Northern Shade Gardening

Shade Garden under Evergreens

Friday, July 9, 2010 Category: Garden Design

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.

Sarah Bernhardt Peony

Wednesday, July 7, 2010 Category: Perennials

The flowers of Paeonia lactiflora ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ are tightly packed with beautiful pink petals. The delicious fragrance is equal to their physical beauty. When summer begins, I look forward to the gorgeous flowers of this peony.

Paeonia lactiflora 'Sarah Bernhardt' perennial

Paeonia lactiflora 'Sarah Bernhardt' perennial

My ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ peony usually gets about 20 to 30 flowers in part shade, each one pretty on its own, but together they put on a spectacular show. The extra full flowers tend to arch over, especially in the rain. I use a one piece metal ring to hold up the peony flowers, inserted when the perennial is about 30 cm (a foot) tall. The ring is quickly hidden by the rapid growth of the foliage.

This Paeonia lactiflora ‘Sarah Bernhardt’  is planted in an area that is part shade, with more sun than shade. It would probably get even more flowers in full sun, but I’m happy with the couple dozen flowers produced by the perennial here.

Paeonia lactiflora 'Sarah Bernhardt' flower closeup

Paeonia lactiflora 'Sarah Bernhardt' flower closeup

The double pink flowers of  ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ are tightly packed with delicate looking petals. Each overlapping petal is crinkled on the end to give a fuller look. The pink shading goes from deeper on the bottom and interior of the petals, to lighter at the tips, making it a very attractive peony flower

Paeonia lactiflora 'Sarah Bernhardt' and campanula glomerata

Paeonia lactiflora 'Sarah Bernhardt' and campanula glomerata

The soft pink colour of the ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ flower is easy to combine in a border with many garden plants, especially ones that are blue, pink or purple.

Sarah Bernhardt peony and bellflower

Sarah Bernhardt peony and bellflower

I have some purple Campanula glomerata (clustered bellflower) planted next to the peony that coordinate well and bloom at the same time. On the other side are some Campanula ‘Summertime Blues’ (bellflowers) with a steely blue colour. In front are some shorter Dianthus caryophyllus ‘Grenadin Pink’ (pink carnations) that are in bud now. At the front edge of the bed are some annual  light blue Lobelia that make a flowering border all season.

Sarah Bernhardt peony flowers

Sarah Bernhardt peony flowers

The scent alone is a great reason for growing a ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ peony. The wonderful fragrance is worth visiting this section of the garden everyday while they are in bloom. These rate at the top of my list of favourite scented plants, along with lilac, mockorange, carnations and lily of the valley.

Sarah Bernhardt peony flower in vase

Sarah Bernhardt peony flower in vase

The flowers make beautiful arrangements in a vase, or even on their own. Above is a flower I picked to display in the small glass vase. I took the picture just before I brought it inside. The scent is wonderful indoors, so I put this one on my dining table to enjoy.

Peonies are reliable perennials, faithfully returning every year. They always make me smile with their predictable cycle of behaviour: ants scurrying over the buds, big pompoms opening, scent perfuming the air, stems bending under the weight of the beauty, rain bending them more, and then after a few weeks petals slowly dropping to carpet the ground. They are a very endearing perennial, foibles and all.

There are more ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ peony photos and information in this previous article.

Philadelphus Lewisii Blizzard

Monday, July 5, 2010 Category: Trees and Shrubs

Philadelphus lewisii ‘Blizzard’ (Blizzard mockorange) is a compact and hardy shrub that blooms reliably in part shade and a cold climate. It produces loads of pretty flowers every year, with a delicious scent. ‘Blizzard’ is my favourite shrub for the shade in a northern climate.

Philadelphus lewisii 'Blizzard' mockorange flowers

Philadelphus lewisii 'Blizzard' mockorange flowers

‘Blizzard’ is a more dwarf shrub than the standard mockorange, with a better shape. Philadelphus virginalis (mockorange) can have a rangy habit, with long branches sticking out at angles. However, Philadelphus lewisii ‘Blizzard’ has more of a rounded shape, with a compact form and good branching. This makes for an attractive looking shrub, even when it is not blooming. The smaller size, about 1.2 m (4 feet) tall and wide, makes it easy to fit into a mixed garden bed.

Philadelphus lewisii 'Blizzard' mockorange flower closeup

Philadelphus lewisii 'Blizzard' mockorange flower closeup

However, ‘Blizzard’ mockorange really earns its space in the garden in early summer when the snowy flowers cover it. The pure white blossoms are gorgeous, with four simple petals, and a cluster of golden anthers in the middle. ‘Blizzard’ has been a very reliable bloomer for me. This hardy shrub flowers every year, even after a cold winter, or late spring frosts and snow.

Philadelphus lewisii 'Blizzard' mockorange white flowers

Philadelphus lewisii 'Blizzard' mockorange white flowers

In the photo above, you can see how the mockorange flowers are clustered at the end of every small lateral branch.  The shrub is bejewelled with the beautiful blooms, for almost three weeks.

Philadelphus lewisii 'Blizzard' mockorange flower cluster

Philadelphus lewisii 'Blizzard' mockorange flower cluster

The mockorange scent is wonderful, and one shrub manages to perfume my patio when all of the blooms are fully open. The fragrance is the icing on the cake for the pretty blooms. My Philadelphus flowers from the end of June to the middle of July in zone 3. The lilacs have finished by then, so this is  a good successive shrub for delightful garden scent.

Philadelphus lewisii 'Blizzard' mockorange shrub overall

Philadelphus lewisii 'Blizzard' mockorange shrub overall

This is one of the few northern shrubs that you can depend on to give a good flower display in the shade. Mine is sited to get some early morning sun for less than a couple of hours, yet it puts out a full set of blooms.

I highly recommend Philadelphus lewisii ‘Blizzard’ for its reliable blooming in a northern climate, shade tolerance, attractive shape and lovely fragrance. You can read more information and see more photos about this mockorange in this post from last year.