Northern Shade Gardening

Goatsbeard Flowers like Fireworks

Saturday, June 30, 2012 Category: Perennials

The Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard) flowers are blazing in the shade, just like the fireworks that will be lighting up the night sky on July 1 to celebrate Canada’s birthday.

Aruncus dioicus flowers like fireworks

Aruncus dioicus flowers like fireworks

I’ve made a collage of the goatsbeard flowers to look like the grand finale at the fireworks show, since that’s what they look like in the shadier parts of the garden. White flowers are marvelous for shining in the shadows, standing out against the gloom. These firecrackers add some sparkle at dusk, when the garden is blending into the shadows.

Aruncus dioicus goatsbeard perennial with white flowers

Aruncus dioicus goatsbeard perennial with white flowers

Aruncus dioicus is a terrific perennial for the shade, since it grows with very little light. This plant gets a bit of late afternoon sun, and a bit of dappled light filtered through the maple branches. I have another goatsbeard on the opposite side of the garden that pretty much only gets indirect light, and yet it flowers every June and July.

Aruncus dioicus flowers in June

Aruncus dioicus flowers in June

The flowers above look like the handheld sparklers that you wave through the air to create fantastical light patterns. The goatsbeard flowers are white for about 3 weeks at the beginning of summer. Then they fade to a tan colour. I often leave them on the plants through fall, or even winter to give some interest as other perennials disappear, leaving the garden bare. The Aruncus dioicus plants get to a good size, about 2 metres (6 ft) tall, and around 1.5 m (4 ft) wide. This makes them valuable for the back of the shade garden, as there aren’t too many tall perennials for a very shady site. This particular plant got off to a slower start, because it was originally planted under the willow tree, which sometimes  creates bonsai versions of the perennials underneath it. Goatsbeard aren’t keen on being moved, so it sulked and stayed short for a couple of years after I transplanted it to a less competitive site near the maple. However, it is now putting on a growth spurt, and I hope that it catches up to its full size soon.

Aruncus dioicus flowers first opening with Pulmonaria flowers

Aruncus dioicus flowers first opening with Pulmonaria flowers

In the photo above you can see the Aruncus flowers when they were first opening. The buds have a slight green appearance before they fully opened, giving you a coloured pyrotechnic display. To the right and behind are the blue flowers of Pulmonaria ‘Samourai’ (lungwort). There are some Geranium ‘Rozanne’ and Geranium ‘Johnsons Blue’ on the other side. The goatsbeard is underplanted with crocus, as the area gets more light before the trees come out in leaf. The yellow and purple crocus flowers bloom in early spring when it’s less shady, and later the fast growing  goatsbeard foliage covers up the decaying bulb foliage. My other specimen has Astilbe, Tiarella (foamflower) and Heuchera (coral bells) in front of it.

Aruncus dioicus flowers fluffy white

Aruncus dioicus flowers fluffy white

Here is a closeup of the goatsbeard flower, as a burst of light brightening the shade. This shot shows how fluffy they can be, almost like a tall Astilbe. This is a male plant, which is more feathery in appearance. The female plants aren’t as showy, but I don’t know of any way to tell them apart until they are in flower. If you get a chance to see them in bloom before you buy them, you can pick out the male ones with the more fluffy blooms for a better display. The female flowers are thinner and tend to curve over more. There are some pictures of the female Aruncus dioicus flowers in this earlier article. Either way, they make a good background for your shorter shade plants.

Now that summer is here in Edmonton, I sit outside at night enjoying the warmth. The white flower sparklers are still visible as the light fades,  and the extra radiance allows me to appreciate the garden for longer. Soon the sky will be lit up, too. Happy Canada Day.

Tender Plants for Shaded Planters

Thursday, June 14, 2012 Category: Annuals
tender plants for shaded planters

tender plants for shaded planters

These tender plants and annuals do well in my shaded planters. Other than the lobelia, they will drop at the first frost, so they can only go outside in May. Depending on our fall weather, they will bloom until September, or up to October if we are lucky.

Begonia 'Ruffled White' flowers

Begonia ‘Ruffled White’ flowers

The Begonia ‘Ruffled White’ live up to their descriptive name, with plenty of rippled petals. They look like carnation flowers, but will have a much longer bloom period. I add begonias to most of my planters, because the large blooms with lots of petals are very showy, and bloom all summer. The begonias never complain about a shaded site, even on my front porch where there is really no direct light.

Begonia 'Double Camelia Pink'

Begonia ‘Double Camellia Pink’

Begonia ‘Double Camellia Pink’ is very attractive with the lighter pink bud of petals in the middle. This is the first year I’ve tried it, and I’m pleased with how good the flowers look. I have the Begonia ‘Nonstop Pink’ as well, which put on a terrific display. This planter has some double flowering Impatiens in a light pink apple blossom colour to go with the dark and light pink begonias. You can see more begonias and shade plants in this previous article.

Begonia 'Picotee Lace Pink' and lobelia

Begonia ‘Picotee Lace Pink’ and lobelia

Begonia ‘Picotee Lace Pink’ is a frilly begonia, with slightly lighter tips to the petals. I grew this begonia last year, too. It is full of blooms, and keeps producing them all summer long. This one is competing for space with some cascading Lobelia erinus ‘Regatta Sky Blue’. The two flowers have the same colour intensity, so they work well in the same planter.

Lobelia erinus 'Regatta Sky Blue' trailing flowers

Lobelia erinus ‘Regatta Sky Blue’ trailing flowers

Most of the planters have Lobelia erinus ‘Regatta Sky Blue’ cascading down over them. This trailing lobelia has an abundance of pretty, blue flowers that don’t take up much room in the soil, but provide lots of blooms, half obscuring the sides of these dark blue pots. This flower is an expert at mingling and goes with just about any plant. It likes some extra water, like many of the other plants in these containers.

Lobelia erinus 'Riviera' with little blue flowers

Lobelia erinus ‘Riviera’ with little blue flowers

Lobelia erinus ‘Riviera Sky Blue’ is an upright mounding lobelia. I usually use it in my flowers beds, but I’ve planted some in the containers as well. These short plants are nestling back in, under some of the larger leaves. They add a splash of blue in contrast to the darker leaves. The lobelia are the hardiest of all of the plants in the containers. They can flower through some of the first light frosts, so you get a long bloom time from early season until October or so. In Edmonton our summers are fairly mild, so the lobelia performs very well.

Caladium white and green leaf pattern

Caladium white and green leaf pattern

This is a no-name Caladium with very eye-catching white and green markings. I like to know the exact variety or cultivar of a plant, so if I enjoy it, I can find it again. Unfortunately, this plant was not named or labelled. The lighter colour was appealing for the shade, in order to show up better against the shadows. There are some white begonias in this planter, but from this camera angle the large tropical Caladium leaves are obscuring them. You can just see a few white petals petals at the edges. This pot has green, white and blue colours in it.

red Caladium ladybug and Begonia

red Caladium ladybug and Begonia

This red patterned Caladium is colour matched by the red begonia. Then the red ladybug decided to accessorize the right planter. There is blue lobelia cascading down around the pot too.

Fuchsia 'Swingtime' pink and white flowers

Fuchsia ‘Swingtime’ pink and white flowers

I’ve planted Fuchsia ‘Swingtime’ for the last couple of seasons, as its flowers are exceptionally pretty. The darkest pink fat buds open to show the flaring white petals inside. It’s an eye-catching combination that looks fantastic swinging from the planters. In a warmer climate the Fuchsia would have a longer life, but here the tender plants gets a brief summer to flower.

Fuchsia 'Swingtime' dancing octopus

Fuchsia ‘Swingtime’ dancing octopus

I don’t even see a fuchsia flower when I look at this photo. All I see is a dancing pink octopus in a frilly white tutu. He’s mastered dancing en pointe.

Colocasia 'Bikini Tini' elephant ear leaf from front

Colocasia ‘Bikini Tini’ elephant ear leaf from front

This year I planted some Colocasia ‘Bikini Tini’ (elephant ears). The colouring on the leaves is fantastic, including a slight bluish cast. For the last three years I’ve planted Colocasia in my back planters that get a brief exposure of early morning light, and then dappled light through the willow leaves for the rest of the day. These plants do fantastic in this location, up until the cold weather.

Colocasia 'Bikini Tini' elephant ear leaf from behond

Colocasia ‘Bikini Tini’ elephant ear leaf from behond

Bikin Tini looks even better from behind. You can see the slight bluish-green glaucus cast of the leaf, and the darker ribs. Plus, you can see the intricate network of veins swirling across the leaf. I would definitely get this particular Colocasia again, as it is a knockout plant.

Zantedescha calla lily

Zantedescha calla lily

This Zantedescha (calla lily) has terrific speckled leaves, and fiery red flowers. I always look for the calla lilies with speckled leaves, as the pattern looks like sunlight is playing across them throughout the day. These plants get mostly dappled light, and a bit of early morning sun.

Zantedescha calla lily leaf with speckles

Zantedescha calla lily leaf with speckles

Here is a closeup of the wonderful speckles on the large Zantedescha leaf. I like some bold leaves in the planters around the back patio, otherwise the small flowers look a little lost against the garden background. This planter also has some blue lobelia and pink begonias.

Schizanthus rose bicolor

Schizanthus rose bicolor

The annual Schizanthus ‘Rose bicolor’ does very well in the medium part shade on my back patio, but not on the deeper shade of my front porch. I’ve tried schizanthus in the planters that receive no direct light and it dies, so I save it for a part shade location. It gets paired up with some white begonias, and of course the pushy lobelia plants squeezed their way in at the edges.

Here are some of the shade pots from last year.

What do you like to put in your shaded planters?

 

Hosta Ginko Craig Surviving Zone 3 Winter in Pots

Saturday, June 9, 2012 Category: Perennials

I was very surprised when these hardy Hosta ‘Ginko Craig’ survived a zone 3 winter in their pots. Normally, perennials have to be underground here during the winter, or at least protected, to endure the cold. Being tucked away in the ground with a blanket of insulating snow gives the plants the best chance of survival. I’ve never left any new potted perennials out over the winter before, but last fall I didn’t get a  garden bed extended where I planned on planting the Ginko Craig. Then the snow came, and I left them on the back patio. When I saw them again in early spring I thought they would just be compost, since we didn’t even get a persistent and reliable snow cover like we normally do. However, these perennials survived the cold winter just fine, with no setback, and even got a boost.

Hosta 'Ginko Craig' small growing tips

Hosta 'Ginko Craig' small growing tips

When I looked at the containers, there appeared to be one little green nose poking up in one of the pots. I didn’t think they could have come through the winter, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt and left the pots on the patio. Then slowly additional sprouts appeared, looking more like Hosta growing tips than weeds.  They had the distinctive look of Hosta leaves coming up directly from the crown as tightly curled funnels. As they elongated and started to uncurl, I could see the variegated white margins. I was very impressed with Ginko Craig’s fortitude after the tough winter.

Hosta 'Ginko Craig' overwintered in pot

Hosta 'Ginko Craig' overwintered in pot

The fortunate part is not only did these three Hosta in pots persevere through the cold zone 3 winter above ground, their growth was actually ahead of the Hosta in the ground. The punishing temperatures didn’t appear to set them back, and they actually got a head start on their growth spurt. I assume that the soil in the dark plastic containers heated up quicker than the ground in the spring sunshine, and gave them a boost.

Hosta 'Ginko Craig' with white leaf margins

Hosta 'Ginko Craig' with white leaf margins

In the picture above,  you can see how much more developed the overwintered potted plant on the right is compared to the Ginko Craig plant in the garden. The slowpoke Hosta are usually one of the last perennials up in spring, generally managing to beat only the Athyrium ‘Ghost’ (ghost fern)  and the Osmunda regalis (royal fern). They like to make sure that everything will be warm and toasty when they start growing, which is another reason I’m surprised that they toughed it out.

Hosta 'Ginko Craig' 3 plants

Hosta 'Ginko Craig' 3 plants

Ginko Craig are a terrific little Hosta. They aren’t in  the miniature group, but they are a small Hosta, so they work well as an edging. The plants are about 35 cm (a little over a foot) tall. The narrow white edges on each dark green leaf make them more prominent in the shadows beneath the trees, and add some light, similar to the dappled light patterns flickering between branches. These are a vigorous Hosta, that expand well, which I really appreciate in a short growing season. The group above is from midsummer last year. The two plants in front were planted the year before that, and the smaller one behind was planted that summer, so you can see the growth they made in one season. It also shows how the more mature Ginko Craig plants have wider, more elliptical shaped leaves than younger specimens.  In the top right hand corner of the photo are some Cornus canadensis (bunchberry), which are another  good groundcover for the shade. Here are some other perennials that are planted under the conifers with these Hosta.

Hosta 'Ginko Craig' flower scapes

Hosta 'Ginko Craig' flower scapes

This photo of the flower scapes is from a previous season, since they won’t be blooming for a few months yet. The flowers are pretty purple funnels that flare out and hang down around the stem. You could plant these for the late summer blooms alone, but the attractive foliage will look good until frost. There are more photos of these flowers next to some Heuchera ‘Cinnabar Silver‘ in this previous post.

green silver and white leaved plants to go with Hosta 'Ginko Craig'

green silver and white leaved plants to go with Hosta 'Ginko Craig'

I need to get their future bed extended, and get the Hosta ‘Ginko Craig’ out of their pots and into the ground to give their roots  more wiggle room in the garden. Meanwhile, I’ve got some more plants to go with them. The colour scheme for this garden section will be mostly green and silver leaved perennials, with blue, white and lavender flowers. I especially like leaves with some white or silver on them in the darker areas of the garden, so the plants don’t disappear into the shadows. There is some Heuchera ‘Green Spice’ in the middle right of the picture, with leaves that are green and silver highlighted by purple veins. They will make a link between the new green and silver plants and the nearby foliage of some solid purple Heuchera ‘Raspberry Ice’ (coral bells). The Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy’ (dead nettle) is at the front of the shot, the silver leaves with green edges, which I’m using as an edging.  Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ (Siberian bugloss) is at the back with beautifully patterned silver foliage and green veins. There will also be some Tiarella (foamflowers) with white flowers. All of these shade perennials will do well in the new bed that weaves between some conifers.

Hosta 'Ginko Craig' in pot and Hosta in ground

Hosta 'Ginko Craig' in pot and Hosta in ground

The Hosta ‘Ginko Craig’ are definitely on the hardier end of the spectrum. If you have colder winters, these are tough survivors. Plus, the plants are good-looking with their narrow, crisp bands of white on the leaf margins against the dark green foliage. They will spread, like a groundcover, so are very helpful for filling in any shady areas, or tough spots under the trees. After having all three of them persist through a zone 3 winter in pots, I would even try these perennials in a planter now.