Northern Shade Gardening

Fascinating Fiddleheads

Monday, May 12, 2008 Category: Perennials

Matteuccia struthiopteris ostrich fernI find the new fern fronds to be fascinating as they emerge in the garden. They are tightly rolled at first, and within days their fiddleheads unroll to reveal the new foliage. The shapes of the newly risen fronds are intriguing, standing tall with the curled end holding what will eventually become long fronds. These are the fiddleheads of Matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich ferns).

It won’t take them long to stretch 90 to 120 cm tall (3 to 4 feet). The plants I have in the deep shade under a willow against the north side of a fence tend to be a little shorter, about 60 cm tall (2 feet). My tallest ones are on the northern side of a fence, but get an hour or 2 of sun in the early morning. They are also next to a birdbath and may get a little extra water. The blades are about 30 cm wide (1 foot) at the broadest part, tapering to a narrow rounded tip and very narrow base.

Matteuccia struthiopteris, ostrich fernThe ostrich fern’s overall shape is very distinctive, narrow at the bottom and wide at the top. I appreciate this fern’s height for the back of the shade border, and the way it makes an excellent backdrop for other perennials in the garden. They look great with woodland flowers planted around their base.

They spread slowly in my garden, with a few new M. struthiopteris coming up each spring a little ways out from the parent plants. For such a lush looking fern, these are very easy care and have no problems with a cold climate nor the shade. They die back quickly in the fall with the first frosts, but their dark fertile fronds are decorative so I leave them on until spring.

Matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich fern)Aren’t the new fiddleheads fascinating? You can see the miniature versions of the leaflets in the curl as it uncoils upwards and then out. If you click on the bottom photo you can enlarge it and see the perfect leaflets emerging and the beads of water. When I look at this, I forget that I live on the prairies.

You can find some more information and lots of photos about these and other ferns I grow in zone 3 in this post, and here is a post about Athyrium ferns in the garden.

Enchanting Striped Squills

Tuesday, May 6, 2008 Category: Bulbs

The earliest bulbs to bloom in my garden are the tiny Puschkinia scilloides ‘libanotica’ (striped squills). Puschkinia libanotica ( striped squills )The flowers grow in a shady area on the northern side of my house. These bulbs are extremely hardy, and shrugged off being covered in snow after they had grown their full height. The buds of these plants went into suspended animation for a while when mostly covered in snow, but now they are are opening again. They are white with bright blue stripes going to the tip of each petal on the flower. The blossoms are in elongated clusters with multiple blooms. Ordinarily I’m not enthusiastic about striped flowers, but these subtle blooms are enchanting. The leaves are upright, thickened, slightly arched, and a rich green. This small bulb is altogether charming and well worth growing.Puschkinia libanotica \'Alba\' white striped squill

I enjoy this bulb, so I planted the all white version last fall, P. libanotica ‘Alba’. (white striped squill). It is a dainty little bulb with an identical leaf habit and similar flower clusters. They live up to their name, since ‘Alba’ refers to a white flower, but while the flowers are pretty, they lose some of the charm that the blue stripes give to the other version. You can see a photo of the white striped squills that tried to bloom in April. That snowy photo shows you their hardy nature.

One benefit to these small bulbs is that their foliage dies back quickly, so they don’t look messy for long after they’ve flowered and they make room for the next round of flowers. Both of these are hardy bulbs for a cold climate, that tolerate some shade. They are early risers, so they extend the season, and give you something to look forward to after a long winter.

Here is some more information about some other blue flowering spring bulbs.

Which Puschkinia do you prefer?

Perennials Hidden Under the Leaf Mulch

Monday, May 5, 2008 Category: Spring Gardening

Last week I though that spring had skipped my garden. This weekend I removed the mulch in much of my garden and discovered it’s finally here. Because our northern winters can get quite cold, my garden gets a good leaf mulch in the fall to help insulate the perennials for the winter. The laying down of the mulch is actually easier than it sounds, since the trees do most of the work on that one. I haven’t trained them to remove the mulch yet though.

Snow on lawn chair in April With a good blanket of snow over top of the leaves, the perennials sleep snugly. However, sleeping in until May is just too decadent. If it sounds like I’ve been lax in my gardening, well here’s what the garden looked like on April 22. I’m a bit reluctant to show this picture, since you might think Canada is always covered in snow. Now whether or not that’s a fair assessment, I don’t want to perpetuate it.

Dicentra spectabilis (white bleeding heart)Here is Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’ (white bleeding heart) rising from the ground. It looks a little blanched from being under the mulch, but it should start to appreciate the sun and remember how to photosynthesize again soon. I’m eager to see these blooming. They have the prettiest white flowers dangling from their arching stems and are relatively long lasting, flowering for about 2 months. Their foliage is ferny and lasts so well in the shade.

Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley)They look great with the Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley) growing around them, since the branches are held above them. Now the C. majalis are not shy about popping up in the leaves. They do just fine even if you don’t remove the mulch. I like the smooth red sprouts with the green tips. These plants look great as they emerge. It doesn’t seem to matter how deep the shade is, these always do well.

Brunnera macrophylla \'Jack Frost\' sproutsThe Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ (Siberian bugloss)are just unfurling their fuzzy sprouts. They give no indication of the beauties they will become. There is no silver and no veining yet. These, too, are in some fairly deep shade, right under a large willow. A few of these perennials got stuffed tightly into some tiny gaps between some large roots, yet they still grew and flowered fine. So far, I’m very impressed with their hardiness and suitability for a cold climate or woodland garden.

Linum perenne \'Blue Sapphire\'Now to a sunnier part of the garden. The Linum perenne ‘Blue Sapphire’ (flax) looks fresh and green. I’m surprised by how much it’s grown in such a short time. Soon it will be tall enough to sway gently in the breeze. I love the pretty sky blue flowers on these and the way they give movement to the garden. The foliage looks fresh right up to through to the first snow.

Viburnum shrubHere are the buds of my Viburnum shrub. This poor shrub has an unfortunate destiny, since the previous owners planted a 15 foot by 10 foot shrub 6 inches from the house. I’m sure it looked awfully tiny when it was first planted, but there is no way it can fit the space. It covers my bedroom window, hits the eaves, and goes around past the roof, while centred 6 inches from the wall. I’ve given it various prunings every year, but I’m just delaying the inevitable. It is going to have to get the “final big pruning”.

Well now I know that spring did not forget my garden. There is lots of life coming up from the faux forest floor. The buds are popping and the birds are courting. Now that my lawn chair has thrown off the snow, I’m going to sit outside and observe it all.