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Northern California Regional Reports

Regional Picks: Variegated Plants for Shade—California

Fine Gardening - Issue 194
Photo: millettephotomedia.com

1. Camouflage™ Japanese Aralia

Name: Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’

Zones: 7–10

Size: 5 to 10 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; moist, well-drained soil

Native range: Japan

Interested in bringing a hint of the tropics into your shade garden? With its graceful shape and dense, colorful foliage, Camouflage™ Japanese aralia is a standout choice. Deeply lobed leaves sport a glossy patchwork of rich green, lime, and yellow, bringing to mind the sun shining through a stained-glass window. Clusters of subtle white flowers attractive to pollinators are followed by small black berries, but the oversize foliage is really the star here. You can plant it in a container, in a shaded entryway, or on a porch for year-round tropical impact too.

Photo: Nancy J. Ondra

2. ‘Silvery Sunproof’ Lily Turf

Name: Liriope muscari ‘Silvery Sunproof’

Zones: 5–11

Size: 15 to 18 inches tall and wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; well-drained soil

Native Range: China, Taiwan, and Japan

Contrary to its common name, this lily turf is neither silver nor sunproof. Its strappy green leaves are edged with soft gold, making it a striking ground cover or front-of-the-border choice. Pale blue flowers, reminiscent of hyacinths, appear in late summer. This plant is tolerant of full shade but will develop its best color with at least a few hours of sunshine. While it’s technically evergreen, old growth tends to fade and lose its vibrancy. A solid pruning in midwinter before new growth emerges will keep it looking fresh, however. Unlike other lily turf varieties, ‘Silvery Sunproof’ is not invasive and maintains its manicured look.

Photo: Bill Johnson

3. ‘Mr. Goldstrike’ Aucuba

Name: Aucuba japonica ‘Mr. Goldstrike’

Zones: 7–9

Size: 6 to 10 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; well-drained soil

Native Range: Japan and China

If you crave year-round garden pizzazz but want to keep maintenance to a minimum, you can’t go wrong with ‘Mr. Goldstrike’ aucuba. Medium-size, dark green glossy leaves are liberally speckled with gold, as if Mother Nature happened to shake out her paintbrush nearby. One of the all-time-best tough-as-nails plants, it thrives on benign neglect and is virtually maintenance free. ‘Mr. Goldstrike’ is a male selection that will pollinate female varieties, so if you have room for more than one, plant a companion nearby for a winter show of red berries.

Photo: Bill Johnson

4. ‘Savitzii’ Flowering Maple

Name: Abutilon ‘Savitzii’

Zones: 9–11

Size: 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide

Conditions: Partial shade; moist, well-drained soil

Native Range: Central and Southern Africa

With eye-catching foliage and elegant flowers that are a magnet for hummingbirds, ‘Savitzii’ flowering maple checks all the boxes. Its large, maple-like leaves display an irregular, bold pattern of cream and green. Unlike many variegated plants where the foliage tends to overpower any blossoms, ‘Savitzii’ flowering maple sports cup-shaped orange flowers that bloom nearly year-round and easily stand out, even from a distance. One of this shrub’s most-prized qualities is its ability to form a natural espalier when planted against a wall, making it an ideal choice to soften a shady fence. While evergreen, it has a tendency to get leggy over time and may require an occasional hard pruning to maintain a lush appearance.

—Susan Morrison is a garden designer in Concord, California.

From Fine Gardening #194

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