Garden Photo of the Day

Nancy’s Boston Garden

Augmenting with annuals

shade garden with a begonia in a pot

Today we’re visiting Nancy Kressin’s garden.

I have been building my garden in the Boston neighborhood of West Roxbury for 24 years, with the simultaneous goals of collecting as many plants as possible, sustaining bloom from spring to fall, and growing healthy and attractive plants in extremely difficult conditions in some areas (dry full shade under Norway maples and white pines). One key strategy I use in these tough areas is to insert pots of annuals to brighten shady areas, adding plants with chartreuse (for example, hostas, Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’, Zones 5–9, and Persicaria ‘Lance Corporal’, Zones 4–8) and silver foliage (Pulmonaria ‘Majeste’ Zones 3–8) to reflect light.

shade garden with lots of foliage plantsIn addition to purchasing low-maintenance annuals like the Tophat™ Rose bicolor begonias pictured here, I like to “go shopping” in my yard for plants to add to my pots, such as the Lamium ‘White Nancy’ (Zones 3–8) and Athyrium ‘Ghost’ (Zones 4–8) in this pot.

shady garden bed on side of yardSeveral large white pines edge our property, and the soil underneath them is mainly composed of decayed pine needles, in which lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis, Zones 3–9) thrive but not much else except small leaf rhododendrons, which only bloom in the spring. So to introduce summer color, I added pots of begonias and planted bright-leaved hostas (Hosta cultivars ‘Sum and Substance’ and ‘Paul’s Glory’, Zones 3–8) in grow bags, dug into holes nestled among the pine needles. This strategy keeps potting soil and moisture next to the hosta roots, minimizing competition from the pines and lily of the valley. At the edge of this area is a Golden Shadows® Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia, Zones 3–7), which brightens this otherwise shady, deep green area.

shade garden with a begonia in a potThe next full-shade area is situated 6 feet from a Norway maple (Acer platanoides, Zones 4–7) growing from my neighbor’s property. Color, light, and interest here come from more potted begonias (Begonia BIG™ and Dragon Wing® Red Begonia hybrids, annual), nestled among the Carex ‘Ice Dance’ (Zones 5–9), hosta, Persicaria virginiana var. filiformis ‘Lance Corporal’ (Zones 4–8), Geranium × cantabrigiense ‘Karmina’ (Zones 5–8), Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum, Zones 3–8), Liriope ‘Big Blue’ (Zones 5–10), Pulmonaria ‘Majeste’, and Heuchera ‘Silver Scrolls’ (Zones 4–9).

pots of coleus in front of green plantsThese pots of coleus, Hakonechloa ‘All Gold’, Begonia boliviensis, and other begonia cultivars (annuals), together with a trailing fuchsia (Fuchsia hybrid, annual), form a stand-alone vignette.

shade garden with diverse foliage plantsOne soothing vignette I did not try to brighten with potted annuals is this one. Shaded by a CryptomeriaYoshino’ (Zones 5–9) and ‘Cripsii’ Golden Hinoki false cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Crippsii’, Zones 4–8), Hosta ‘Guacamole’ (Zones 3–8), and Corydalis lutea (Zones 4–8) form a restful palette on their own.

chartreuse, yellow and red plants next to a fenceThis vignette is situated near another Norway maple, but two pots with Hakenechloa, coleus, and hosta were inserted among the chartreuse hosta, Kirengeshoma palmata (Zones 5–8) and Endless Summer® Twist-n-Shout® bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla, Zones 5–10) to bring all-summer color to the area.

garden bed full of foliageHere is one area that needs no additional pops of color from annuals. Starting in spring, this partly shady area is populated with hellebores (Helleborus hybrids, Zones 4–9), Pulmonaria (Zones 3–8), and Indian pinks (Spigella marilandica, Zones 5–9), which provide early color that yields to the foliage colors in the Japanese painted ferns, heuchera, and redtwig dogwood (Cornus sericea, Zones 3–7). Blooms come in midsummer from the panicle hydrangea ‘Quick Fire’ (Hydrangea paniculata, Zones 3–8) and in late summer from the Ligularia ‘Britt Marie Crawford’ (Zones 4–8). In fall, asters provide a final flush.

pink flowersAnd finally, the blooms of my Hemerocallis ‘Lilting Lady’ (Zones 3–9) play nicely with the ‘Fire and Ice’ panicle hydrangea blossoms, underscored by the Lamium ground cover.


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View Comments


  1. Rebeccazone7 09/03/2021

    This has been really helpful, as I have several areas that are now shaded and under different trees. The hosta in bags, is a great idea. I also love your combination of textures. I'm finally getting a feel for the big leaf hostas, although it's usually combined with color...Thanks for sharing what obviously gives you so much pleasure.

  2. gardendevas 09/03/2021

    What beautiful solutions to difficult conditions! Love the designs of your vignettes - great combinations of color, form and texture. The grow bags are brilliant! Do they over-winter well? I am going to try that for a difficult spot under a big spruce. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. User avater
    treasuresmom 09/03/2021

    Love the idea of grow bags. Can you share what brand they are?

  4. User avater
    simplesue 09/03/2021

    You've done such interesting combinations of foliage in your garden, that I wouldn't even care if it had flowers at all!
    I really admire what you've done and learned about a shade loving plant, I never heard of before, from your photos Persicaria virginiana var. filiformis ‘Lance Corporal’ - so outstanding with the leaf shapes and markings...and you work it into the planting beds really well.
    The photo "One soothing vignette" is really nice!
    Oh and the photo "In addition to purchasing low-maintenance" is perfection with all the foliage and the pots of begonias in the mix.

  5. sheila_schultz 09/03/2021

    You have created an eye catching solution for a beautiful, shady location. I love all of the textures and shades of green spotlighted by the pops of color. It is so comforting to view. Well done.

  6. btucker9675 09/03/2021

    This is a really lovely garden, so graceful and natural. You've done a terrific job! The color of Lilting Lady is gorgeous and I will order to add to my many, many day lilies. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Maggieat11 09/03/2021

    Absolutely wonderful.....great combinations for color and texture both. Oh, I'd love to visit in person. You have a fabulous sense of design; your gardens are swoon-worthy!🍃

  8. nicki_s 09/03/2021

    These are beautiful vignettes! Some of your coleus varieties are stunning.

  9. user-5117752 09/04/2021

    My-oh!!!!!! Now that's creative gardening at its best!!! How beautiful and clever!!! Thank you for sharing the beauty and your creativity with us. Here's to using some of your ideas for a more interesting new growing season in '22!

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