Northern Shade Gardening

Fern Combinations for the Shade Garden

Monday, June 28, 2010 Category: Perennials

The feathery texture of ferns look good in the shade garden, and even better when mixed with other foliage perennials. I especially like them paired with other plants that have shiny or large, thick leaves.

Athyrium filix-femina 'Lady in Red' and Asarum europaeum

Athyrium filix-femina 'Lady in Red' and Asarum europaeum

Above are some Athyrium filix-femina ‘Lady in Red’ (lady in red ferns) with Asarum europaeum (European ginger). This is one of my favourite foliage pairs for the shade. The pointed fronds drape over the rounded leaves of the groundcover, and the light texture of lady fern looks great next to the highly reflective European ginger leaves. ‘Lady in Red’ fern stands out a little more than the basic lady fern, because of the dark axis down the middle. It gives the frond more emphasis and definition than the species lady fern, which is all green.  The central axis of the fronds are noticeably red when they first emerge, and then turn a brownish red.

Athyrium filix-femina 'Lady in Red' and Brunnera macrophylla 'Mr. Morse'

Athyrium filix-femina 'Lady in Red' and Brunnera macrophylla 'Mr. Morse'

These Athyrium filix-femina ‘Lady in Red’ are combined with Brunnera macropylla ‘Mr. Morse’ (Siberian bugloss). The lacy fronds are behind the wonderful heart shaped leaves with beautiful silver and green patterns. ‘Mr. Morse’ gets white flowers, instead of the usual Brunnera blue.

Athyrium filix-femina and Brunnera macrophylla 'Mr Morse'

Athyrium filix-femina and Brunnera macrophylla 'Mr Morse'

For about 6 weeks in spring, the white flowers of the Brunnera are entwined with the ‘Lady in Red’ fern, looking like a flower arrangement that’s heavy on the greenery.

Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern) and Pulmonaria Majeste

Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern) and Pulmonaria Majeste

In another garden area I have Athyrium filix-femina next to some Pulmonaria ‘Majeste’ (lungwort). These Pulmonaria leaves are just developing their overall silver grey colouring after flowering. The early leaves, and ones on the flower stalk are still polka dotted.

Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern) and Hosta 'Francee'

Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern) and Hosta 'Francee'

Another good combination is  Athyrium filix-femina with Hosta ‘Francee’. The thick Hosta leaves look even better when contrasted with the filigree design of the fern. The lady fern keeps sending up new fronds through the summer, creating a thick look. When there is a breeze, the lady ferns sway over top of the solid Hosta foliage, a very pretty look in the garden, but not appreciated when you are trying to take a picture on a windy day.

Athyrium Ghost fern and Hosta Francee under conifers

Athyrium Ghost fern and Hosta Francee under conifers

These Athyrium ‘Ghost’ (ghost fern) have a fantastic silver cast, which coordinates with another Hosta ‘Francee’ in my front garden. I like the pale colour of the fern with the white edge of the Hosta. These both lighten the area under my conifers, and the dappled light plays on them as the sun moves through the day. I started this garden bed under some pine and spruce last year, and I’m currently expanding it.

Athyrium 'Ghost' fern and Helleborus 'Ivory Prince'

Athyrium 'Ghost' fern and Helleborus 'Ivory Prince'

Above is an Athyrium ‘Ghost’ fern with Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ (Ivory Prince hellebore). This hellebore has light marbling on the thick leaves, which goes well with the silvery green of the ghost fern. The Helleborus is still holding onto the green flower sepals from spring, and a few blue Brunnera flowers are leaning over from the right. I have an Athyrium niponicum ‘Regal Red’ (Japanese painted fern) on the other side of the Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’.

Athyrium 'Ghost' and Actaea

Athyrium 'Ghost' and Actaea

Another Athyrium ‘Ghost’ is put together with Actaea (bugbane). The Actaea has a subtle purple edge and its leaves make a nice partner with the fern. In the above photos, you can see how the fern glows in the shade compared to other foliage.

Matteuccia struthiopteris and Pulmonaria flower

Matteuccia struthiopteris and Pulmonaria flower

This Matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich fern) is adjacent to a Pulmonaria ‘Samourai’ (lungwort) that always sends a few blue flowers in through the fronds.

Adiantum pedatum (maidenhair fern) and Brunnera macrophylla

Adiantum pedatum (maidenhair fern) and Brunnera macrophylla

The lacy Adiantum pedatum combines with another Brunnera macrophylla. The delicate looking fronds wave over top of the heart shaped leaves. This fern adds a lot of movement of the garden. It has shiny, black stalks from which the leaflets radiate out in a horseshoe shape. The long, slender leaflets give it a more delicate look.

Dryopteris expansa and Hosta 'Francee'

Dryopteris expansa and Hosta 'Francee'

Dryopteris expansa (spiny wood fern) is matched with Hosta ‘Francee’. This Dryopteris is semi-evergreen, keeping some of its fronds past the frost, so it is good for a northern garden. The spiny wood fern has papery spines on the lower stalks that are soft and flexible. It is well behaved, slowly increasing in size.

Athyrium filix-femina Brunnera Sanguinaria

Athyrium filix-femina Brunnera Sanguinaria

This Athyrium filix-femina ‘Lady in Red’ frond meets a Brunnera and some Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot) which flowered earlier.

Adiantum pedatum (maidenhair ferns) and Impatiens 'Fiesta Ole Frost'

Adiantum pedatum (maidenhair ferns) and Impatiens 'Fiesta Ole Frost'

Adiantum pedatum works well with annual impatiens, too. These are Impatiens ‘Fiesta Ole Frost’, with double white flowers. The Adiantum is tall, so the fronds dance over top of the Impatiens flowers.

The fine texture of the ferns looks great in the garden when combined with other substantial perennial foliage. I like it when their lacy texture is complimented by glossy, thick or large leaves. You can read more about Athyrium in this previous post, and about other cold climate ferns in this post. There are photos of fiddlehead ferns here. Do you have any favourite fern combinations?

Iris Flowers

Thursday, June 24, 2010 Category: Perennials

The gorgeous Iris flowers add a colour boost to my garden in June. Although the bloom time is brief, they make a multi-hued splash when they appear. I cherish the classic shape of their flowers and the delicate look of the petals with ruffled edges. These are the tall bearded Iris, rising above many other plants, and commanding attention. All of my Iris are mysteries, or a cross between mysteries.

Iris yellow and purple collage

Iris yellow and purple collage

Here is a collage of my unknown yellow and purple Iris. This Iris is very adaptable, and so I have divided and planted the rhizomes in many different beds around the garden. It grows well in any light from shade to sun. I have it in bloom for about six weeks around the garden because of the different light exposures, starting in the warmest sunny area, and ending in the shadiest. The original plants were one of the few in the garden when I moved in, so I don’t know the name of it, but it came in handy early on when I would be making a new bed, and needed some plants. I took advantage of this accommodating and fast growing perennial by planting it with many companions in new garden beds.

The falls (lower petals) are a maroon purple with white lines, and the standards (upper petals) are a beautiful butter yellow. It is not my favourite colour combination, as I would have picked a different shade for the falls, but it is now the most plentiful in the garden, because of its easy nature. The yellow and purple petals create these large displays of blooms in June, and turns the area around my deck into a sunny coloured garden patch. When I look out the window, I see all these blooms rising above the deck, and catch my breath.

The iris on the end of the bed are surrounded by some tall Campanula glomerata (clustered bellflowers) that are just opening their buds, as you can see in the top photo above. The bottom photo in the collage shows  some annual blue lobelia that grow on the right. The Campanula glomerata are gorgeous when the flowers open to bloom with the iris, but are not attractive when they are done flowering. This bellflower is too vigorous as well, so I make sure to deadhead after flowering.

Iris blue flowers

Iris blue flowers

This second Iris has a solid blue flower. Again, it is an unknown, and just appeared in my garden about six years ago. The falls and standards are the same colour, a slightly purplish blue. It has a golden beard at the base of the falls, with some white around the beard. The standards are a little ruffled, with a delicate network of veins showing on the petals as the light shines through. In the morning, as they catch the light, they appear to glow from within.

Iris bitone blue purple flowers

Iris bitone blue purple flowers

This Iris is a gorgeous cross that happily appeared in my garden last year. It is most likely a cross between the other two, but it is not giving its secrets away. This has my favourite Iris colours, dark purple blue falls and light purple blue standards. In some light it is more blue like bottom left  photo, and sometimes more purple like the bottom right picture. The velvety falls have a beautiful pattern of white lines around the bright golden beard. The contrast between delicate, ruffled petals and deep velvety ones is very appealing. I adore Iris in this colour combination, so I’m glad to see that the clump is strong and increasing in size this year. I will be dividing and planting this one around the garden. Last year, the pink peony behind just missed blooming together with this Iris. However the peony buds are large already,  so perhaps the flowering times will overlap  this year. There are more pictures of iris in this previous post, and photos of the bitone iris in this post.

You can see how these iris combine with peony flowers in this followup post. Some flowers bring joy all season, and some bloom for a shorter period. The Iris flowers are sparing with their bloom time, but overly generous with their luxurious petals and beautifully classic shape.

Syringa Vulgaris Wedgewood Blue

Monday, June 21, 2010 Category: Trees and Shrubs

Syringa vulgaris ‘Wedgewood Blue’ (wedgewood blue lilac) is a more compact lilac with full sized flowers. This dwarf shrubs fits well into a smaller garden, but still gives the traditional showy flowers. Because of the shape, it is easy to plant bulbs and perennials underneath to get colour for the whole season. The fragrance of the flowers is wonderful.

If you’re viewing at a smaller resolution, the photo overflow is hidden, and you have to click the pictures to see the full photo.

Syringa vulgaris 'Wedgewood Blue' flower clusters

Syringa vulgaris 'Wedgewood Blue' flower clusters

The flowers of  ‘Wedgewood Blue’ are a lavender blue colour when they mature, while the buds start off as a more traditional purple lilac colour, like the second photo. The blooms are a pretty colour, and coordinate easily with many of the colours in my June garden here in zone 3. The panicles are 20 cm (8 in) long, not the smaller flowers you sometimes find on dwarf lilacs, and the individual petals are wide, not narrow like some dwarf flowers. With the full size, and packed with petals, the blooms are very showy, many of the them hanging in pairs. These flowers give lots of  colour and scent for a small shrub. Last year mine flowered for 3 weeks, but it has been blooming for over 4 weeks this year with our cool, late spring.

Syringa vulgaris Wedgewood Blue lilac buds

Syringa vulgaris Wedgewood Blue lilac buds

Of course lilacs not only delight with their pretty blooms, but they fill the senses with their wonderful fragrance. The scent of this lilac is fabulous, and since the flowers are all at nose height, it is very easy to enjoy the wonderful perfume, without being on tiptoe. I circulate to this part of the garden everyday while the shrub is in bloom to breathe deeply of the delicious fragrance.

My compact shrub is about 2 metres tall (6 feet) tall and wide. It has a natural vase shape, which is very attractive. The base is narrow, so there is lots of room for underplanting the smaller lilac with bulbs and perennials in a mixed border. I’ve underplanted my ‘Wedgewood Blue’ with crocus for spring and hardy blue geraniums for summer and fall, so there are blooms from when the snow melts until the first Fall frosts, with few gaps.

Crocus under lilac shrub

Crocus under lilac shrub

The bare lilac branches in the pictures above are from April, when the crocus planted under the shrub flowered. The Crocus chrysanthus (snow crocus) on the bottom half of the photo above are the earliest flowers in my garden. They are followed by the Crocus vernus (large Dutch crocus), which are shown on the top half. As the crocus leaves fade away, the hardy blue Geraniums (cranesbills) grow to cover the bulb leaves.

Geranium 'Johnson's Blue' under lilac

Geranium 'Johnson's Blue' under lilac

The Geraniums bloom after ‘Wedgewood Blue’ is finished, so they continue the flower show. These Geraniums are just developing buds now,  so the picture above is from last year. The first Geraniums to bloom are the ‘Johnson’s Blue’, followed quickly by ‘Rozanne’. The Geranium ‘Rozanne’ bloom all the way to frost. There are a few Campanula (bellflowers) at the front of the bed, too.

Syringa vulgaris 'Wedgewood Blue' lilac double flower

Syringa vulgaris 'Wedgewood Blue' lilac double flower

My ‘Wedgewood Blue’  lilac gets one of the sunnier areas of the garden. a part shade site, but more sun than shade, and the shrub seems to do well. It used to be more shaded from an overgrown Viburnum that I had to remove last year, and it is blooming better than ever now.

Syringa vulgaris 'Wedgewood Blue' lilac closeup

Syringa vulgaris 'Wedgewood Blue' lilac closeup

I highly recommend Syringa vulgaris ‘Wedgewood Blue’, if you are looking for a smaller lilac to fit into your mixed borders, but still want the full lilac flower effect on a dwarf shrub.