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.

20 Responses to “Goatsbeard Flowers like Fireworks” »

  1. Marit :
    July 1, 2012 at 2:09 am

    It was a nice flower celebration on your lands birthday. Here in Norway the plant are named “Woodbeard” Almost the same name. Enjoy your day!

  2. Northern Shade :
    July 1, 2012 at 7:15 am

    Marit, “Woodbeard” is good description of the flowers, too.

  3. Grace :
    July 1, 2012 at 9:55 am

    You are so right, NS. Your photos are amazing. The white of the flowers is so pristine. The form of the flowers is captivating. I’ve never grown this plant because my soil gets bone dry by mid summer but looking at your photos I’m wishing I could. Happy Canada day to you!

  4. Northern Shade :
    July 1, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Grace, I think that the Aruncus dioicus can take a dryer site once it is well established. The roots certainly go down a long ways, which is why people don’t like to move them once they’ve grown. This plant was grumpy for a few years after being moved, but it was for its own good.

  5. debsgarden :
    July 1, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    Your goats bead does remind me of fireworks! After reading your post I had to do some research to see if it might grow for me. Sadly, I think I am too far south. But I can imagine how a plant like that would light up the woodland garden!

  6. Northern Shade :
    July 1, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Debsgarden, these make a good specimen plant or backdrop. It is unfortunate if they don’t grow in your zone, since there are much fewer tall flowering perennials for the shade. When most people first see it they think it is a shrub. Though you grow many gorgeous flowering shade shrubs that would need a jacket here.

  7. Waltraud :
    July 6, 2012 at 4:46 am

    Wonderfully delicate, filigrane white flowers that look .. I had stood in the garden used to be times when our beech and larch trees ..
    Wishing you a nice summer time .. until then .. Greetings from NRW


  8. Northern Shade :
    July 6, 2012 at 6:57 am

    Waltraud, I like the lacy look the flowers add to more solid foliage. We are getting ore summer weather this coming week, compared to our extended late spring temperatures tat we’ve had for the past few months.

  9. Pauline :
    July 7, 2012 at 2:06 am

    Just what I need for my edge of woodland border to brighten it up, thank you for your inspiration! Hope you had a good day on the 1st!

  10. Northern Shade :
    July 7, 2012 at 7:29 am

    Pauline, there is a nice dwarf version, too, Aruncus aethusifolius, that is good for a front edging as it gets around 30 cm (12 in ) tall.

  11. Sadun blogi :
    July 19, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    That’s like white fireworks…


  12. Northern Shade :
    July 19, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Satu, the white flowers of the goatsbeard really sparkle in the shadows.

  13. Nadezda :
    July 20, 2012 at 12:07 am

    Hi, NS! I’m Nadezda. Glad to found your blog. The weather and temps. are similar in our gardens,I think.
    Nice photos of Aruncus, love your collage!

  14. Northern Shade :
    July 20, 2012 at 8:00 am

    Nadezda, we do seem to have similar growing conditions. The Aruncus flowers are fading to off white now, but they actually held up well to our recent heavy rains and thunderstorms.

  15. Swimray :
    July 25, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    I did not realize they get that tall. My astilbe is only about .5 meter tall. so I will need to look seriously at these for the shady back of the garden against the fence — and hope they look as good as yours.

  16. Northern Shade :
    July 26, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    Swimray, mine are about 2m (6 ft) tall, but I think they get even bigger in warmer climates.

  17. Joy :
    July 27, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    I love these plants .. I have two stands of them and I have to say the one that gets more sun does better than the stand that is more shady .. but no matter what they are gorgeous and dramatic .. I keep the spent flower tops on the for winter interest … which is far away still but future planning is always a good thing .. right ? LOL
    Joy : )

  18. Northern Shade :
    July 29, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    Joy, I usually keep the faded flowers on, too. In the barrens of winter, when the shorties in the garden are covered up, they are a reminder that there is a garden under there.

  19. sensiblegardening :
    August 26, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Astilbe is a great shade plant that’s hardy to boot. The white are beautiful and I also love the rich pink/purple shades. There are also dwarf varieties getting only about 2 feet tall for smaller spaces. Enjoyed your photos.

  20. Northern Shade :
    August 26, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    Sensiblegardening, these are goatsbeard flowers, but they do always remind me of giant Astilbe. I like Astilbe for the shade, too, and have both some short ‘Hennie Graafland’ and some tall ‘Mighty Pip’, and some medium sized ones.

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