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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.