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Regional Picks: Plants for Dry Shade – Northeast

Fine Gardening – Issue 158

Bigroot geranium

Name: Geranium macrorrhizum

USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 8

Size: Up to 18 inches tall and 2 to 3 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil

Once established, bigroot geranium is one of the best perennials for dry shade. If this plant had a mailbox, it would probably receive thank-you notes from grateful gardeners across the country. The deeply lobed, slightly fuzzy leaves are apple scented when crushed, making the plant deer and rabbit resistant. It starts blooming in late spring and continues through early summer with lovely pink flowers. Perhaps one of this plant’s most desirable features is its fall foliage, which turns beautiful shades of reddish orange. Bigroot geranium is fairly care-free, requiring only a little shearing after the initial flush of bloom to encourage some fresh foliage growth.

‘Diana Clare’ lungwort

Name: Pulmonaria ‘Diana Clare’

Zones: 3 to 8

Size: 8 to 12 inches tall and 12 to 18 inches wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; well-drained soil

I have grown several of the many lungwort cultivars, but ‘Diana Clare’ is my favorite. Its shimmering, apple green leaves (which look like they’re dipped in silver) keep their magnificent color all season long. The long pointed leaves contrast well with the blooms, which appear a couple of weeks later than other varieties—usually in midspring. The flowers emerge a vibrant violet-blue, then transition to purple, before finally turning pink. Unlike other cultivars, ‘Diana Clare’ doesn’t need to be cut back in summer to refresh the foliage.

‘Ghost’ painted fern

Name: Athyrium ‘Ghost’

Zones: 4 to 8

Size: 2 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; well-drained soil

It’s a given that 99.9 percent of ferns are best suited to shady, moist conditions. ‘Ghost’ painted fern, however, is an abnormality that tolerates drier soil. This vigorous plant is deer resistant and has no serious insect or disease problems. ‘Ghost’ painted fern combines the rigid, upright habit of the native lady fern (A. filix-femina, Zones 4–9) with the silvery gray of Japanese painted fern (A. niponicum var. pictum, Zones 5–8). ‘Ghost’ forms a slowly spreading clump of delicately cut fronds, which are a soft grayish green with an overlay of silvery hues and maroon midribs.

‘Sulphureum’ epimedium

Name: Epimedium × versicolor ‘Sulphureum’

Zones: 5 to 9

Size: 8 to 10 inches tall and 2 to 3 feet wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; well-drained soil

Certain shade plants with exceptional foliage make you forget all about floriferous, sun-loving perennials, and ‘Sulphureum’ epimedium is one of them. In early spring, this fast-spreading plant is covered in constellations of two-tone pastel-and-butter-yellow flowers, which look like miniature daffodils. The evergreen foliage is heart shaped, and the leaves often appear reddish, particularly if grown in more light; the foliage eventually transitions to an eye-catching burgundy in fall. ‘Sulphureum’ epimedium is extremely drought tolerant once established, is deer resistant, and spreads to form a well-behaved ground cover.

Lori Davis is a horticulturist for Sunny Border Nurseries in Kensington, Connecticut.

Photos: Doreen Wynja; Jason Reeves; Ann E. Stratton; Joshua McCullough; courtesy of Lori Davis

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