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The southern maidenhair fern has fluffy, airy, and elegant foliage, which works equally well in containers or in open ground. It's a perfect plant for providing light, airy texture to shady beds. -Tom Nelson, Regional Picks: Northern California, Fine Gardening issue #127
There are many species and varieties of wild ginger, but this vigorous, fast-growing, and beautiful species tops my list. Elongated, heart-shaped, dark green leaves look and feel as if they were made out of Naugahyde and splashed with metallic paint. The foliage shimmers when hit by a beam of light. It is evergreen to 10°F but will quickly reappear in the spring if it freezes. If you want to see the unique, 2-inch-wide, dark purple flowers, get on your hands and knees and look at the base of the plants. Though not particularly showy, they are interestingly attractive. Plants spread quickly by underground rhizomes, forming a thick mat of foliage that crowds out weeds. I recommend spacing them 10 to 12 inches apart and letting them fill in over the next few years. Plants are not picky about soil pH or type, but they do best in well-drained areas. -Jimmy Turner, Plants for dry shade, Fine Gardening issue #133
In late spring, lavender-pink flowers rise above this plant’s lacy, fernlike foliage, which forms an airy network beneath. The blooms appear a bit later than typical for other astilbes, and they extend later into summer. ‘Maggie Daley’ is moderately drought tolerant once established. Pair it with Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum, Zones 5–8) for a beautiful combination. And deer and rabbit resistance is the pièce de résistance! -Kielian DeWitt, Fine Gardening #147 (Octover 2012), page 76
This is the most drought-tolerant bergenia I’ve found and the only one that does well in Texas heat. The large, hairy, critter-resistant leaves do not resemble other members of this genus; they look more like hairy plates or giant African violet leaves—hence, it’s common name. Mature plants will send up 10-inch-long stems of white to pale pink flowers from spring to early summer, but the real reason to grow this plant is its remarkable foliage.In cooler regions, hairy bergenia grows not only in the shade but also in full sun. It isn’t particular about soil type or pH. Divide plants every three to five years to keep them vigorous. -Jimmy Turner, Perennials for dry shade, Fine Gardening issue #133
The first time you see a Chinese hardy orchid flowering you kind of rub your eyes: Did a garden fairy drop her corsage after the prom? It really is a perennial here, which flowers in late spring to early summer, with three to seven flowers atop each wiry stem. The foliage is beautifully pleated, and happy plantings slowly grow into sizable clumps. -Irvin Etienne, Fine Gardening #147 (October 2012), page 72
I have a penchant for vigorous, spreading plants: For the price of one plant I can get tons more for free. Plus, plants that spread out are naturals for dry shade; the expanded network of root systems feeds the whole plant, helping it get the water it needs. ‘Pink Octopus’ quickly forms wide mats of tall, deeply cut, light green foliage. Throughout spring, octopus-shaped, candy pink flowers float in a mass over the foliage, sporadically appearing throughout summer. I use this plant as the horticultural equivalent of a slipcover to coat large areas of shade quickly, especially because it can handle the extremes of my Texas climate. This perennial is maintenance-free, other than keeping it from encroaching on less vigorous plants. -Jimmy Turner, Perennials for dry shade, Fine Gardening issue #133
Lily of the valley's bell-shaped, sweetly scented flowers bloom in early spring. It likes partial to full shade and is perfect for a woodland garden. It may not be the best choice for your beds and borders because it tends to spread, but it is a perfect ground cover if you have a large shady spot under some trees.
Originating in mountainous woodland and stony habitats from Europe to western Asia, yellow foxglove is tolerant of dry shade but flourishes with moisture. Arising in midsummer from neat clumps of fine-toothed foliage, a mass of soft yellow open bells, speckled brown inside, blooms along one side of a 3-foot-tall stem. Usually described as a perennial, it is more accurate to call it a biennial or short-lived perennial. If the flowering stalk is cut down after blooms have faded, it may rebloom in the fall. When a few flower stalks are left, the plant self-seeds.
If you dwarfed flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus, Zones 3–7) and sent it to finishing school, Japanese wood poppy would be the result. Birders will note that Glaucidium is also the name of a genus of owls, and gardeners may, ahem, hoot and flap when they see Japanese wood poppy in full bloom. This debutant may need a year or two to refine before flowering, but when it does, the coming-out party is a show of violet sepals. (White varieties are also available.) Naturally, it will wilt in the heat and will require shade and regular water. -Justin Nichols, #Fine Gardening 147 (October 2012), page 70
From late fall through winter, the leathery leaves of hellebores stay glossy, cheery, and green. Hybrids of H. orientalis and other species have a clump-forming habit and leathery leaves. They begin blooming in February or March in a range of shades, adding much needed color very early in the season. The blooms last for a very long time, especially if the weather stays cool. Hellebores are tolerant of summer heat and humidity. -Marty Hair, Regional Picks: Upper Midwest, Fine Gardening issue# 127
Hellebores begin blooming in mid-winter in a range of colors, adding much needed color very early in the season. They bloom when the temperature is below freezing, even amidst the snow. Protect from cold winter winds, especially when not insulated by snow, to avoid damaged foliage. Avoid ingestion of all plant parts and contact with the sap.
‘HGC Pink Frost’ is part of a new series of hellebores that, for the Midwest, bloom very early, some as early as January; this cultivar blooms a bit later, usually in March. The bud count is high, with buds coming out in February all along the plant stem. They start out a deep burgundy but open to soft pink, then age to earthy rose shades. Flowers rise above the foliage, so they are never hidden, and they face outward, creating maximum interest. -Irvin Etienne, Fine Gardening issue 147, page 72
This heuchera has burgundy leaves splashed with silver and grows up to 16 inches tall and 18 inches wide. Pink flowers emerge in spring and rise to 26 inches tall. This plant performs well in both garden beds and in containers, where it makes a wonderful filler plant.
This heuchera, sold as Dolce® Blackcurrant in the U.S., has purple and silver leaves veined with black and grows up to 16 inches tall and 20 inches wide. While it flowers in early summer, it is grown primarily for its dramatic foliage and performs well in both garden beds and containers.
Heuchera 'Caramel' has H. villosa parentage, so it's more tolerant of heat and humidity that other heacheras. It has glowing, apricot-hued foliage that grows up to 12 inches tall and 20 inches wide. Pink flowers appear in spring. This plant performs well in both garden beds and containers, or as a groundcover when planted en masse. It may be evergreen on warmer climates.
This compact heuchera has dark greenish silver leaves with crimson undersides. The plant grows up to 8 inches tall and 16 inches wide and sports soft red flowers in spring.
This heuchera cultivar has peachy-bronze leaves and spires of red flowers in late spring and early summer. It grows up to 16 inches tall and 20 inches wide. 'Crème Brûlée' performs well in both garden beds and in containers, where it mingles well with a multitude of plants. This cultivar is very tolerant of heat and sun.
This heuchera has dusky purple leaves with charcoal veins, overlaid with silver between the veins. The plant grows up to 16 inches tall and wide. Pale pink flowers appear in spring. Great in garden beds and in container plantings.
Heucheras make excellent foliage plants for sun to part shade gardens. Most flowers are not as impressive as the foliage, but they do add a second level of interest. 'Silver Scrolls' heuchera's leaves are burgundy overlaid with silver and withstand even hot summers, unlike many other silver plants. It grows up to 2 feet tall and 1 foot wide.
This heuchera cultivar has very dark (almost black) plum or purplish leaves and greenish white, bell-shaped flowers in late spring and early summer.
Conifers for Shade
Yes, you can grow evergreen trees and shrubs in shade. Who knew?
by Christine Froehlich
10 Combinations for Shade
The secret is in using color to pump up the interest in low-light spots
by Inta Krombolz
Alliums All Season Long
Deer resistant and dynamic, these bulbs provide color from the first showers of spring to the last leaves of fall
by Stephanie Cohen
Spectacular Spring Bloomers
These perennials are the light at the end of the long, wintry tunnel
by Dave Demers
Bringing Sun and Shade Together
Show off what these extremes have to offer, then unite them with some common ground
by Dan Johnson
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