Chinese hardy orchid (Bletilla striata and cvs.)
USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 8
Size: 12 to 18 inches tall and wide
Conditions: Light shade or morning sun; moist, humus-rich, well-drained soil
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.
‘HGC Pink Frost’ hellebore (Helleborus ballardiae ‘HGC Pink Frost’)
Zones: 5 to 9
Size: 12 to 15 inches tall and up to 2 feet wide
Conditions: Partial shade; moist, fertile, well-drained soil
‘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.
‘Little Honey’ oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey’)
Zones: 5 to 9
Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Partial shade (tolerates morning sun); moist, fertile, well-drained soil
Oakleaf hydrangeas are already one of my favorite shrubs: They are tough and reliable; have great foliage, flowers, and fall color; and provide stems of dried flowers in winter. Just when I thought they could not get any better, chartreuse-foliaged ‘Little Honey’ came along. Creamy white flowers appear in summer, then dry on the plant for months of show. ‘Little Honey’ rarely requires pruning, besides some thinning or shaping. To brighten the shade even more, plant hot pink or orange flowers and bright purple-foliaged tropicals nearby.
‘Bertram Anderson’ lungwort (Pulmonaria longifolia ‘Bertram Anderson’)
Zones: 3 to 8
Size: 6 to 15 inches tall and up to 2 feet wide
Conditions: Partial shade; moist, well-drained soil
‘Bertram Anderson’ is an older cultivar of lungwort with excellent foliage. In early spring, pink buds open to bright blue flowers, then silver-spotted leaves unfurl for a season-long show. Lungworts can have mildew problems, but ‘Bertram Anderson’ is highly resistant. When you cut off the old foliage in late winter, wear gloves; the tiny hairs all over the leaves (which keep the deer away) can irritate your skin.
Photos: www.millettephotomedia.com; Courtesy of Irvin Etienne; Bill Johnson; bottom right, Doreen Wynja