Northern Shade Gardening

Helleborus and Brunnera in Fall

Tuesday, October 26, 2010 Category: Perennials
Helleborus and Brunnera in fall leaves

Helleborus and Brunnera in fall leaves

As the fall temperatures bring down the perennials in the garden one by one, I’m enjoying the plants that are evergreen, or at least keep their leaves until the deeper frosts. Here is a garden border that still looks good at the end of October. The Helleborus will keep its foliage until spring, but the Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian bugloss) will lose its leaves when we have colder weather. We had our first frosts back in mid-September, so the stoic Brunnera have provided long interest in the garden. I took the above photo this weekend, just before the snow hit.

In the picture above, the Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass’ plants are at the front of the photo in a light-toned silver colour. In the middle are the wonderful leaves of Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’, which just keep going year round.  Then at the back of the picture are the etched leaves of Brunnera macrophlla ‘Jack Frost’. The ferns on the right of the shot have mostly died back now.

Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' with flowers in October

Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' with flowers in October

The Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ foliage is still in pristine condition, preserving its dark green with a slightly marbled effect. On the upper left of the picture, you can see some have even retained the yellow flower bracts since April. If you can count them as a flower, then these are definitely my longest blooming perennials. :) I wonder if they will still be on when the new flowers emerge next April? Because we have good snow coverage in winter, the Helleborus leaves are still in good shape in spring, with just a few that need tidying up.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' leaf detail in October

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' leaf detail in October

‘Jack Frost’ is a most photogenic plant. Above is a closeup of  a ‘Jack Frost’ leaf, showing the fabulous patterns created by the green veins running through the light silver leaf. The stained glass effect created by the green and silver is fascinating on an individual leaf, and very showy on a group of plants. These Brunnera have conserved their leaves through a number of frosts down to -4º C (25º F).

Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass' in October

Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass' in October

‘Looking Glass’ has a more overall silver colour, with much narrower green lines through the leaf, and a green rim. The silver grey colour reflects a lot of light, so it stands out in the shadowy areas. As your eyes follow along a shady garden bed, they stop to rest on the brightness of  ‘Looking Glass’.

Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' and Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass' in fall

Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' and Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass' in fall

Here is a nice contrast between the dark green hellebore leaves and the light-toned Brunnera leaves. This is another Helleborus that still has kept some of the yellow flower bracts from six months ago. All of these perennials are planted at the base of a willow tree, and thrive in this location.

As many perennials retreat underground to survive the winter, those that keep their leaves through the first frosts are invaluable in the late fall garden. Tonight the temperatures are supposed to drop to -10º C (14º F) so even the tolerant perennials like Brunnera will most likely die back finally. However, the Helleborus will still be green when the weather warms up next weekend, and the snow melts. I’m still enjoying gardening, and I’m not ready to retreat inside and look out the windows at conifers and decorative sticks yet, so I really esteem the Helleborus, Asarum, Heuchera, Tiarella and other semi-evergreen perennials that beautify the shade garden still.

Tiarella and Heuchera under Spruce

Sunday, October 24, 2010 Category: Perennials

I’ve become very enthusiastic about Heuchera and Tiarella, for their terrific foliage, and ability to grow under the trees. I’ve been extending the garden under my large spruce trees, digging out more lawn and planting shade perennials with evergreen leaves. Some of the new plants are Heuchera ‘Raspberry Ice’, Tiarella ‘Jeepers Creepers’ and Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice’. These are all shade tolerant, and they will look great until covered up with snow. The Tiarella have very pretty flowers, and I’ve been adding some Heuchera that have showier blooms, too.

Tiarella 'Jeepers Creepers'

Tiarella ‘Jeepers Creepers’

Tiarella ‘Jeepers Creepers’ (foamflower) is supposed to be midway between a clumping form and a running form. These perennials are so attractive, that I wouldn’t mind if they spread more like a running type. You can see in the picture above that the leaves have a nice glossy look. The plants have been extremely healthy looking so far. I’ll let you know next year how they grow and overwinter in zone 3.

Tiarella 'Jeepers Creepers' hairy leaf

Tiarella ‘Jeepers Creepers’ hairy leaf

Tiarella ‘Jeepers Creepers’ has shiny, green leaves with dark centres radiating out along the lobes from the middle. The foliage is very fresh looking and attractive. The leaves have small white hairs when you look at them close up. You can click the photo above to see how hairy they really are.

Tiarella 'Jeepers Creepers' flower

Tiarella ‘Jeepers Creepers’ flower

One ‘Jeepers Creepers’ plant has a single flower still on it, since it was planted this month. It should be covered in these white spikes next year. I was very impressed with the length of the flowering time of Tiarella ‘Pink Skyrocket’, so I’m looking forward to seeing how long these ones bloom next year. You can see more photos of these Tiarella, and read about how beautifully they are doing in this followup article. Another Tiarella with light green leaves like Jeepers Creepers is ‘Neon Lights’.

Heuchera 'Raspberry Ice' 3 plants

Heuchera ‘Raspberry Ice’ 3 plants

Heuchera ‘Raspberry Ice’ (coral bells) has outstanding silvery purple leaves that look dramatic in the shade garden. There are three plants in the group above, already making a nice sized clump. The silver colour is reflecting the light underneath the spruce, so they show up well. I have a group of these in my backyard too, where they have no problems with the shade.

Heuchera 'Raspberry Ice' pink flower

Heuchera ‘Raspberry Ice’ pink flower

These new ‘Raspberry Ice’ are out of synch with the seasons, so they have a single pink flower on them still. You can see how pretty the dark pink bloom looks, especially against the silvery background.

Heuchera 'Raspberry Ice' silver purple leaves

Heuchera ‘Raspberry Ice’ silver purple leaves

Some Heuchera have gorgeous leaves, but insignificant flowers. The winning combination of fantastic foliage and showy flowers make Heuchera ‘Raspberry Ice’ a great garden plant. I have two other Heuchera that combine great foliage with pretty flowers.

Tiarella 'Sugar and Spice' green and purple leaves

Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice’ green and purple leaves

Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice’ (foamflower) has foliage very similar to ‘Jeepers Creepers’, green lobes with darker purple  centres. The colour contrast makes the perennials a little bolder looking and pleasing in the garden. They can be placed next to green leafed plants to add a little pizazz, or make a bridge between plants with purple leaves and those with green foliage, coordinating them together.

Tiarella 'Sugar and Spice' foliage

Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice’ foliage

I also have  some ‘Sugar and Spice in my back garden, and the foliage is glossy, reflecting extra light. This makes them valuable in the shade, where they brighten the shadowy areas. Plus, the shiny leaves are a joy to look at, even when there are no flowers out.

Tiarella 'Sugar and Spice' flower

Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice’ flower

The flowers of Tiarella  ‘Sugar and Spice’ are white, but they emerge from pink buds, so they have a light pink appearance from a distance, but they are not as dark pink looking as ‘Pink Skyrocket’.

Heuchera and Tiarella under spruce

Heuchera and Tiarella under spruce

The picture above has ‘Raspberry Ice’ at the front and ‘Jeepers Creeper’ behind. Next spring I’ll know more about how these survive a zone 3 winter, but I anticipate them doing fine. My other Heuchera have been very hardy, preserving most of their leaves under the snow for an early spring display. We generally get reliable snow cover, which helps save the evergreen leaves from the bitter cold. You can see in the photo above that they are entirely unaffected by our first frosts. These are great plants for shade gardening in a cold climate.

Heuchera and Tiarella under evergreens

Heuchera and Tiarella under evergreens

As many perennials have turned brown in Autumn, disappearing for the winter, those with evergreen or semi-evergreen leaves provide texture, colour and garden interest. In zone 3, the dieing back can start early, leaving the garden looking bare. However, perennials like Heuchera, Heucherella, Tiarella, Asarum (ginger), Helleborus (hellebore), some Campanula (bellflowers) and some Pulmonaria (lungwort) lengthen the gardening season with their evergreen foliage, until finally covered with snow. Then in spring as the melting snow reveals bare earth in most of the  garden, these perennials are showing colourful foliage for a quick start to your shade garden. In a short growing season, this trait is especially appealing.

Tiarella 'Jeepers Creepers' great leaves

Tiarella ‘Jeepers Creepers’ great leaves

You can read and see more about some some other Heuchera and Tiarella I grow in theses posts, Heuchera foliage in fall, Tiarella ‘Pink Skyrocket, Heuchera ‘Cinnabar Silver’, Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’, and Heuchera ‘Mint Frost’.

Epimedium Fall Colour

Monday, October 18, 2010 Category: Perennials
Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee' (lilac fairy barrenwort) red leaf colour in fall

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee' (lilac fairy barrenwort) red leaf colour in fall

Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Lilafee’ (Lilac Fairy barrenwort or bishop’s hat) has green leaves shaped like asymmetrical hearts and pretty purple flowers. However the foliage is especially nice in the Spring and Fall, when they are etched with red. Right now, they are developing their fall colour of red patterns along the leaf veins. The eye-catching foliage looks particularly attractive as it changes, adding a little more colour to the shade garden. These pictures are all from October, except for the flower photo.

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee' lilac fairy flowers in May

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee' lilac fairy flowers in May

The photo above shows the flowers from last spring. ‘Lilafee’ has a little extra pizazz then, when the new leaves have red bands all around the edges, although the photo above doesn’t highlight the red border. The edging emphasizes the asymmetrical heart shape to the leaves and makes them stand out. The flowers will start to bloom while the new foliage is still small, in mid to late spring. In my zone 3 garden, they are in flower for about a month, from the middle of May to the middle of June. They are the fourth perennial to start blooming in my spring garden, right after the Helleborus, Brunnera (Siberian bugloss) and Pulmonaria (lungwort). ‘Lilafee’ has purple blooms, a little larger than regular Epimedium. The flowers are held above the foliage, so they can be enjoyed without searching. The buds are a darker purple. Then as they unfold, the long spurs have white tips.

This cultivar ‘Lilafee’ is sometimes sold as ‘Lilac Fairy’, and you can see the dancing fairy effect in the picture above. If you are a marketer, it is  not enough to have a great little plant, you have to have a catchy name, too.

Gradually the red bands disappear, and the flowers fade by summer. These dependable perennials provide a healthy green edge for a summer flower border. However, they don’t grab your attention in the summertime, since the green is not as noticeable. They are a nice setting for other leaves and flowers, though.

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee' (lilac fairy barrenwort) fall colour leaf closeup

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee' (lilac fairy barrenwort) fall colour leaf closeup

Then in Fall, the plain  green leaves start colouring along the veins, developing pronounced red lines. They become a focus again, as other perennials fade out.  After the  transformation, the bolder colouring catches your eye. These Epimedium grandiflorum are planted next to some Cornus canadensis, which have a dramatic Fall change to purplish red. The two perennials make for a more lively October garden.

Epimedium are very low maintenance plants. They form a good groundcover, as you can see below,  so there is not much weeding to do. These plants can handle a fair amount of dryness, so you don’t have to water frequently. Epimediums don’t mind a site underneath the tall conifers, which other perennials might object to. Plus, they are easy to fit into shady garden nooks. Some of mine only get an hour or so a day of light, and they do fine. Although they are easy care, they are not annoying or invasive like some shade groundcovers can be. They grow to the edge of the surrounding perennials, but don’t bother them. They are about 30 cm (1 foot) tall, so you can use them for underplanting, too. Then the Fall colour is an extra bonus.

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee' (lilac fairy barrenwort) athyrium ghost brunnera jack frost

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee' (lilac fairy barrenwort) athyrium ghost brunnera jack frost

In the photo above, the Epimedium grandiflorum are backed up by the finely cut fronds of two Athyrium ‘Ghost’ (ghost ferns) and bordered on the left by the heart shaped leaves of a Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’. In the back garden, I have them next to some Athyrium niponicum (painted ferns) and in front of some Dicentra ‘Alba’ (white bleeding hearts.)

The Epimedium grandiflorum have semi evergreen leaves, so they are another great plant for a short growing season. They remain green and patterned up until snowfall. After the snow melts in spring, they lose their old leaves, and grow new ones. These semi-evergreen perennials extend a short gardening season to make both late Fall and early Spring more interesting in the garden. You can see more spring photos and read more information about this Epimedium in this earlier article.

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee' (lilac fairy barrenwort) fall colour

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee' (lilac fairy barrenwort) fall colour

If you are looking for a low maintenance  shade groundcover, with pretty flowers and nice Fall colours, Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Lilafee’ is a good choice.

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee' lilac fairy closeup of fall leaf

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee' lilac fairy closeup of fall leaf