Silver Leaves for Garden Between Spruce

digging new garden bed by spruce
digging new garden bed by spruce

I’ve been digging up more lawn and expanding the garden bed between some spruce trees. This section is going to have mainly plants with silver leaves. The perennials here will have to enjoy the shade, but this part of the garden does get some sun in the morning. I had a number of other silver plants already chosen for this site, but as I renovated and expanded other garden beds, the stash got raided and I used them all up, so my plans changed a little.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass' leaf closeup
Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass’ leaf closeup

The main plants here will be 14 Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass’. ‘Looking Glass’ have leaves with lots of silver on them, and a pretty pattern of dark green lines along the veins and edges in early spring, very much like Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’. Then in summer the silver expands to cover most of the leaf and the green lines are very thin. The silver leaves are almost like little mirrors for your garden, reflecting the light and brightening up shady areas. The terrific foliage will last past the first light frosts in autumn. We’ve had a number of days of frost and a night as low as -4° C (25° F), yet my Brunnera in the garden still have gorgeous leaves. I love the Brunnera for this long season of interest in the garden. Since our growing season can be very short in zone 3, any plants that produce leaves quickly in spring and hold them past a few frosts in autumn are highly desirable. The Brunnera do very well under trees, too. They also hit the sweet spot of being very easy to grow, but never annoying or spreading too far.

Brunnera macrophylla with pot bound roots
Brunnera macrophylla with pot bound roots

While I got some great deals on these perennials, the one problem with end of season plants is that the roots can be pot bound. With the plant out of its pot and on its side, you can see the roots are encircling the root ball. I cut the edges, and teased the roots out, to encourage them to grow outwards once they are planted. I’m not too worried about the tight pot causing problems for the Brunnera, as I’ve planted them in much tighter spaces in my garden.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' between willow roots
Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ between willow roots

In my back garden, one Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’, shown above, is planted in a tiny pocket in between large willow roots with almost no soil. In fact, there wasn’t room for the whole root ball when I planted it, so I shook most of the soil off and squished the almost bare roots into the narrow confines. Then I sprinkled a little soil on top to hide the evidence of the crime. Most plants would not be happy with this treatment, but that Brunnera is still growing 5 years later. It is smaller than my other Brunnera, but gets the same beautiful leaves. Only Little Runty and I, and now you, know the truth of what it’s like under the soil surface.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass' flower closeup
Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass’ flower closeup

The pretty blue sprays of flowers, looking like forget me nots, last for about 6 weeks in spring. Originally I had some Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ to plant in the front garden, but planted them elsewhere. Then at an end of season sale, I got a great deal on a number of ‘Looking Glass’. I was surprised that there would be so many of these wonderful plants left on the deep discount table. Obviously I haven’t done enough to explain how perfect the Brunnera are as garden plants, or they would have been snatched up much quicker by other gardeners. On the other hand, it was lucky for me to find so many remaining.

new plants arranged in pots by spruce
new plants arranged in pots by spruce

I’ve left a few vacant spots where I’m going to put some stepping stones. Now you might be asking, “Northern Shade, if you wanted to show the new ‘Looking Glass’ plants, why did you take such a blurry picture of them, and such a crisp picture of the spruce needles?”, because that’s what I’m asking myself now. I have refrained from digging them all up and sticking them back in their pots just to get a better picture.

The plants are actually bigger than they appear, since many of the largest leaves were deteriorating in their pots at the end of the season and had to be cut back, leaving just a few small leaves showing. When first planted, perennials often look so isolated as tiny plants at their required distance. However the Brunnera won’t take long to reach their full size, which can be 50 or 60 cm (around 2 ft) across. The broad leaves can form a nice solid patch that keeps out all weeds.

Heuchera 'Green Spice' leaf colour
Heuchera ‘Green Spice’ leaf colour

I was going to plant some Heuchera ‘Green Spice’ (Eco-Improved’), which has  green leaves with a silver overlay and purple veins for part of this planting. Although the ‘Green Spice’ flowers are not showy, the leaves are wonderful. I planned on using it as a transition between the purple leafed Heuchera ‘Raspberry Ice’ which you can see in the top left corner of the photo above, and the silver Brunnera macrophylla. However the ‘Green Spice’ got co-opted for another garden bed. I looked around, but couldn’t find a nice silver and green Heuchera with a little bit of purple on it, because it was so late in the season. I decided to just put in the ‘Looking Glass’, and next year I’ll add some ‘Green Spice’ as a bridge in between the purple and silver.

Lamium maculatum 'Orchid Frost' plants newly planted
Lamium maculatum ‘Orchid Frost’ plants newly planted

I’ve also added the groundcover Lamium ‘maculatum ‘Orchid Frost’, with beautiful silver leaves that have narrow green bands around the edges. I got a great deal on the ‘Orchid Frost’ plants at an end of season sale, and would have planted a larger patch if there had been more remaining. However, the Lamium should spread easily.

In fact that is why I haven’t planted any Lamium up until now. I admired the wonderful silver colour of the new cultivars, but was wary that they might spread too quickly. I like the “hardy” quality in plants, but I don’t like the “move in and take over the whole garden” trait. These new cultivars are supposed to be well behaved and far removed from the more annoying Lamium, so I’ve decided to give them a try. Since they are backed by a gigantic spruce tree behind, and a walkway in front, there isn’t too much space to get annoying either. Their hardiness will come in handy here.

Lamium maculatum 'Orchid Frost' flowers
Lamium maculatum ‘Orchid Frost’ flowers

The flowers of ‘Orchid Frost’, looking like dragon faces, are a light pinkish purple colour. I don’t expect the tiny flowers to be very showy, but I planted them mainly for the leaf colour. I was looking for some more L. ‘White Nancy’, which has similar foliage with white flowers, but couldn’t find any left now. One advantage of the ‘Orchid Frost’ is that it is supposed to be more resistant to leaf diseases than other Lamium, which is a bonus for a foliage plant.

Chionodoxa 'Alba' bulb packages between Lamium maculatum 'Orchid Frost'
Chionodoxa ‘Alba’ bulb packages between Lamium maculatum ‘Orchid Frost’
Chionodoxa 'Alba' package and bulbs in front garden
Chionodoxa ‘Alba’ package and bulbs in front garden

To add early spring flowers to this part of the garden, I planted some Chionodoxa ‘Alba‘ (glory of the snow) in between the Lamium. These are the white form of glory of the snow. I grow lots of the blue Chionodoxa forbesii and I’ve also planted some C. ‘Alba’ with  blue Scilla siberica (squills) in my backyard, but here they will flower against the blue of the spruce needles. Tucking bulbs in between perennials extends the flower show.

Crocus sieberii 'Tricolor' bulb package between Brunnera
Crocus sieberii ‘Tricolor’ bulb package between Brunnera
Crocus chrysanthus 'Gipsy Girl' bulb package between Brunnera
Crocus chrysanthus ‘Gipsy Girl’ bulb package between Brunnera

In between the ‘Looking Glass’, I’ve planted some purple Crocus sieberii ‘Tricolor’ and yellow Crocus chrysanthus ‘Gipsy Girl’ (snow crocus). They will flower first before the Chionodoxa. After the Crocus flower, the Brunnera will quickly grow large leaves that will hide the crocus foliage as it dies back.

ladybugs in grass while digging
ladybugs in grass while digging

The lawn was full of these ladybugs. Just about every piece of sod that I dug up had to be inspected for ladybugs before I turned it over. Then I had to carefully coax them out from between the grass blades and spruce needles, and deposit them on some nearby plants. It probably doubled the time required for digging. It was a beautiful gardening day for October, so I didn’t mind spending time outdoors, and got into a rhythm of dig, inspect, move, turn, and repeat.

The lady bugs are digging in for winter now, and finding protected spots under the leaves to brave the Edmonton winters. The perennials are dieing back and retreating underground in preparation for the approaching cold. I’m not quite ready to retreat indoors yet for winter, but I’m already anticipating spring when my new perennials will return with some nice silver leaves against the silvery blue spruce needles.

20 thoughts on “Silver Leaves for Garden Between Spruce”

  1. Yes it smelled wonderful in the kitchen.And in the pantry where the cookie jar is now.But they are soon all eaten ;-)
    Jack Frost is lovely i had one too for many years.Sadly it was to wet in the soil so it didnt make it this spring …

  2. I think that your border will be very nice. Spruce with silver pins will be very nice with Bunnera ‘Looking Glass’. I also have it in the garden here, and Lamium ‘White Nancy’ and ‘Orchid Frost’. Funny that we like the same plants.

    1. Marit,I thought of you as my gardening twin when I first saw the yellow and purple iris you have for an icon. It is the most numerous iris in my garden. I think you wrote something about how it was in your garden when you first moved there, and you didn’t like it as much at first,but then you appreciated it more after a while. There were a few when I moved in too, and I divided them to make many more. Just like you, I appreciated it more each year.

      The Brunnera are one of my favourite plants and I love both ‘Jack Frost’ and ‘Looking Glass’, which get put into many of my gardens.

      Mariana, the ‘Looking Glass’ look great when they develop their large leaves. They should fill in to create a solid sheet of silver. I was very happy to find so many of the ‘Looking Glass’ at an excellent sale price, since it saved me dividing up a bunch of them.

  3. Vilka vackra bladväxter du valt till platsen! Looking Glass var riktigt snygg. Hoppas vi får följa planteringen när det vuxit upp.

    Ha en trevlig vecka/Ulrika

  4. I love all of your silver-foliaged plants, and I think your choices will be spectacular in combination with your blue spruce. I have always loved blue spruces, but they decline and soon perish in our summer heat. So I envy yours and appreciate the nicely in-focus photo of it!

    1. Debsgarden, The next five months are when I really appreciate the spruce trees. When all the other plants have given up, it provides lots of greenery through the winter. They do look pretty with snow on the branches, too.

      Kathleen, I’ve been on a planting spree this fall. If the weather didn’t turn, I’d probably keep it up, but now I have to shift more to cleaning up the foliage. I still look forward to getting out in the garden everyday.

  5. You have been so ambitious this fall! The theme for this new area sounds great & you’ve sure thought it thru. Looking forward to seeing the results of all your efforts next spring. I’m not ready to give up the garden yet either. Hope it hangs on for both of us a while longer!

  6. You bought some beautiful new plants, I have the Brunnera Jack Frost, but I think the Looking Glass is a beauty too. I have to find out if I can buy that one over here. Your Heuchera ´Green Spice´, also very nice. In my garden Heucheras don´t thrive.

    1. ‘Looking Glass’ is a sport of ‘Jack Frost’. The leaves on the flowering stems look like ‘Jack Frost’, but the main leaves have intensive silver on them.

      ‘Green Spice’ has excellent leaf colour, but I usually cut off the flowers as they don’t show well.

  7. Its wonderful having a new space to fill and I too am a fan of Brunnera. At the moment I just have Jack Frost which is seeding about nicely when I forget to dead head the original plant, soon I will be able to move the babies to other shady spots. Your selection of plants look super with your blue spruce, will look forward to photos of this area next year!

  8. Wow, ‘Looking Glass’ is really looking good. I have Jack Frost and what a plant. I have to look closer at Mr. Morse… sounds like a Brunnera for me.
    Ha det bäst!

    1. Hélena, If you’re looking for one with the strong variegation of Jack Frost, but you want white flowers to coordinate with your other flowers, then ‘Mr. Morse’ is a good choice. I have one group of them planted under a maple, very close to the trunk, and they grow very well.

  9. This area is going to look lovely! I love Brunnera; my ‘Jack Frost’s are still looking good while everything else around them is dying back for the winter. And those delicate blue blooms are a delight in the springtime. As I was reading this, I was thinking about suggesting lamium, too, but then I see we were thinking alike:) My lamium spreads, but it’s easy to pull or dig up and transplant, and at least it doesn’t try to choke out other plants.

    Lucky you to have found such great end-of-the-season sales!

    1. Rose, I’ve cut back a lot of foliage in the last few days, as we have had temperatures well below freezing, but the Brunnera under the trees are still doing okay. They don’t last as long as Heuchera or Tiarella, but they are great for late season foliage colour. It’s good to hear that the Lamium is reasonable.

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