Tiarella for Beautiful Flowers and Leaves in the Shade

Tiarella 'Pink Skyrocket' foam flower mostly open
Tiarella ‘Pink Skyrocket’ foam flower mostly open

Tiarella (foamflower) are a new favourite shade perennial of mine. In spring they send up short spikes of pretty blooms over top of very decorative leaves. These plants are very tolerant of growing under the trees, and in other shadowy garden areas. All of mine have survived a zone 3 winter with no problems. Of the three that I grow, ‘Sugar and Spice’ and ‘Pink Skyrocket’ are my favourites. ‘Jeepers Creepers’ might just need another year to settle in and produce more flowers.

Tiarella 'Sugar and Spice' foamflower up close detail
Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice’ foamflower up close detail

Above is Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice’, which gets a good number of flowers. These have been in bloom for over a month now. Each flower spike starts with tight buds, and then gradually the buds open from the bottom. As they open, they produce tiny starry shaped, white flowers. From a distance the combination of pink buds and white flowers have a light pink appearance, living up to their ‘Sugar and Spice’ name. It takes a while for all of the buds to open, and then they appear as very pale pink.

Tiarella 'Sugar and Spice' foamflower with pine needles
Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice’ foamflower with pine needles

I have one group of ‘Sugar and Spice’ right under the low branches of a pine tree, which you can see on the left of the above picture. Despite the challenging shade conditions, they are still producing these pretty blooms. The other group of ‘Sugar and Spice’ have an eastern exposure, and get an hour or so of light in the morning, and then a bit of dappled light throughout the day.

Tiarella 'Sugar and Spice' foamflower close up of leaf markings
Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice’ foamflower close up of leaf markings

The leaves of ‘Sugar and Spice’ are cut into lobes, with very dark, almost black, markings down the centre of each lobe. They have  a reflective finish, especially the new leaves, which helps them show up even more in a shady nook. The photo above was taken in the rain, but even without extra water, they still have a nice sheen.

Tiarella 'Sugar and Spice' foamflower with Convallaria
Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice’ foamflower with Convallaria

Here is a pink  ‘Sugar and Spice’ foamflower plant with some white Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley) blooms behind. It is a sweet springtime combination that I took earlier in the month.

Tiarella 'Pink Skyrocket' foam flower in front of birdbath
Tiarella ‘Pink Skyrocket’ foam flower in front of birdbath

Tiarella ‘Pink Skyrocket’ bloomed for quite a while last year, and they are doing the same this year. Each plant has a large number of these floral spikes. They start as narrow spikes of dark salmon pink buds, and then open to cylinders of light, fluffy pink. The foamflowers are covered in blooms, even in shady conditions.

Tiarella 'Pink Skyrocket' foam flower with Pulmonaria flowers
Tiarella ‘Pink Skyrocket’ foam flower with Pulmonaria flowers

The leaves of ‘Pink Skyrocket’ are especially deeply cut, with the lobes going almost to the centre. They have a glossy finish, with narrow dark markings down the middle of each lobe.  The plant above is next to some Pulmonaria ‘Samourai’ (lungwort) which has the beautiful blue flowers.

Tiarella 'Pink Skyrocket' with buds at top
Tiarella ‘Pink Skyrocket’ with buds at top

The photo above shows the fireworks appearance that is an inspiration for their name. I have two separate groups of ‘Pink Skyrocket’, and both get little direct light, yet they still make a great flower show and have wonderfully healthy foliage. One group is on the north side of a fence, at the edge of a tall pine, with a birdbath behind, and a Hydrangea shrub beside them. The other group is in a bed at the side of the house, next to a tall Aruncus (goat’s beard) with mostly indirect light.

Tiarella 'Jeepers Creepers' foam flower with bloom
Tiarella ‘Jeepers Creepers’ foam flower with bloom

This year my Tiarella ‘Jeepers Creepers’ are later than the others in blooming. I’m not sure if this is their normal schedule, or if it is because they were planted last fall. They also have a smaller number of blooms, even though they are in about the same light conditions as my other Tiarella. It could be that this hybrid is less floriferous, they don’t bloom quite as well in very low light conditions, or they just need another year to get established.

Tiarella 'Jeepers Creepers' foam flower wet leaves
Tiarella ‘Jeepers Creepers’ foam flower wet leaves

Despite the smaller flower show, the leaves of  ‘Jeepers Creepers’ are particularly attractive. They have very nice noticeable markings, that looks really sharp in the shade garden, making them stand out against other solid coloured leaves. Plus they are tactile, being covered in tiny hairs. I have some ‘Jeepers Creepers’ planted between some purple leafed Heuchera and some green Cornus canadensis, and like how the darkest purple centres of the Tiarella look with the more solid purple Heuchera. The combination of light and dark on the Tiarella makes a nice bridge between them.

Each Tiarella plant is about 30 cm (12 in ) tall and 40 cm (15 in ) across. The foliage is semi-evergreen, though not quite as hardy as Heuchera leaves. Still, they kept many of their leaves over the winter, giving a fast start to the garden colour in spring. Tiarella foliage still looks great at the end of fall, when many perennials had already died back. These are another super perennial for extending your gardening time in a short growing season.

Tiarella 'Pink Skyrocket' pink flowers with pulmonaria blue flowers
Tiarella ‘Pink Skyrocket’ pink flowers with pulmonaria blue flowers

You can see how beautifully Tiarella combine with blue flowers. I particularly like them with the Pulmonaria.  So far, ‘Pink Skyrocket’ and ‘Sugar and Spice’ are my favourite for their flowers. However,  ‘Sugar and Spice’ and ‘Jeepers Creepers’ have the nicest leaves. I can highly recommend Tiarella if you are gardening in the shade. They will grow under trees and shrubs, while producing lovely flowers and showy leaves. Here are more photos of Tiarella and Heuchera.

You can read a more about these Tiarella and 5 other foamflowers  that I grow in this more detailed article. As well, there is more about Tiarella ‘Neon Lights‘.

I’ve added a gallery, so you can see more shots. Just click on any small photo to enlarge it to full size.

White Flowers are Luminous in Shade Garden

Here are some brilliant white flowers blooming in the spring shade garden. Each one of these perennials have distinctly different flower shapes and arrangements. With their light colour they show up well in the  darker garden beds, while other flowers might fade into the background. White and ivory colours can also be noticed better when viewing from a distance, and are the last flowers visible in the twilight.

white flowers in spring
white flowers in spring

At the top is Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Alba’, formerly Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’  (bleeding heart), with those unmistakable hearts strung along the stems. The buds start off green, while the mature flowers are luminescent in the shadows. You can see the buds closest to the bottom of the stems have already opened, while the ones at the top ares still waiting to swell into pure white hearts. I love these old fashioned perennials that don’t mind a darker garden spot and have such a distinctive display of white flowers.

Trillium grandiflorum (large trillium) are on the left of the middle row. The little woodland blooms only flower for a short time, but then the other surrounding perennials take over for the rest of the summer, as these die back. The three white petals, centred against the three leaves, are incandescent in a shady garden area under the trees. These ones have no problems growing underneath the maple, and seem to appreciate the tree debris that decomposes into the soil below.

The Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley) in the middle have the purest white flowers, in clusters of suspended open bells. However, it is their scent that I notice first when I go out into the garden now. I have groups of these flowers in different garden beds, so the wonderful perfume is swirling around as I bend over to tend to the gardens. Although they spread, I find it very easy to pull them out where I don’t want them. Usually I wait until after they have flowered if I need to pull them back. They are so low maintenance, so entrancing in bloom, and the scent is so delightful, that I don’t mind them trying out a new garden bed when I’m not watching. When lily of the valley like their location and produce lots of flowers, their little bells light up the shade garden.

The Polygonatum (solomon’s seal) are on the right side of the middle row. They are just starting to flower, but they haven’t opened into their bell shape yet. The pretty buds are dangling from the stems that curve over. The solomon’s seal flowers are not really white, but there will be pairs of creamy coloured, flared bells dangling all along the stems in a week. Some plants seem to have the bells in pairs, and some are solitary. Mine grow under the branches of a willow tree and compete very well against that giant.

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Mr. Morse’ (Siberian bugloss) have a mist of tiny white flowers for about six weeks in spring. The little starry flowers give a white cloud effect. In darker areas, the white blooms and silver leaves of Mr. Morse add some light. Those beautiful  leaves look just like ‘Jack Frost’, with distinctive green veins on a silvery background. In my garden these Brunnera grow less than a metre (a foot and a half) from the trunk of a maple. Their large leaves suppress the sprouting of the maple keys, which is an added bonus. After picking up a couple hundred maple keys, I often don’t bother with the ones under these perennials. The Brunnera are perfect plants for the shade garden.

Another white spring flower that has finished blooming is Sanguinaria canadensis f multiplex (double bloodroot). Which has many petals in a waterlily shape.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Alba', formerly Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba' (bleeding heart)
Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Alba', formerly Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba', (bleeding heart)

Here the bleeding heart flowers are strung like miniature patio lanterns. There is such a wide variety of flower shapes that add interest if you are gardening in the shade. My little spring bulbs have faded away, but the woodland shade lovers have taken over, and their white flowers are like little lights under the trees. As I peer out the window for a final look at the garden in late evening, these luminous flowers still glow, illuminated by the last few rays.

Pretty Perennial Leaves for the Shade

Here are some foliage plants for the shade garden with pretty leaves. These perennials add beautiful texture, colour and shine to shady areas, even when not in bloom.

spring garden foliage
spring garden foliage

On the upper left is a combination of Asarum europaeum (European ginger) in front and Athyrium ‘Lady in Red’ (lady in red fern) behind. I especially like the pairing of shiny, rounded heart shaped leaves of the ginger with the feathery fern fronds. ‘Lady in Red’ has a fresh, light green colour, but the centre of each frond is red when they first emerge. The foliage pairing is appealing all season long, and both do well with very little light.

On the upper right is Heuchera ‘Green Spice’ (coral bells). Most of the Heuchera have great foliage, but ‘Green Spice’ stands out for its wonderful contrast of purple red veins on a light silvery green background. The darker green border around each leaf completes the colourful package. The large scalloped leaves look super next any plant with feathery leaves.

In the middle on the left are Tiarella ‘Jeepers Creepers’ (foamflower) leaves with deeply cut lobes and a dark contrasting line down the middle of each section. These perennial leaves make an attractive evergreen groundcover, topped by pretty spikes of flowers.

In the centre of the collage is a  Hosta ‘Patriot’ that is still unfurling. I like the creamy white bands around the margins of the leaves, since get you attention as you scan along in the darker areas of the shade garden. ‘Patriot’ adds a dappled effect in the shadows. The large leaves look good next to delicate or finely cut foliage.

On the right side of the centre row is Heuchera ‘Cinnabar Silver’ (coral bells ) with green and purple leaves that have pronounced vein marks. Not all Heuchera have showy flowers, but these get very attractive red flowers later in the summer. A leftover blue Scilla flower is draped over the ‘Cinnabar Silver’.

On the bottom left is Heucehra ‘Raspberry Ice’ (coral bells), which also has the complete package of both wonderful leaves and flowers. Like many Heuchera, the leaves can change colour through the season, depending on the temperature. You can see some of the silver and green leaves, as well as the purplish red ones. One perk with the Heuchera is that the evergreen leaves will decorate the shady garden all year.

On the bottom right is a closeup of the fantastic foliage of Asarum europaeum (European ginger). These shiny leaves have finally been spreading over the last few years to fill in and create a terrific groundcover. I highly recommend these short plants for the front of the border. Although they are a little slow to start spreading for the first few years, they will gradually fill in to great a really nice edging in even your shadiest areas. The high gloss finish adds some sparkle to the darker sections.

perennials with silver leaves
perennials with silver leaves

Above is a collage of  some silver perennial leaves, which are great for bringing highlights to a shady corner. Whether solid, spotted, or patterned silver, the light colour bounces back the few light rays to make it into the shaded sites under the trees, making them stand out and be noticed.

At the top is Pulmonaria ‘Samourai’ (lungwort) with mostly solid silver leaves. Each leaf is long and narrow, with a slender border of green and a central green vein. This make a light coloured background for the blue flowers. These silver grey ‘Samourai’ looks great next to solid green or dark leaves.

In the middle row on the left is Zantedeschia araceae ‘Golden Chalice’ (calla lily). I use these as a centre foliage plant in a planter for a very shady area. They don’t produce much in the way of flowers there, but the tall, silver spotted leaves are a great centre piece for the flowering annuals in the pot. I also have a calla lily in another part shade container, where they produce funnel type blooms.

In the centre of the collage is a Brunnera macropylla ‘Jack Frost’ (bugloss) leaf. This is the king of foliage plants for the shade. Everything about the leaves is perfect, from the beautiful silver colour, to the wonderful patterns of contrasting green along the veins. I always have to stop and admire them when puttering around the garden.

On the right side of the middle row is a Pulmonaria ‘Majeste’ (lungwort) leaf. ‘Majeste’ starts off as spotted silver in spring, and gets more of an overall silver colour later in summer. The freckles are cute, and keep the green foliage from fading into the background.

On the bottom left is a Heuchera ‘Mint Frost’ leaf. It is a light silver green, with darker green veins. These are highly variable perennials, as in the spring and fall they can have orange, red and purple leaves, too. However for most of the summer this is the standard colour.

On the lower right is the solid silver leaf of  Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass’. It produces large leaves, with slender green lines along the veins. This is a real knockout in the shade as it reflects a lot of light.

alocasia calidora elephant ear leaf
Alocasia calidora elephant ear leaf

Here is a very attractive giant leaf of Alocasia calidora (elephant ear). It’s large, wet, and just look at those patterns. The rubbery leaves are about 50 cm (20 in) long right now, and get bigger all summer. I have these Alocasia in a few of my planters in part shade, where they make super focal point for the centre. Elephant ears bring a wonderfully lush tropical look to a planter. In zone 3 they are treated like an annual, although you could overwinter the bulbs inside.  If you’re wondering what the green ‘worms’ are behind the leaf, those are the catkins that just fell from a willow tree.

These are some of the perennial leaves that caught my eye this week when I was out gardening. Although there are lots of spring flowers right now, the foliage of these plants will look great right through until fall. You can see more pictures of great foliage for your shady garden here, and even more photos of  shade plant leaves here.