LCShores, it’s funny that they reclassified Cimicifuga into the genus Actaea, because the tall ones don’t appear to have a lot in common with the little baneberry, except now the name. :)

  11. My garden is way ahead of yours since I am in zone 6. I always am jealous of people that can get pulmonaria to grow in their garden. It has never taken in my garden for some reason. WHINE…

    1. Lisa, I’m fortunate that the Pulmonaria has been very hardy here. They keep some of their leaves on under the snow, too, and can give some early colour in the garden when the snow melts. Last winter was very cold, so I removed most of the foliage in spring. They green up (or in this case silver up) with new leaves very quickly in spring.

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