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Go on - Invite These Shady Characters to Your Garden

Go on - Invite These Shady Characters to Your Garden

By Dan Heims, president, Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.
Photographs courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.

Hiya, campers. Ain’t spring wonderful? How fun it is to see plants pushing their way to the top of the soil, ready to explode into leaves and flowers. The Pulmonaria are going gangbusters trying to get those first buds out of the ground ringed by silvery foliage, with the hummingbirds and earliest bumblers trying to get at their copious nectar.

We are gardeners and we are not all spring chickens. Our gardens have matured. The “dwarf” trees and shrubs are now ten feet tall, trees reach to the skies, homes are being built closer and closer together. This leaves us with one undeniable condition: shade.

When Dan must curate a selection of plants to present, it is done from experience in his and Terra Nova’s display gardens. The garden presents many challenges: root competition, shallow soils, wet spots, and shade. When Dan was a landscape designer and contractor, the task was analyzing the soils and canopy of the gardens and selecting plants that not only survived, but thrived in the shade. All of today’s selections are hardy (most to USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 4) and are shade lovers. From the broad silvered leaves of Brunnera to the petite, gem-like leaves of Viola ‘Heartthrob’, you’ll have some winners to plant into your shady spots. 

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Brunnera ‘Alexander’s Great’

We start with a big, bold plant with a fun history. After viewing the photo from Belarus of Alexander holding his arms around this big Brunnera, we were sold! These gigantic plants have heavily silvered leaves and make a dramatic statement in the landscape, or use as a dynamic specimen in a container. Lovely, spiraled leaf-bases. Happiest in half to full shade, it will reward users from zones 4 to 9 with sky-blue forget-me-not flowers that honeybees love. It’s a member of the borage family, which attracts pollinators like crazy. Spreads to 30 inches wide and blooms from April to May.

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Heuchera ‘Georgia Plum’

This is an eye-catching mutation out of one of Terra Nova’s classics, 'Georgia Peach'. It’s a tough plant, with amazing year-round rose-purple leaves, a pink to silver overlay, and purple-pink flowers. A tighter habit with smaller leaves and shorter flowers than 'Georgia Peach'. Heat and humidity resistant. Observers can see it happy in full sun to shady spots with the metallic finish glinting through. The foliage at seven inches high is compact and will spread every year for more and more foliage and blooms. Happiest in half shade, it will reward users from zones 4 to 9 with flowers from May to September!

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Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Frost’

A rare and beautiful sport of the very popular 'Raspberry Splash'. As easy to grow as the original, 'Raspberry Frost' is enhanced by a cream-silver margin and a heavily veiled leaf surface for added interest. The bright coral-red flowers are showy in early spring and when finished are covered by newly emerging foliage for a very clean look. A fresh look for this popular plant. Zones 4-9. It’s quite happy in full to half-shade and the 10-inch-tall foliage will spread to 18 inches wide in the first season. The ruby flowers are tasty for early emerging insects and overwintering hummingbirds, and emerge from March through May.

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Pulmonaria ‘Silver Scimitar’

Large, arching silver-green clumps carry wavy-edged, straplike foliage. It’s a full, landscape-sized plant, vigorous and fast. 'Silver Scimitar' has a stately presence. Emerges each spring in a tight mound covered in bicolor pink and purple flowers, an early season hummingbird favorite. Performs well in both shade to full sun, perfect for borders and edges. Pollinators will bound to this 22-inch-wide plant, nine inches tall in bloom. This pollinator magnet is hardy in zones 4 to 9. Terra Nova’s garden designers point out the power of silver in the shade garden, illuminating dark spots under shrubs and along shady paths.

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Viola ‘Heartthrob’

The lovely heart-shaped leaves have deep burgundy centers that contrast with the bright green leaf edges. A wonderful, gem-like foliage plant that is attractive in containers, the front of the border, or as a ground cover. Small, typical Viola-shaped flowers emerge before the foliage in early spring. It is happy in gardens in shady spots and will achieve a height of eight inches and a spread of 12 inches in its first season. This is slightly less hardy than the other listed plants, but still a solid zone 5 to 9. It is not a rampant seeder like other Violas which is a big plus. Great as a rock garden plant in shady crevices and spots in shade.

Dan Heims is an award-winning author who lectures throughout the world. He was recently honored by The American Horticultural Society with the Luther Burbank Breeding Award, as well as the Perennial Plant Association’s Award of Merit. He was honored by receiving the Royal Horticultural Society’s Reginald Cory Cup for advancements in breeding.

You may contact Dan at [email protected].

All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.

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