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This New Zealand native subshrub has 3-inch-wide scalloped leaves and little purple-brown to pale olive leaflets. Its rhizomatous roots spread in a mat to support this plant's wonderful ground-cover form. In early summer, 3/4-inch-wide flowers appear on short stems, and brownish green sepals and white anthers contrast with the dark leaves. The rhizomatous roots of this plant spread slowly into a mat, forming a nice ground cover. Prune every five years or so for a neat appearance; little other care is required. -Gerald Gibbens, Regional Picks: Northwest, Fine Gardening issue #120
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
Northern maidenhair fern's curved fronds have wiry black stems that wave in the wind. This plant spreads slowly (by branching rhizomes) and eventually forms large colonies. Its delicate texture looks most beautiful when paired with broad-leaved plants. -June Hutson, Regional Picks: Midwest, Fine Gardening issue# 127
Black foliage and spiky blue flowers (which appear in early summer) make a dramatic contrast. 'Black Scallop' thrives in full sun, which intensifies the black color. In full sun, the plant produces numerous runners, which should be thinned to prevent crown rot. In large plantings, you can run a rotary mower with a bagger attachment over the patch to control crowding and keep the foliage fresh. In mixed container plantings, the spilling habit of the plant makes it a standout choice. -Ron Smith, Regional Picks: Upper Plains, Fine Gardening issue #120
This plant has lobed, densely hairy, chartreuse foliage that is crimped at the edges. Soft, frothy, yellow-green foliage hovers above the plant from early summer through autumn.
This dark-leaved, tropical foliage plant loves heat, and is useful spreading through a bed, border, or in a container where its deep purple leaves can contrast with brightly colored flowers or foliage. Alternanthera are native to tropical and sub-tropical areas of Central and South America. Their flowers are generally an afterthought. This plant works well for edging, as an annual groundcover, or in a formal knot garden.
This is a fine plant for cascading over the edge of a wall. It's a hardy, prostrate shrub with intricate branching that often forms mats up to 3 feet wide, by runners. Fragrant, white bell-shaped flowers tinged with pink are borne in May and followed later in the season by red berries. The common bearberry's stunning red stems are studded with small, glossy, evergreen leaves.
This is a short-growing aster with lilac-blue flowers and creeping rootstocks. Many cultivars exist. It can be used on steep slopes for erosion control.
This is a short-growing aster has creeping rootstocks and pink, daisy-like flowers with yellow centers. It can be used on steep slopes for erosion control.
This striking, richly-textured, deciduous ground cover has heart-shaped leaves that turn mauve in autumn. Purple, blue, or white flowers appear in late summer to early fall.
'Burgundy Lace' is a real showstopper in shady borders and containers, with its silvery purple-bronze fronds. The low-growing clumps are a good choice for edging pathways, and the plant looks terrific when planted in groups. 'Burgundy Lace' grows best in humus-rich, moist soil but will also adapt to conditions that are less than ideal. -Chris Kelley, Regional Picks: Midwest, Fine Gardening issue #120
The broad silvery leaves of ‘Ursula’s Red’ have a showy burgundy band at the center of the leaves in spring. This plant can double in size in a single growing season, as it spreads from rhizomes. Though deer do like it, it may simply grow more fronds and not show any lasting damage. --Michael Ruggiero, Regional Picks: Mid-Atlantic, Fine Gardening issue #127
This tuberous begonia bears green heart-shaped foliage with red veining and claret-stained undersides that steal the show when backlit. Pendent clusters of slightly fragrant, satiny pink or white blossoms open from midsummer until frost. It makes a good perennial companion for ferns and hostas.
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
This plant produces distinct, 2-inch blossoms primarily in rich blue (but also in shades of purple and white), with dark eyes smudged white. It is suitable for sun and partial shade.
This woodland plant is valued for its flowers and groundcovering leaves. Terminal clusters of delicate blue flowers appear in spring.
This woodland plant is valued for its flowers and its heart-shaped, ground-covering leaves. Its small blue flowers go nicely with ephemeral bulbs in mid- to late spring, as the enlarging leaves block out the ripening bulb foliage. 'Jack Frost' can take dry summers and wet winters. This cultivar is prized for its improved tolerance of heat and sun. -Marty Hair, Regional Picks: Upper Midwest, Fine Gardening issue# 127
This woodland plant is valued for its flowers and heart-shaped, groundcovering leaves. 'Langtrees' can take dry summers and wet winters. This cultivar is prized for its improved tolerance of heat and sun.
'Spring Torch' gets its name from the vibrant color of its new growth in spring. The mid-green leaves are tipped in shades of cream, orange, and red. Later in the summer, mauve-pink flower spikes cover the plant and last into the fall. As cold weather sets in, leaves acquire bronze or purple tones, adding further interest. This small, mounding evergreen shrub makes a good groundcover or rock garden plant. Bees love it. Different cultivars are beautiful woven together in the garden to form a colorful tapestry.
Serbian bellflowers have an easy, undemanding habit. Creating a stream of lavender blue, the 1-inch-diameter star-shaped blossoms bloom reliably from late spring to early fall. The foliage remains evergreen in mild winters and needs to be sheared only once in a while to keep its appearance tidy. 'Blue Waterfall' flows beautifully along bed edges and through rock gardens in full sun to partial shade.
Q&A Ground covers for dry shade
by Barbara Ashmun
Moss Makes a Lush Carpet
This easy-to-tend ground cover forms the foundation of a sculpted woodland retreat
by Jeff Osser
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
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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