Hepatica nobilis (liverleaf) makes a terrific hardy groundcover for your shady areas. In spring it sends up these bright flowers. As you can see in the photo above, the colours of this blue form can look bluish or purple, but from a distance they appear to be an electric blue. They make an excellent woodland planting and are very hardy in zone 3.
Hepatica can grow in fairly dark shade. Mine are flowering in a garden section that gets only a brief amount of dappled light underneath a pine and spruce on the north side of my house. Despite the shady location, they send up those delightful blue flowers in early to mid-spring that seem to glow above the pine needle debris. I leave the cones and needles where they drop here as a natural mulch, and the Hepatica fit right in, thriving in the suburban forest mulch. The squirrels add to the mulch by perching on branches above and working their way through the cones, dropping scales in middens as they go. The Hepatica rhizomes have been spreading slowly, so they make a better groundcover every year.
The flowers are about 10 cm (4 in.) tall and about 2 cm (an inch) across. These hardy perennials start blooming before the new leaves emerge, so they can appear to be flowering right from the garden floor.
Some of last year’s leaves have persisted over the winter, but new fresh leaves with 3 lobes start growing as the flower period ends. The Hepatica leaves and stems are very hairy. The new leaf uncurling on the top right shows how fuzzy the backs and stems can be. The fresh leaves are a light, shiny green, but they’ll eventually darken as they grow larger. Those leaves will meet at the edges and overlap to make a good groundcover as they mature over the next month.
Check out the hair on these as seen from the side. The underside of the leaves is covered in peach fuzz, as are the downy stems.
The collage above shows how they look for 3 weeks in spring, while the one below shows the good looking foliage they’ll have for the rest of the summer. They are surrounded by Hosta, Brunnera (Siberian bugloss), Athyrium (ferns), Heuchera (coral bells), Tiarella (foamflower), and Aruncus (wild ginger), most of which are still emerging in the garden.
Hepatica nobilis is a charming plant for what could be a challenging garden area. Those electric blue flowers will glow in the shadowy garden areas, but with their small size and simple petals they blend in with a natural garden area. Then over the summer, their thick, lobed leaves make an attractive groundcover, needing very little care.