Name: Cardamine trifolia
USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 8
Size: 4 to 6 inches tall and 12 to 18 inches wide
Conditions: Light to dappled shade; well-drained soil
A workhorse for dry shade, this thick-leaved woodland gem is one I often recommend for beneath mature trees or established rhododendrons. I completely overlooked watering a small stand during last summer’s prolonged drought, and it remained as fresh and as appealing as ever. Patience is required for a season or two as three-leaved bittercress gains ground, but it is well worth the wait.
Name: Vaccinium glaucoalbum
Zones: 5 to 7
Size: 2 to 3 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil
A subtle charmer, Himalayan huckleberry has unusual evergreen foliage that’s powder blue on its topside and silver on the reverse. Slow to mature, this compact shrub is a stellar choice in small urban gardens, where thoughtful selection and plant placement really count. As temperatures cool, it shows an even softer side as burgundy highlights grace the leaves and stems. Pendulous clusters of pinkish white flowers in May yield blue-black huckleberries, which birds usually devour quickly.
Name: Francoa sonchifolia
Zones: 7 to 9
Size: 3 feet tall and 12 to 18 inches wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist, well-drained soil
I often forget about this mounding evergreen Chilean native until the lilting sprays of orchidlike pink flowers make their appearance in midsummer and just keep on coming well into fall. The burgundy tones of its autumn foliage are another bonus. If you combine maiden’s wreath with the red stems of evergreen huckleberry and the silver-veined foliage of ‘Blackthorn Strain’ hellebore (Helleborus × sternii ‘Blackthorn Strain’, Zones 5–9), you’ve got yourself a low-maintenance, year-round vignette for partial shade that can’t be beat.
Himalayan maidenhair fern
Name: Adiantum venustum
Zones: 5 to 8
Size: 3 to 6 inches tall and 3 feet wide
Conditions: Dappled to full shade; rich, moist, well-drained soil
You’ve got to love these black stems. This is my favorite dwarf evergreen fern. It’s fantastic as a slow-spreading ground cover in highly visible areas. In 2010, this fern easily weathered a week of temperatures below 20°F and popped back with a vengeance afterward. It is not terribly heat tolerant, however, but occasional water in summer will keep it looking its best. Himalayan maidenhair fern is stunning with black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’, Zones 6–11) and variegated London pride (Saxifraga × urbium ‘Variegata’, Zones 6–7).
Alex LaVilla is a member of the Great Plant Picks Selection Committee of the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden in Seattle, Washington.