Shade Garden under Evergreens

This  shade garden is under some evergreens. I started it last year under the pine and spruce, and the perennials overwintered very well. This year, I’m expanding the plantings, through to the other side of the tall conifers. I’ve recently added some Pachysandra terminalis ‘Green Sheen’ (Japanese spurge), Hosta ‘Patriot’, Heuchera ‘Cinnabar Silver’ and another Athyrium ‘Ghost’. Some of the plants from last year have also been moved around. I’m aiming for a forest floor or woodland garden look in my front yard.

The soil under the spruce is a pleasure to work in. It has years of decomposing needles and tree debris, making a thick spongy layer. It is difficult to dig with a shovel, because of the lower tree branches getting in the way of the handle, so I ended up scooping some of the holes easily with my hands, since the soil was so soft.

Pachysandra terminalis 'Green Sheen' under evergreen
Pachysandra terminalis 'Green Sheen' under evergreen

Do you see how dim it looks at the back of this photo? That’s because they are planted right against the spruce trunk with branches coming down within half a metre (under 2 ft) of the plants. Yet, the Pachysandra terminalis ‘Green Sheen’ is glowing in the background, even where the dappled light doesn’t reach into the shade.

Pachysandra terminalis 'Green Sheen'
Pachysandra terminalis 'Green Sheen'

The glossy Pachysandra terminalis ‘Green Sheen’ (Japanese spurge) is reflecting light in the deepest shade. I never had the urge to add Pachysandra to my shade garden before, until I saw the foliage of  ‘Green Sheen’. Like a magpie, I’m attracted to shiny things in the garden. :) This groundcover is recently planted, so I don’t know for sure how it will overwinter in zone 3, but I think it is going to do well in this siting.

Asarum arifolium ginger leaf detail and woodland floor
Asarum arifolium ginger leaf detail and woodland floor

I just moved the Asarum arifolium (wild ginger) from under the darker spruce tree, where the Pachysandra is now located, to the base of the pine tree. I’ll be able to see the attractive leaves better here, and it will get a bit more light. I’m pleased with how these Asarum have survived so far. I planted them last fall, but they were rated for a warmer zone. The evergreen leaves of the ginger were there in spring, but disappeared at the end of May when we had a snowfall and frosts. Then a few weeks later, one appeared, and now there are five plants showing. I hate to stress them by moving the plants again, but this will be a better position for them, right next to a silver and green grouping, where their faint silver markings will look super.

Asarum arifolium flower detail
Asarum arifolium flower detail

As I was moving them, I notice that they already had a flower this year, so they not only survived the winter and the very late spring  frost, they even had enough energy to flower. The flower is the green structure, looking like a pitted olive, on the upper left of the photo.The flower is not showy, just rather interesting, but it’s a good sign that they are actually hardy in zone 3. The flowers of Asarum are usually right on the ground, hidden by the leaves, but this plant has been dug out and is laying sideways, so you get a good view.

front shade garden under evergreens
front shade garden under evergreens

This is one of my favourite foliage combinations for the shade: Athyrium ‘Ghost’ (ghost fern), Hosta ‘Francee’ and Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ (Siberian bugloss). The white edges of the Hosta leaves, with the silver fern fronds, next to the silvery green Brunnera are very attractive. The transplanted Asarum are at the top in the middle, but you have to click the picture to enlarge and see them. This pine is multi stemmed, so I’m planting in the shady pockets between the small curving trunks.

Asarum arifolium behind other perennials
Asarum arifolium behind other perennials

Here is a closeup, so you can see how nice the leaves look on this ginger. The Asarum arifolium has faint silver markings on it,  so it coordinates beautifully with the perennials that were planted last year in front. If I leave them alone, they should fill in and cover the ground.

Hosta 'Patriot' under evergreens
Hosta 'Patriot' under evergreens

Hosta ‘Patriot’ gets a spot on the other side of this shade garden. It has a wider white margin than the Hosta ‘Francee’ that is already in this bed, so it reflects more light under the shade of the pine. I also added another Athyrium ‘Ghost’ (ghost fern) between the two Hosta. Partly because I appreciate the look of the delicate fern fronds next to the bold Hosta leaves, and partly because it will repeat the silver ferns from the front of the bed.

Heuchera 'Cinnabar Silver'
Heuchera 'Cinnabar Silver'

Another new perennial is Heuchera ‘Cinnabar Silver’, which has fabulous silver leaves, with purple underneath. I especially like leaves where the variegation follows the veins of the plants, making beautiful patterns. I chose this Heuchera because it grows shorter, so it fits underneath the low evergreen branches. Even the red flower wands are shorter, so they won’t get tangled with the overhead boughs. Heuchera are great in a shade garden, because their patterned, colourful leaves add interest even when the plants are not in flower.

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee' with late flower
Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee' with late flower

These Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Lilafee’ (barrenwort) were planted last year, and they have filled in beautifully. This one even has a late flower on it. There were many of these purple flowers dancing over the leaves back in May and June. This plant is terrific for the shade garden, as a nice groundcover.

Hepatica nobilis perennial
Hepatica nobilis perennial

These Hepatica nobilis (liverleaf) were planted in the late fall last year, when they were dormant. This year they sent up these good looking leaves, but only one flower so far. I’m assuming there will be more of the beautiful blue blooms next year as the plants mature.

Aruncus aethusifolius (dwarf goatsbeard) with Brunnera
Aruncus aethusifolius (dwarf goatsbeard) with Brunnera

The Aruncus aethusifolius (dwarf goatsbeard) was planted last year, too. It has finely cut leaves, like a fern, with small creamy white plumes waving over top. Mine bloom well in the shadiest areas of the garden.

Cornus canadensis plant
Cornus canadensis plant

Cornus canadensis (bunchberry) is a very common woodland plant across Canada. This hardy perennial makes a good groundcover under the spruce. I planted these late last summer, and they are starting to spread now.

garden forest floor under evergreens
garden forest floor under evergreens

You can see in this photo that I’m going for a woodsy look, even though the shade garden is on a suburban front lawn. I leave the tree needles and cones here to add to the forest duff, and have been trying to get more moss to grow. The moss is slowly expanding, and should give a nice green setting for the perennials.

The plantings are looking more full, now, and it is greatly improved from the scraggly grass that was here before. This previous post about this shade garden has a good before picture, showing what it looked like when I started planting. I give this garden some supplemental water, but I don’t have to mulch it, since the conifers do that for me. I’m going to continue expanding the bed out more to the next tree.

34 thoughts on “Shade Garden under Evergreens”

  1. I love the idea of a woodland garden in your front yard! Everything looks so natural and fresh. That ghost fern with the Hosta ‘Francee’ combination is quite lovely. I love how the white edges of the hosta stand out.

    Really great stuff here.

    1. Diane, I added many plants with white or silver on their leaves or flowers to lighten the shadows under the conifers. A scene I saw while hiking last summer in the mountains inspired me to add the Cornus and go for even more of a woodland look with moss.

      The Garden Ms. S, I’m aiming for something partway between a garden and a forest floor. The highly polished finish to ‘Green Sheen’ is very eye catching, and it really shows up well in the shadowy area by the spruce trunk. I like the idea of the harebells, and I have a few separate ones in the back garden that I have been thinking of moving. I might try a few here, perhaps in the lighter area.

      Lisa, I’ve enjoyed expanding this bed, and I’d like to enlarge it towards the next conifer. There are frequently birds and squirrels in and under these trees that I enjoy watching from my window.

  2. This is probably my favourite of your many garden areas. I think you are doing a stunning job in a place that many simply ignore. We put some Japanese Spurge (can’t remember which one) under a spruce at our last house and it overwintered nicely. Walking along the edge of the woods tonight after the rain I saw a mossy spot with harebells growing up out of the moss; the vignette was so sweet. I’m sure your moss will get going nicely.

    I look forward to seeing this front woodland garden as it fills out.

  3. Your new garden bed is looking quite good. I like all the layering and the different textures and colors together.

  4. Your ferns are so nice! I love your photo with brunnera, ferns and hosta ‘Francee’. You are so good with combinations of plants.

    I bought epimedium ‘Lilafee’ this spring. It is a nice plant. I have one variegated form of Pachysandra. They maybe need some more sun than the green one.

    1. Marit, I like that group of plants a lot too. I think when the Asarum starts spreading, and shows up more, it will add little dapples of light and silver also. The ‘Lilafee’ flowers are very pretty in spring, and then the leaves make a nice groundcover. I was surprised that this plant still has a flower when the rest have stopped blooming.

      Sheermadness, I don’t really fertilize my garden, mostly the fertilizer is just decomposing tree leaves, especially the back garden which is under deciduous leaves. I leave the tree leaves on the garden over the winter as a protective mulch, but I don’t have oaks. I’ve also used other mulches in some of the beds, which add to the soil.

      You’re right, it is fun to experiment and see what happens. I’ve been pleased that everything has grown so well in this garden bed, since it is under the conifers and on the north side of my house too.

  5. Love your shade beds and the combinations you’ve chosen. Do you find that you need to add any soil amendments or fertilizer to help the plants compete with the tree roots? I live in an oak woods in southwest Wisconsin where the soil is very black. I suppose it’s mostly decomposed leaves, trees and woodland plants with some crushed sandstone mixed in. We’ve dug some of the soil from the bottoms to build beds including a couple in sunnier areas. The perennial beds in shady areas seem to do the best. The sunny beds are not as enthusiastic, some perennials better than others. One thing I’ve noticed is that annuals refuse to grow in this soil whether they are impatiens in the shade or marigolds in the sun. It’s certainly been an interesting experiment seeing what works and what doesn’t.

  6. Hi, we have a lot of similar plants. I like all shadow plants, but have not enough shadow for it. Your ferns are looking beautiful, I have the same. Anthyrium in sorts is allways my favorit – after Polystitchum.

    It is so hot – I must water the garden each morning and evening. Bad!

    Sigrun

    1. Sigrun, I like the number of fronds that the Athyrium ferns get, making full looking plants. ‘Ghost’ is one I especially like, because that light colour shows up so well in the shadier garden spots.

      I hope your temperature cools down, or that you get some rain soon.

  7. Thanks for the post. I had forgotten about pachysandra – I had planted some of that at our first house years ago. I really like that ghost fern, but I have not seen it locally. I plan to do more with heuchera next year – it can be a great companion plant to hostas.

    1. Jeff, you know how good leaves look when it has just rained, and they are all shiny? Well, that is what the ‘Green Sheen ‘ form of Pachysandra looks like all the time. It has the glossiest foliage in my garden. In the deepest shade right under the spruce, most plants would fade into the shadows, but this plant gleams. I’ve read that they might spread too quickly in warmer zones, so you might want to check how it behaves in your zone.

      Heuchera foliage looks fabulous in the shade garden, and it is evergreen, so I see them right up until the snow covers the leaves. One new plant in my garden that I’m very taken with now is Heucherella ‘Tapestry’. It has the beauty of the Heuchera leaves, but the flowers are thicker and longer lasting.

    1. Laura, the arrow shape of the wild ginger is a nice contrast to the other leaves. I hope that they spread out here, since I think they’ll look great when they start carpeting the ground. I’ll have to let them be for a while, no more transplanting them.

  8. What a fantastic post Nothern! I have never been attracted to spurge, until now! Your ‘Green Sheen’ is amazing. The pitted olive asarum flowers are so very interesting and it’s remarkable how much showier Patriot is compared to Francee. Your collection of plants is so beautiful!

    1. Rebecca, thanks. I’ve really started appreciating white edged Hosta in the shade, because it looks like dappled light is playing on them all the time. I would like to get a Hosta with a narrow white centre for the other side of this bed. I think it would look good with these two, and with ‘Ginko Craig’, another white edged Hosta in this bed that I just realized I forgot to post the picture for.

      Like you, I’ve never particularly wanted to plant Pachydandra, that is until I saw ‘Green Sheen’. The high gloss finish acts like little mirrors in the dimmer areas.

      I like to search for the little flowers of Asarum europaeum under the leaves and laying on top of the soil too. They are the same shape, but brownish purple and slightly hairy. Nature is amazing in its diversity.

  9. The white centered hostas are beautiful too, so unusual for variegation pattern that it is a must have. I have been pleased with the young Medio Variegata with this arrangement of colours. Happy Shopping. :)

  10. Goodness, this is the place to come for shade plants. You’ve done a terrific job arranging them underneath your evergreens. I would love to try Asarum but never have ~ those flowers really are interesting. Great to know so many plants are hardy to your zone ~ that means they are here too!! The ghost fern is beautiful. I may have to look for one of those as well.

    1. Kathleen, the Asarum make great edging plants, since they have such attractive leaves, as well as growing in some of the shadier areas of my garden. The Asarum europaeum has done very well, but I wasn’t sure how Asarum arifolium would do, because I’ve seen it listed for a couple of zones warmer, but it made it through a tough winter.

      Joy, I chose the Pachysandra because this is one of the shadiest, driest areas in the garden. I felt sorry for the Asarum in this spot, and wanted to see its leaves better, so I moved them over, and the Pachysandra got the the short straw. Plus the extra shiny leaves show up well in there.

      I haven’t seen Silver Lining around here, and look forward to reading about it. I wonder what your surprise Epimedium will look like?

  11. Hello there Northern Shade girl : )
    I love your plant combinations .. I have considered pachysandra a few times but haven’t quit gotten there with it .. you may have nudged me towards it again : )
    I have been looking for another “Ghost” fern but so far no luck here locally ..
    I bought a large healthy looking epimedium but this is the funny part .. no plant tag .. I know it is an epimedium but which one I have to wait and see when it flowers .. even then I may have to ask for help with an ID on it.
    I have collected a lot of plants for my ever growing shade garden.
    One great point on the new brunnera “Silver Lining” it looks wonderful ! as do they all but this is a new one for me .. along with King’s Ransom .. really pretty and I am so glad I ordered them !
    Love all of your cool refreshing shade plants girl !
    Joy : )

  12. I got so many great ideas from this post, because I’m planning a fern corner and Athyrium ‘Ghost’+ Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ look so good together, that I need to copy that into my garden too. ;)

    1. Quu, we like many of the same plants. I have that Athyrium ‘Ghost’ and Brunnera in another bed in my backyard combined with some Campanula carpatica and Actaea ramosa that I like too.

  13. Hi Northern, just thought of you during the afternoon walkabout! I found a hosta I had forgotten about (must relocate due to overgrowth of other plants), it is the beautiful Whirlwind, which has the white centred leaves with dark green margins, the leaves are slightly twisted and very beautiful.

  14. Hi Northern Shade,

    I was surprised to see the Japanese Spurge in your garden – I remember it from a youth far to the south, but assumed it wasn’t hardy here. Skinner & William’s very useful Best Groundcovers and Vines for the Prairies, however, says it is possible for the non-variegated form in a sheltered microclimate with reliable snow cover, but also say ‘slow and difficult’.

    Based on their glowing review, this year I’m trialling Waldsteinia ternata – Siberian Barren Strawberry (the North American species don’t seem to be available and are less hardy). It has dark green foliage that may get more or less lost in the spruce shade (I can see that the glossy foliage of the spurge would be far more vivid), but yellow flowers that may add some zest to an otherwise gloomy spot.

    Glad to see your Hepatica nobilis survived – I had been meaning to ask. Mine seemed about a third smaller in diameter this Spring, but put on a fine display and looks healthy at the moment. Even better, a tiny two-leaf seedling has popped up nearby. I’ve had a number of my shade plants surprise me with a seedling this year -interesting because I lost a few long established plants over the winter and others seem to have been whacked back a bit.

    1. Dave, these Pachysandra were good sized healthy plants, so I hope that gives them a head start on survival. The Asarum, which are rated a couple of zones warmer, survived the winter in that spot, and the overhead branches probably help. They also get some of the nicest, deepest humus, on the other hand it’s very dim, and there is a lot of root competition, but I think they handle that part well.

      The Hepatica nobilis seems to be doing well now, but were a little slow to emerge in spring. With a snowstorm at the end of May, late emergence was probably a good survival strategy. The Hepatica did get one flower, which was a pretty blue, and I’m assuming that they will flower more next year as they fill in.

  15. I live in Muskoka Ontario and am pleased to find a website that talks about shade gardening because I get a lot of shade in the front gardens. (The back is in the sun all day.)
    I also have a garden around the roots of some pine trees. They are 50 feet high and form a large circle of about 7. One of them fronts on my front lawn which has flower beds all around it. So it was natural that I create a garden around the roots of the one facing the lawn. I must mention that I rarely water this garden.
    I planted a Japanese Painted Fern which is doing very well this year. It is slow coming up but manages to do well eventually. But the thing that does extremely well is a Lamium and Siberian Squill. It is a bulb that I planted in 2004 and has bloomed with no help from me ever since. I now have many more than I planted. It is done blooming by June here. This year they bloomed in April and were done by May.
    Keep up the good work, beautiful pictures and great blogs.

    1. Gail, thanks. It sounds like you have a lovely setting for your garden under the tall trees. Japanese painted ferns are so attractive, with their wonderfully coloured foliage. I like Siberian squills, too, for their pretty blue flowers and tolerance of shade. I have some planted just across the walkway from this garden section.

  16. I have 2 spruce trees in my front yard, which only gets some sun, and am trolling for plants that will grow under the trees. I was just wondering if these plants all have low water requirements, or do you have to water them? I’m looking for plants that don’t require water, because where I live (just north of Calgary) water is very expensive!

    1. what happened to the lady that runs this sight. I wish she would continue I miss her posts

  17. September 6, 2915. 3.46 PM

    I live in Northwest Vermont. 30 years ago I planted what I thought were 7 Ginger plants under my white spruce. The plants came
    up in some years and I could not find them in other springs and summers. Then I started seeing that some were growing but away from the Spruce Tree. They are now growing on both sides of my walkway from my driveway. Not one is still under my Spruce Tree. They have not moved under my horizontal 2 Yews. My front yard has been turning into a natural woodland yard as is my side and back yards. I have many trees in both my front yard and back yard Maples, Oaks that are 80+ feet tall, 2 80 foot tall Poplars, Ash, White Pines, Hazelnut bushes, raspberries, 5 types of Ferns have transplanted themselves from the woods in the past 35 years. My property almost a 1/2 acre is now a National Wildlife Federation Certified Habitat since the early 2000’s. I think the environment is becoming warmer as plants that just survived in my zone 3/4 are now starting to spread and not just hanging on. I do put down peat moss every few years. I have never used any chemicals in my gardens. I leave the leaves on the ground in winter for the protection of the plants and mammals and birds. I never take the leaves away from my back yard or most places in the front yard. Nature works wonders if we are only patient and let Nature do her thing.

    1. Violet, your garden sound beautiful. I love the look of the ginger plants under the trees. Mine have spread very slowly, but not as well as yours. Like you, I don’t use any chemicals in the garden, and mostly leave the leaves on the garden, pulling them back from some perennials, or chopping them with the mower and letting them mulch into the garden. Under the conifers, the needles and cones also add a natural mulch, with the squirrels leaving piles of cone scales.

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