Perennials can help brighten shady spots

"There aren’t too many shrubs that do well without sun, but there’s no end of interesting perennials to brighten shady spots."

After several weeks of hot summer sun, I’ve become even more fond of shade gardens. I’d probably do a lot more work in the garden beds if they were all in shaded areas, with a cool breeze blowing through! My brother would tell me “in Patty’s perfect world…..”

There aren’t too many shrubs that do well without sun, but there’s no end of interesting perennials to brighten shady spots. I’ve brought a few favourites with me to the new garden. Number one on the list is an ornamental grass I’ve mentioned previously – the golden-variegated Japanese Hakone grass (Hakonechloa aureola). It’s soft, yellow, bamboo-like leaves have narrow green strips and arch all to one side like a waterfall. In moist, well-drained soil, Hakone will grow two feet tall and wide.

I’ve tried lots of ferns but the ones who made ‘the cut’ were the Japanese Painted fern (Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’) with its beautiful grey/green fronds and wine red stems and the Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum) with finely-textured splayed fronds and black, wiry stems.  Both grow approximately 12 to 14 inches tall and wide.

The only other perennials I could squeeze into the shade garden were the spectacular ‘Jack Frost’ Siberian bugloss (Brunnera) that offers a month of bright blue flowers first thing in spring followed by stunning foliage for the rest of the season; the Lenten rose (Helleborus niger) that blooms in March; and of course, my two favourite hostas – ‘Elegans’ and ‘Francee’.

If I had more room, I’d add some large-leafed, fabulous foliages like the Shield Leaf (Astilboide tubalaris). It’s rounded leaves can reach two to three feet across and it grows four feet tall and three feet wide. Another would be the Umbrella plant (Darmera peltata) with foliage that forms a lovely, vase-like clump. It’s leaves are also two to three feet across but it grows three to six feet tall and three feet wide. For additional bold impact, I’d plant a ‘Chocolate Wings’ Rodger’s flower (Rodgersia pinnata). It’s divided, quilted leaves begin deep cocoa bronze in spring, later changing to dark green in summer before returning to brown in fall. Big plumes of deep-pink flowers appear on tall stalks in early summer.

It grows about two feet tall by three feet wide.  And, last but not least, I’d love to include a number of Astilbe, a perennial with beautiful, showy flowers in either pink, red or white atop glossy, fern-like foliage.

The flower clusters vary in size from six inches to two feet and its height varies from six inches to five feet, depending on the variety. While some experts will classify them as ‘tough’, I’ve found they will only survive in dappled sunlight and even moisture. If allowed to dry out, they don’t recover.

All these perennial beauties for shade need to be kept consistently moist and are zone hardy in the Kootenays. They will add dynamic visualelements and help create a garden full of texture and colour.

Patty Siddall and Betty Drover operate a local garden business and will share their expertise in the Trail Times every other Friday. Contact Siddall Drover Garden Services at 250-364-1005