Tag Archives: shade plants

Flowering Trees & Shrubs of Early Spring

Outside my window the Blireiana flowering plum is covered with dark pink, double blossoms. It’s one of my favorite early spring blooming trees with a sweet fragrance strong enough to scent the garden. We look forward to the earliest flowers of the new season knowing that winter will soon be over. Spring officially begins on March 20th.

Old fashioned shrubs like flowering quince and forsythia figure prominently in many old gardens because they are tough plants able to survive neglect and still look beautiful.

Forsythia ‘Kolgold’

The bare stems of forsythia are completely covered with deep golden-yellow flowers in late winter and early spring and become the focal point of the landscape when in full bloom. The showy stems of this easy care shrub are great for cutting. Forsythias are native to eastern Asia but a chance discovery in Germany by a grower who specialized in breeding for the cut flower industry led to the especially vivid variety ‘Kolgold’ in the 1800’s. Forsythia has long been used in Chinese medicine. The flower petals contain powerful bacteria-fighting properties which make it an important dressing.

Flowering quince

Flowering quince is another old garden staple providing early color. They are easy to care for and nearly indestructible in almost any soil that is well drained and not overly fertile. Once established quince is a very drought tolerant plant and their spiny branches make them an excellent choice for hedges, screening or as a security barrier. There are red, pink, orange and white flowering varieties. The Toyo Nishiki cultivar even has pink, white and solid red flowers all on the same branch.

Clivia miniata

What would a shade garden be without a bright orange clivia? Every year I look forward to their huge flower clusters that emerge from between dark green, strappy leaves. Even in dark shade they will bloom and brighten the winter garden although they would do fine in morning sun. If you have a north facing window you can grow them as houseplants. Clivia are hardy to several degrees below freezing but mine, under an overhang, have survived temps of 23 degrees without damage. Clivia breeders have produced gold and peach colored flowers also but I still like the standard orange ones.

A beautiful vine that blooms in winter is hardenbergia ‘Happy

Hardenbergia ‘Happy Wanderer’

Wanderer’. In the pea family, this evergreen vine looks like a small wisteria when in bloom. Pinkish-purple flowers cascade in clusters on twining stems that reach 12-16 feet long. It requires little water once established and is hardy to about 23 degrees. If you have an older, tangled plant you can rejuvenate it with hard pruning in early spring after flowering. Never prune in late summer or fall because you will cut off the wood that is going to bloom the following winter.

The last plant I couldn’t live without is Fragrant Sarcococca. The tiny white flowers of this plant are easily overlooked but you can’t miss their scent. I have one near the front door that greets me with that vanilla fragrance every time I walk in or out. The flowers are followed by a bright red fruit. Sweet Box forms a natural espalier against a wall and if you have a problem spot in deep dry shade where other plants won’t grow give this plant a try. They are easy to grow, deer resistant and trouble free.

The Changing Season of September

Japanese_forest_grass.1920
Japanese forest grass

You never know where new gardening ideas and inspiration can come from. The other day I stopped by to help a friend water a garden by the river in South Felton while the owners were out of town. We both enjoyed the unique combination of plants and garden art placed strategically though out the garden. It was clear that this soothing garden was created with love. If gardening keeps you sane, don’t stop because of the drought.

Covered with huge white, heavily ruffled flowers a Rose of Sharon ‘Helene’ anchored the entry to a small deck overlooking the San Lorenzo river. With a reddish-purple eye and handsome, leathery dark green leaves this attractive shrub will bloom nearly continuously over the summer and fall without setting seeds.

Other gems in this garden that caught my eye included a Japanese painted fern paired with a purple leaved coral bells. A foxtail fern and variegated hosta looked great nearby. Japanese forest grass, oakleaf hydrangea, liriope, helleborus and winter daphne grew among the ferns.

These are shade plants and most like a regular drink of water. They are combined with plants with similar water requirements in this garden but if your garden is in more sun remember that it doesn’t take a lot of water to make a garden beautiful. An garden_art.1920 Japanese_painted_fern-heuchera.1920unthirsty garden can fill you with joy.

Gardening makes us learn new things. If you water less frequently, some plants may decline or even die eventually. Remove those that do and replace them with plants that will thrive with less water.

agastache_apricot_sprite
Agastache ‘Apricot Sprite’

Some to try as replacements are agastache or Hummingbird mint. Plant near your organic edible garden to provide nectar for pollinators as well as hummingbirds. The flowers are edible as a salad garnish, in baked goods and in cocktails while their foliage can be added to herb salads or in a cup of tea.

Other perennials that bloom now and into fall include asters, gaillardia and all the salvias. California fuchsia are just starting their long fall bloom cycle, too.

I like the bright flowers of gloriosa daisy, especially the longer lived Goldsturm variety. These perennials make good cut flowers and are tough and easy to grow. They are descended from wild plants native to the eastern U.S. but require only moderate water once established.

Need more late summer perennials to extend your season? Coneflowers will continue to bloom until frost then go dormant for the winter. Now days there are many colors to choose from in addition to the traditional rosy purple daisies. They are lightly fragrant and make good cut flowers for bouquets. The clumps spread slowly and can be carefully divided after 3 or 4 years. If faded flowers are left in place, the bristly seed heads provide food for finches in winter.

The herb echinacea is derived from varieties of this flower. Echinacea purpurea and other varieties are used as a fortifier of the immune system, mainly to prevent flu and minor respiratory diseases by increasing the body’s production of interferon. The roots are the part of this plant used for medicinal purposes.

Echinacea was used by Native Americans more than any other plant in the plains states. It was used to treat snake and insect bites because of its antiseptic properties and to bathe burns. They chewed the plants roots to ease the pain of toothache. It was also used for purification. The leaves and the flowers can be used in teas as well.

Enjoy unthirsty color in your garden this fall.

Will Any Plants Thrive in Dry Shade?

daphne_odora_AureomarginataLooking out the window on a rainy day I forget that spot way back in the shade in the back of the garden will be bone dry come summer. It’s too far away to water conveniently very often with a hose and extending the irrigation for just that one area under the trees in the shade is not practical. I sympathize with clients when they ask me what will grow in a problem area like this. Believe me I know it’s a challenge to bring in some colorful foliage, texture or might I be so bold as to want flowers, too? Take a tip from one who lives in a similar area with the same problems. We’re in this together.

At this time of year when the plums are blooming and the flowering pears are clothed in white blossoms, I want something to extend this look out in the garden. There are several plants that bloom early in dry shade and fortunately they are also deer resistant. Later in the season when soil moisture all but disappears there are other plants that will take over center stage.

But first here are the candidates for early spring color and fragrance in shady gardens.

Fragrant Winter daphne is a handsome evergreen shrub and I especially like the variegated foliage of the variety ‘Aureomarginata’. This small, deer tolerant shrub is good looking year round and does well under the shade of small trees. Although many daphnes are tricky to grow, this one is adaptable and easy to please. During the summer water it as infrequently as the plant will allow. This is usually about once per month. Little or no water in summer will reward you with clusters of fragrant purple flowers that start opening at this time of year. Cut them to bring inside with hellebore for a pretty bouquet.

For fragrant May flowers try daphne burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’ which is also easy to grow and requires only occasional water as does daphne transatlantic ‘Summer ‘Ice’. Summer Ice produces sweetly scented flowers for an extraordinarily long time. Flowering begins in early April and can continue as late as November.

Another powerfully fragrant plant for dry shade is commonly known as sweetbox. Sarcococca may not be showy enough to give to your Valentine but the sweetly scented flowers attract hummingbirds and fill the winter garden with a delicious fragrance for weeks starting in January.

Sarcococca ruscifolia forms an upright bushy shrub about 4 feet tall. Another variety called sarcococca hookeriana humilus makes a great ground cover as it rarely exceeds 1 1/2 feet tall. Both plants have dark green leaves, attractive berries and are deer resistant.

helleborus_orientalisHellebores are another winter blooming plant with foliage that looks great, too. I have several varieties including orientalis, argutifolius and foetidus. My Golden Sunrise has large, canary yellow flowers. It’s been blooming for almost a month and will continue for several more weeks. Hellebores are often still flowering during the Christian season of Lent from which they get their common name, Lenten Rose. They are good plants for naturalizing under trees as they are low maintenance, survive with little water and are disease free.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Other plants that bloom at this time of year and require only moderate summer irrigation include Lily-of-the-Valley shrub, clivia, bergenia, mahonia and Pacific Coast iris.

As summer approaches other plants and shrubs will lend their color and texture to the dry shade garden.

Western Wild ginger and Pacific Coast Iris are great ground covers. Good shrubs include deer resistant Osmanthus fragrans or sweet olive. Their white flowers are tiny but powerfully fragrant. Bloom is heaviest in spring and early summer but plants flower sporadically throughout the year. This compact shrub grows at a moderate rate in full sun to partial shade and reaches 10 feet.

Heavenly bamboo are work horses in the shady garden. For a different look try growing nandina filamentosa or Thread-leaf nandina. This evergreen small shrub grows to 2-3 ft tall with very lacy, almost fern-like growth. New foliage is reddish in color and during the fall the leaves turn orange or purplish red. Pinkish-white flowers bloom in clusters in late spring and summer.

There are lots of other shrubs and plants that require only occasion summer water for those shady spots. Email me and I can share even more ideas and suggestions.

Shade plants with Color

We wait all winter for the weather to warm up. At last it finally arrives and all we want to do is sit in the shady spot in the garden where it's cool. What plants can thrive in the shade? What plants can survive a location that is very dark during the winter and then gets only slightly brighter shade during the growing season? These are tough conditions for most plants but I have my favorites that have endured over the years and still bounce back each spring to bring color to my garden.

The sound of rustling leaves is soothing to our ears. But many of the ornamental grasses that sway in the breeze don't survive in shady locations. One that does is Japanese Forest Grass. There are several varieties of hakonechloa that can brighten a dark spot by your favorite lounging chair. Aureola has the classic bright gold and lime green striped leaves. Last year a friend gave me an All Gold variety that is equally beautiful. I love the way each graceful leaf tumbles toward the light reminding me of flowing water.

Japanese Forest Grass are not invasive. They are easily divided to increase your collection or share with fellow gardeners.  At season's end these grasses turn pinkish for about a month before taking on winter's tawny color. In January cut off last years growth and within a very few months new growth emerges fresh and bright.
clivia_miniata2
A plant that makes a fine background or small accent tree for a partial shady spot is Double-File Viburnum. Related to the popular snowball plant, the Mariesii viburnum blooms in the spring. Creamy, white lacecap flowers form in a double file along each horizontal branch and is how this showy shrub got its name.

The white flowers look great in a moon garden and are attractive to butterflies during the day. After blooming bright red berries form providing food for many birds.  Truly a plant for all seasons, in the fall the foliage turns red or purplish.

For dry shade try growing Kaffir liy ( clivia miniata ).  I've got a bright orange blooming Belgian Hybrid and an intense, deep red-orange Flame variety. Actually, I have many clivia as they divide so easily and bloom in fairly  dark shade. Beautiful, robust green strappy leaves are handsome year round but the dozens of flowers clusters, some containing as many as 60 flowers each, brighten up any area. Drought tolerant once established they make a gorgeous accent, border or container specimen.
billbergia_nutans2
Chinese Ground Orchid ( Bletilla striata ) is another of my favorites plants for shade. A natural companion for ferns and wildflowers, this plant is tougher than it looks. Vivid, magenta blooms resembling small cattleya orchids emerge on long stalks for about 6 weeks in the spring. They like moist conditions and do well in pots.

Every spring I look forward to the unique flowers of my Queen's Tears billbergia. This pineapple relative makes a vigorous, deer resistant groundcover under trees without becoming invasive. Exotic looking rosy-red spikes are topped with drooping pink, blue and green flowers that look like dangling earrings. Insects never bother them. Give them a little water now and then and forget them. They're that easy to grow.

I use all of these tough plants in designs for shady gardens because I know they will thrive, look beautiful and provide color. If you have a garden that gets little winter light these are the plants for you.

Rhododendrons for the Santa Cruz Mountains

Spring officially kicks off March 20th and if you’re like me every tree, shrub and perennial that starts to flower is an event. The subtle colors of winter are behind us. Bring on the colors of the rainbow.

Rhododendrons are one of spring’s show stoppers. Huge, rounded clusters of stunning blossoms in lavender, red, purple, white, pink and even yellow and gold clothe these shrubs with color. You can have flowers from February to late May by choosing different varieties. And rhododendrons are easy to grow if you give them what they need.

Because rhododendrons like air in the root zone, amend your soil liberally with organic matter.  50-60% is not too much. If you garden in clay, just plant them in raised beds or berms 1-2 ft above the original soil level. Rhododendrons like moist soil so top dress around your plants with several inches of mulch over the root zone, making sure the stem is not get buried. Pine needles, oak leaves or wood chips are good choices. around the plants as this would injure the surface roots. Finally, most rhodies thrive in partial shade or morning sun. The hot afternoon sun that we get during the summer would burn even those varieties that tolerate some sun. Since their leaves remain on the plant for several years you’d have to live with burnt leaf centers and edges for a long time if they got too much sun.

There are thousands of rhododendron varieties. By planting early, mid-season and late blooming types you can enjoy those huge, gorgeous flowers for months.

Cheer is one of the showy early bloomers. Large, pink flower trusses cover the 5×5 ft plant. It can take some sun and would be a good candidate if you have one of those gardens that receives and hour or so of afternoon sun.

For April blooms consider Edith Bosley. Similar to Purple Splendor it grows upright to 6 ft.tall but only 4 ft wide. Perfect for narrow spaces. Other mid-season bloomers that would make a splash in the garden include Golden Gate, a 3 ft compact orange hybrid and easy-to-grow, red-flowering Jean Marie de Montegue.

To extend your season add some late season varieties like Lee’s Dark Purple. Growing with a spreading habit to 4 x 5 ft wide, you’ll love its blue-purple trusses. Anah Kruschke also blooms late in spring with lavender pink flowers on a dense 5 x 5 ft shrub. A tough undemanding larger variety is English Roseum. This one grows 6 ft tall with lavender pink flower trusses and blooms in May.

Rhododendrons really contribute to the woodland or shade garden. They are long-lived and deer resistant. I’ve only heard two gardeners tell me that deer ate some of their flower buds last fall for the moisture content. Most likely those deer couldn’t read well enough to read the deer resistant list!

My Top Ten Favorite Plants for Shade

 Some of us live in mostly  shade and some of us in the sun.   The choices for sunny locations are many but those of us who garden in shady or partially shady places have a tougher time finding good, reliable plants. 
Looking back over the years, I find that time and again I use one of the following plants in a design for a shady garden.  Sure, every garden is different;  different look, different soil, different degree of shade, but it’s surprising how often one of these plants plays a starring or supporting role in a vignette or border. 

I call them  Jan’s Top 10 Plants for Shade.

#1    Loropetalum chinense or Fringe flower.  This handsome evergreen shrub comes in two versions: green foliage with white flowers or burgundy foliage with raspberry flower clusters. Flowering is heaviest in the spring but some bloom is likely throughout the year.   I place this plant in the foreground where you can appreciate it’s graceful shape.  It looks great as an accent or in a raised bed.   The burgundy form would add color to a woodland garden and they even do well in a container on the patio.   You can prune it to any size but please don’t turn it into a tight ball and ruin it’s shape.    Another plus is that it is not attractive to deer.

#2    Liriope or Lily Turf.     Another deer resistant perennial I use a lot as a ground cover , at the edge of a path, or in a mixed border.  Evergreen grasslike leaves form tufts 18" tall.  They do well along streams or garden pools and compete well with the roots of other plants like at the base of trees or shrubs.  Flower spikes, usually purple, are quite showy.  ‘Big Blue’ is a popular variety that does well in dry shade.  ‘Silvery Sunproof‘ has green strappy leaves with gold stripes that age to white and can take sun.  In shade they stay golden, which is really pretty.

#3    Heuchera or Coral Bells.  There are so many varieties of this perennial these days I hardly know where to start.  Whether native or a hybrid their flower spikes are a hummingbird favorite.  Colorful foliage,  often ruffled or variegated,  can be silver, amethyst, caramel or lime green.   Combine a tawny variety like ‘Caramel‘ with the chartreuse foliage of ‘Citronella‘ in front of taller perennials or as a border edging.  They make good container plants, too.    Plant them where they get a little afternoon shade and they’ll be happy. 

#4    Pieris japonica or Lily of the Valley shrub.  An evergreen shrub with year round interest, this plant blooms early in late winter though early spring , and is covered with little bells for several months.  Starting in fall , when reddish flower buds appear, through summer as new foliage emerges with a red tint there is always something attractive happening with this plant.  Deer resistant also.

#5    Dryopteris erythrosora or Autumn fern.  If you’re looking for brighten up a shady area, this is the fern for you.  New fronds emerge a coppery color unlike any other fern.  Although they appreciate regular water, they will tolerate dry shade in a pinch.  Deer don’t like ferns either.

#6    Hydrangea quercifolia or Oakleaf hydrangea.  Huge showy leaves resembling oaks, turn bronze or crimson in the fall.      White flower clusters , 8" long, bloom in late spring and early summer, turning pinkish as they age.  They  are attractive if left on the plant  for the rest of the season.   This deciduous shrub grows to 6 ft tall and can also be grown in containers.

#7    Hakonechloa or Japanese forest grass.  The most widely grown and I think the most beautiful variety is Aureola‘.  Use this graceful, chartreuse colored grass to lend a classy touch to containers or as an architectural accent to a border or along a path.  In cool weather, the leaves turn pinkish and blend with your other fall foliage.

#8    Nandina or Heavenly bamboo.  Not a true bamboo, this hardy, easy to grow shrub, comes in many forms.  Some are ground covers, some hedges, some narrow accents in restricted places.  Many have bright orange-red foliage in the winter and deer don’t like them. .  It can grow in dry areas and you can harvest the sprays of berries for a holiday wreath. 

#9    Cornus florida or Flowering dogwood.  Check out Cherokee Chief‘ to provide vivid red fall foliage color to your garden as well as scarlet fruit that hangs on the trees in the winter.  This variety bears deep rosy bracts that nearly cover the tree in spring.  Use this small handsome tree as a focal point in the garden.

#10    Acer palmatum or Japanese maple.  ‘Bloodgood‘ is probably the brilliant deep scarlet red maple you’re seeing around town.  In the spring and summer foliage is deep red but in the fall- look out -it turns neon red.  Growing to only 15 ft, this small tree can be placed anywhere , even in a container.

 There are many other great plants that come to mind that I also use and like.  Pacific coast iris, campanula, bush anemone, to name a few.  This is a good time to add some new plants to the shady spots in your garden.