1. ‘Sun King’ aralia
Name: Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’
Size: 3 to 6 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Partial shade; moist, fertile,
Native range: Japan, Korea, east-central China
This aralia is a winner all season long, but especially in late spring and early summer. From the time it emerges in midspring, its foliage will light up any shady vignette. Good structure and foliage presentation make this plant a wonderful backdrop or centerpiece. Its leaves will have a more golden color if they get a few hours of sun each day, and they will be greener in deeper shade. I have never had any insect or disease problems with it, and as a bonus, the deer in this area leave it alone.
2. Strawberry begonia
Name: Saxifraga stolonifera
Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; average soil but tolerates alkaline and clay
Native range: China, Japan, South Korea
This wonderful evergreen ground cover is much more hardy than people realize. It flourishes in shade, although morning sun will bring out more red coloring in its leaves. In May and June, white flowers emerge on 18-inch branched scapes, giving the plant a very light and airy look. I have never had any insect or disease problems with it as long as the soil was well drained but moist. It propagates easily from offsets and runners; that’s good news, because you will want more.
3. ‘Citronelle’ heuchera
Name: Heuchera ‘Citronelle’
Size: 12 to 15 inches tall and 12 to 18 inches wide
Conditions: Partial shade with protection from hot afternoon sun; organically rich, well-drained soil
Native range: North America
This heuchera echoes the color of ‘Sun King’ aralia but in a much smaller package. It is a low-maintenance plant that performs well all season, and it looks especially good in early summer with the emergence of fresh, lime-green leaves. If it is given more sun, it prefers even moisture to prevent leaf scorch. Its airy flowers appear in June. I have observed no insect or disease problems in the time that I have been growing ‘Citronelle’, but deer will graze it.
4. Japanese sacred lily
Name: Rohdea japonica
Size: 12 to 18 inches tall and wide
Conditions: Partial to full shade; organically rich, well-drained soil
Native range: China, Japan, Korea
Japanese sacred lily is a stellar performer in the shade garden, producing great evergreen foliage throughout the year. It is drought tolerant when established, has no real insect or disease problems if its needs are met, and is not liked by deer. There are a number of variegated forms on the market, but all of them are slow growing, some painfully so. Although its flowers are inconspicuous, they are followed by clusters of red berries late in the season.
—Jeff Calton is the owner of Good Earth Nursery and Landscape Company in Church Hill, Tennessee.
From Fine Gardening #193