Northern Shade Gardening

Crocus Bulbs in Gold and Purple

Thursday, October 14, 2010 Category: Bulbs

Crocus vernus (large Dutch crocus) provide lots of pretty blooms early in spring, just when you are starved for new flowers after the long winter. They have large, showy blooms in bright colours, and flower right after the early Crocus chrysanthus (snow crocus). I’ve included some pictures of the crocus bulbs I just planted in October, and a few photos of the flowers from last spring.

There is a patch of both Crocus vernus and Crocus chrysanthus (snow crocus) just across the path here. You can follow those links to see what they looked like in bloom. They were such a bright cheery sight in earliest spring, that I wanted to spread more colour over to this section of the garden. The Paeonia (peony), Phlox and Campanula (bellflower) perennials in this bed won’t be up until later in spring, so these crocus bulbs will start the colour parade. Then the later rising perennial foliage will hide the decaying bulb leaves.

Crocus vernus bulbs about to be planted

Crocus vernus bulbs about to be planted

I enjoyed the purple and gold colour scheme so much last spring, that I wanted to recreate it here. This is a smaller space to plant in,  because I can’t plant between the large bearded iris rhizomes or evergreen Dianthus. I debated about either going with the extra early snow crocus for first flowers, or the larger Dutch crocus, and ended up deciding on the large Crocus vernus. Originally, I was going to try out some new types, but I ended up planting the same Crocus corms that I planted last Fall, since I liked the large flowers and bright colours so much.

Crocus vernus 'Remembrance' large dutch crocus in spring

Crocus vernus 'Remembrance' large dutch crocus in spring

Crocus vernus ‘Remembrance’ have large purple flowers, very bold and showy. In the picture of the packages at the top, their position is mostly hidden behind the Phlox plants. The photo directly above is from last spring, showing how cheery the purple petals are. There are 30 of these in the new section, but I wish I had put more of them at the back to balance the striped ones. If I can find more ‘Remembrance’, I’m going to extend the group.

Crocus vernus 'Pickwick' large Dutch crocus bulbs

Crocus vernus 'Pickwick' large Dutch crocus bulbs

Crocus vernus ‘Pickwick’ have purple and white stripes. These ones coordinate beautifully with ‘Remembrance’, as do the similarly coloured ‘Striped Beauty’. Both of these types of striped crocus are planted in front of the solid ‘Remembrance’. When planting in between perennials, I find it easiest to dig a hole for a group of 10 to 20, arrange the crocus bulbs randomly, settle them down in the loose soil at the bottom, and then cover them back up. There are 45 ‘Pickwick’ on one side and 30 ‘Striped Beauty’ planted here.

Crocus vernus 'Silver Coral' white with purple base

Crocus vernus 'Silver Coral' white with purple base

The Crocus vernus ‘Silver Coral’ bulbs are in between the two stripy versions. ‘Silver Coral’ is white with a purple base, so it is perfect for in the centre of the solid and striped purple ones. The shot above shows them from last April. At the back right of the picture, you can see how their base colour matches the Crocus vernus ‘Remembrance’. There are 30 ‘Silver Coral’ in the middle, to add a little rest from all of the purple.

Crocus 'Yellow Mammoth' bulbs being planted

Crocus 'Yellow Mammoth' bulbs being planted

In front of all of the the others are 40 Crocus ‘Yellow Mammoth’. These vivid crocus are a golden yellow, with a long bloom time. Their colour looks fabulous with the purples, a bright, cheery spring combination. The yellow really pops in front of the darker colours.

Crocus 'Yellow Mammoth' bulbs Dutch crocus packages

Crocus 'Yellow Mammoth' bulbs Dutch crocus packages

I also planted another 40 of the ‘Yellow Mammoth’ next to a separate group of blue Iris reticulata ‘Cantab’. Last year the Iris were in a group by themselves, underneath a Philadelphus (mockorange orange shrub). I think the ‘Yellow Mammoth’, which bloom at the same time, will make another pretty spring pairing. On impulse, I added another 30 ‘Striped Beauty’ next to the Iris and ‘Yellow Mammoth’ group. Now there will be purple and white striped crocus, then golden yellow crocus in the middle, and blue with gold-flecked iris on the other side. I’m eager to see how the three look together when they bloom.

It was a lot of fun planting crocus bulbs over the last few weekends, since the weather has been very warm for Edmonton, and the sun was shining. It feels good to have the warm sun on your skin, as you dig in the earth, and the Fall leaves gently waft down around you, then into the planting holes. It is one of my favourite parts of gardening. I always picture what the new bulbs will look like in spring as I plant, so I made a montage below to show how it looked in my mind.

Crocus vernus composite photo

Crocus vernus composite photo

The composite photo shows how the colours of the four crocus look  together in the relative positions in which they’ve been planted, purple behind, white with a hint of purple in the middle, purple and white stripes on each side, and golden crocus in front. Now I can’t wait until next April, for the bulb procession to start. I’m a big fan of the small early bulbs to start the garden season extra early with a burst of colour. They are the perfect antidote to the blandness of an Edmonton April. All around will be the monotonous beige of late winter, but the bright crocus will sing that the garden season has really begun.

Blue and Purple Flowers in October

Monday, October 11, 2010 Category: Perennials

Here are some of the blue  and purple flowers still blooming in October in zone 3. These are the hardier perennials that have a long flowering time and can still produce colour as most other perennials are fading away for the year.  If you’re viewing on a lower resolution, you need to click the picture to see the overflow.

blue and purple flowers in October

blue and purple flowers in October

On the top left are the flowers of Geranium ‘Rozanne’ (cranesbill) with five rounded petals, each with a white  centre. These have been in bloom since July. ‘Rozanne’ is a terrific plant for a long season of pretty blue flowers. The foliage still looks fresh, too. It is such an easy care perennial, and goes well with many other plants. I like to use them for underplantng shrubs or tall perennials, as they doesn’t mind the shade they make. You can see more pictures of how these hardy geraniums look under a lilac here.

On the upper right of the photo is Phlox paniculata ‘David’s Lavender’ (tall garden phlox), which has soft lavender coloured petals, each with a smaller white bee in the middle than ‘Rozanne’. Mine start flowering at the end of August in zone 3, and continue through until October. They put on a good show, even in part shade. You can see that the white ‘David’ behind finishes a little earlier than the purple flowers.

Campanula poscharskyana (Carpathian bellflower) is on the lower left, with some unopened buds still. These blooms are a pretty lavender blue., and have five narrow petals in a star shape. Many  of the plants still have a good number of flowers, but in summer there can be over a hundred blooms on one small 30 cm square (1 foot square) plant. They produce  well in the shade. The starry blooms are arranged along long flowering stems that mostly spread out along the ground. This bellflower goes from July until very late Fall. It is another perennial that is very useful for underplanting shrubs or tall perennials with a narrow base. There are more pictures of using this Campanula for underplanting in this article.

Campanula rotundifolia (harebell or bluebell of Scotland) is shown on the bottom right side of the collage. These perennials have been blooming since June, and are still producing many blue flowers, even after the first frost. The flowering stems are about 30 cm tall (1 foot), or a little taller, with many bells arranged all around the stems. There are more photos of Campanula rotundifolia in this post from last year. Another bellflower still blooming is Campanula cochlearifolia (fairy thimble bellflower). The blooms are smaller versions of C. rotundifolia on shorter plants. Both of these Campanula put on a good display in part shade.

You can see from the pictures, that the maple tree has lost all of its leaves, and perennials like lily of the valley have faded to yellow, but some hardy perennials continue to bloom through late Fall. Those two Campanula often flower right through October and sometimes up until December, or the first snowfall which usually comes first. These are all great plants for keeping the garden going in soft shades of blue and lavender, when other perennials are starting to sleep.

Heuchera Foliage in Fall

Thursday, October 7, 2010 Category: Perennials

Heuchera foliage (coral bells) looks fabulous all season, since they are evergreen. As other perennials start to loose their leaves and flowers in Fall, the coral bells continue to look good, and some develop additional Autumn colouring. Here are five of my favourite Heuchera leaves, livening up the shade garden. All of these ones have hints of silver.

Heuchera 'Mint Frost' two plants

Heuchera ‘Mint Frost’ two plants

Heuchera ‘Mint Frost’ has subtle foliage for most of the season, in a light green with a hint of silver, and slightly pronounced colour along the veins, while the edges are banded in a medium green. However, when the cold weather starts, ‘Mint Frost’ gets dramatic colour changes of purple, red and gold along the veins, and then all over. The best thing is that they don’t lose their leaves after the colour change, like most plants would, so you get to enjoy the colourful leaves for a long time. They can make this transformation due to late spring frosts, as well as in the Fall. I like the green summer shades and the brighter colours induced by the cold weather equally well.

Heuchera 'Mint Frost' with fall purple

Heuchera ‘Mint Frost’ with fall purple

These ones are just starting to develop the red lines along the blades for fall and some have turned completely, but you can see how fresh the green foliage looks, too. Soon the leaves will be an all over red, purple or even orange colour.  ‘Mint Frost’ is best planted for the decorative foliage, since its tall spires of  flowers are insignificant. There is more about ‘Mint Frost’ here.

Heuchera 'Mint Frost' purple leaf with green band in fall

Heuchera ‘Mint Frost’ purple leaf with green band in fall

Look at how the purple leaves of  ‘Mint Frost’ still have the green rim around them, a cool effect. This plant doesn’t seem to have a predetermined Fall plan, it just wings it with whatever it feels like changing to. Last year, they turned more gold and orange, but this year they are purple. They are either very capricious, or have been reading the fashion magazines for the current trendy colours. I guess  purple is in this Fall, and gold is out.

Heuchera 'Green Spice' fall foliage

Heuchera ‘Green Spice’ fall foliage

Heuchera ‘Green Spice’ (also called ‘Eco-improved’) has a light green colour to the foliage  with very distinct purple red markings following along the veins all season. Leaves with contrasting colours along the veins are some of my favourites, as they make more beautiful patterns than random blotches. Like ‘Mint Frost’, ‘Green Spice’ has a darker green band around the edge. They are decorative enough to grab your attention, but with the green background, they also blend well with other plants. ‘Green Spice’ looks super with silver, green or purple leafed plants.

Heuchera 'Plum Pudding' leaves in fall

Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’ leaves in fall

Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’ have dark purple leaves, with silver overtones. The undersides are a solid purplish red. This is another really nice Heuchera for a section of the garden with purple  colouring.  The dark colour is very dramatic, and the silver shimmer keeps them from looking gloomy. I have some next to a purple leafed Actaea racemosa (bugbane), and they coordinate well. Plant ‘Plum Pudding’ for its foliage, as the cream coloured flowers are not noticeable. There is more about Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’ here.

Heuchera 'Plum Pudding' with violet pink colour

Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’ with violet pink colour

You can see in this photo that ‘Plum Pudding’ has a little more more violet  pink tone in the Autumn.

Heuchera 'Plum Pudding' backlit leaf showing red

Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’ backlit leaf showing red

The ‘Plum Pudding’ leaf is backlit here, making it look like its veins run with hot lava, as the red colour on the other side shines through.

Heuchera 'Cinnabar Silver' fall foliage

Heuchera ‘Cinnabar Silver’ fall foliage

Here is another backlit shot, but of  ‘Cinnabar Silver’, showing the red fire starting along its veins.

Heuchera 'Cinnabar Silver' pretty leaves

Heuchera ‘Cinnabar Silver’ pretty leaves

Heuchera ‘Cinnabar Silver’ has fantastic silvery green leaves with purple overtones, There are very dark markings along the leaf veins. The patterns formed by the dark markings are very attractive against the lighter background. These plants coordinate nicely with either silver or purple foliage, and make a nice bridge between purple and silver plants. There is  more silver grey and less purple on these blades than ‘Plum Pudding’. ‘Cinnabar Silver’, though, has beautiful flowers of red, which are extra showy. It is also a little more compact than the other Heuchera.

Heuchera 'Cinnabar Silver' pretty red flowers

Heuchera ‘Cinnabar Silver’ pretty red flowers

Although this is mostly about the Heuchera foliage, I had to add in a picture of the wonderful red flowers on ‘Cinnabar Silver’. This photo was taken in October, after some early frosts. You can see more pictures of the ‘Cinnabar Silver’ flowers here.

Heuchera 'Raspberry Ice' silver and purple leaves

Heuchera ‘Raspberry Ice’ silver and purple leaves

Heuchera ‘Raspberry Ice’ is another coral bells with a  silver and purple scheme. These plants have green leaves with lots of silver overlay and some purple. There are pronounced dark lines along the veins. The scalloped edges give a slightly ruffled look to the plants. ‘Raspberry Ice’  is one Heuchera that has beautiful flowers too, with bright pink blooms. If you are looking for fantastic foliage and pretty flowers, this is a good choice. There is more about Heuchera ‘Raspberry Ice’ here.

Heuchera 'Plum Pudding' silver purple leaves

Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’ silver purple leaves

You can see that I especially like the Heuchera foliage with  grey or silver tones. It gives the plants a little extra sparkle in the shade, and brightens up the darker areas, with more light reflection. Dark colours tend to recede into the shade, so adding some light colours makes them more noticeable.

I’ve grown to appreciate Heuchera foliage more and more as the leaves of other perennials start to decline or drop in the Fall. In the short growing season of zone 3, the garden has less time to flourish in between winter snow seasons, so having some decorative plants that show off at the beginning and end of the gardening year increases the enjoyment of the garden.

Heuchera 'Raspberry Ice' two plants in fall leaves

Heuchera ‘Raspberry Ice’ two plants in fall leaves

This year, we had our last spring frost on May 31 and our first fall frost in the middle of September. That left three and a half months in between with no frost, so you can see how perennials with evergreen foliage are important for lengthening the garden interest. The Heuchera look great, right until covered up by the snow. The garden also gets started quickly in spring, as soon as the snow melts to reveal the evergreen leaves. Most of the them are in good condition, after resting all winter, and the plants just need a little tidy. I’ve added many more Heuchera, Tiarella (foamflower) and their cross, Heucherella (foamy bells), this year because I’ve been so impressed with this ability.

Since these perennials have somewhat stiff leaves, with a distinct scalloped shape, they look good as a contrast next to the fine texture of Astilbe or ferns, or the even larger leaves of Hosta. I also have some beside  the long fuzzy leaves of some Pulmonaria. Their mounds of shapely leaves add some texture contrast to the shade garden.

With the wide variety of leaf patterns, it is easy to find a Heuchera that coordinates with your other garden colours. I’m particularly fond of the silvery green and silvery purple ones, and find they fit easily into a garden bed scheme. Best of all, the fancy foliage stays around all year, so your shady garden never looks bare. Here are some Heuchera with attractive flowers, too.

Heuchera leaves and flowers collage

Heuchera leaves and flowers collage