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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.