August 24, 2009

My Shady Garden . . . OK, It's Really Just a Holding Area

"So is this just a random collection of plants?" asked my non-gardening friend.
". . . ummmm, well, I guess it is," I answered after a pause to conceal my astonishment at her frank comment. Despite numerous transplanting frenzies to try to organize my shady garden bed into a picturesque vignette, it was obviously still just a holding area for shade-loving plants. A fellow gardener would have found some euphemistic way to compliment my museum-like display, but then I'd still be fooling myself to think that there was some DESIGN involved in this area, when obviously there was not. Thank heaven for non-gardening friends who say it like it is.

Despite the lack of coherence and unity, this area is serving a useful purpose. While I'm waiting for my trees to grow and create numerous shady beds around the edges of my backyard, I have time to try out different shade plants and get to know them before organizing them into a design. For example, when I brought home 'Prince of Silver' and 'Plum Pudding' heucheras this spring, I thought that PofS was my favorite. Though its new foliage was lovely this spring, Plum Pudding (shown above with 'Jack Frost' brunnera and maidenhair fern), has become my new favorite because its leaves are still a gorgeous burgundy while PofS (not pictured) has turned into a boring grey.

When I posted about heucheras this spring, I stated that the leaves of 'Green Spice' would lose almost all their burgundy veining by summer. I swear they did last year, but this year the burgundy is still going strong in August.

Here 'Green Spice' is pictured with green lady's mantle, 'Plum Pudding' and 'Palace Purple' heucheras. Do you Gertrude Jekyll fans notice the color scheme? Gertrude loved to combine white with a hue and its pastel (ie white, red and pink). The pastel connected the two other colors together. I think the green-and-burgundy 'Green Spice' does the same for the burgundy heucheras and green lady's mantle. Nice. I'll have to use them together in the real design.

Some surprises have shown up in the holding area, like this mixed color astilbe. Dare I run the risk of killing the plants by trying to separate the different colors? Probably, it sounds like fun (and do you see the boring grey 'Prince of Silver' heuchera to the right of the astilbes? I think it needs just the right companion plants to make it shine, but I haven't found them yet).

I'm gaining confidence with growing things like this maidenhair fern. My dad's ferns always struggled, so I have this weird idea that I can't grow ferns, either. But this one is putting on new growth! Its lacy leaves are a nice contrast to the bold leaves of heuchera, brunnera and hosta. And the black stems are cool.

Speaking of hostas, I've completely fallen in love with the steely blue leaves of this dwarf 'Blue Ice' hosta and the similarly colored though larger 'Halycon'. I love this blue with the burgundy heucheras, the silvery brunnera and all the shades of green.

This 'High Society' hosta is now out of its pot and growing next to 'Halycon' hosta. It sparkles in the shade, and I'm excited to see how the leaves change as the plant matures over the next few years.

Spurred on my friend's comment, I have been dividing and transplanting this week to try to create some coherence in this bed. It no longer looks like the pictures in this post. I'm moving some plants into a new bed that hubby has promised to dig out for me tonight, and I'm dividing other things and replanting to add repetition to the design. I'll post on the finished project after it gets settled in . . . and hopefully before future shopping trips turn it back into a plant museum with just one of this and one of that.


  1. I honestly think it looks really pretty. You've got some very pretty combinations there. I love the heucheras and how they mix and match. I hadn't noticed if my 'Green Spice' still has it's burgundy color.
    It's nice that you do have a place to try out your combinations and see what you like.

  2. I have to disagree, VW. If you hadn't said that this border was a holding area, I never would have guessed it. The foliage colors and textures are fabulous. 'Green Spice' definitely has a mind of its own. I've got divisions of my original planted in both semi-sunny areas where the foliage is green with maroon veining and in bright shade it is silvery with almost black veining. A strange but lovable plant. I look forward to your finished design.

  3. I must say that you've got some plants there looking real god together! I like to plant different heucheras together since there are so many varieties to mix. The same thing with Hostas, mixing size and wtealy blue with yeallow and gren, just beutiful. A new love this year is that brunnera 'Jack Frost'.

  4. I really like all the different plants with various foliage colors and textures together. They all look great! Even the maidenhair fern.

  5. I'm with everyone else. It looks lovely to me, so either you've either designed this space more than you think or you're a great photographer. Amethyst Mist has been my go-to purple heuchera for years so I may give Plum Pudding a try.

    FYI, gardeners still step on other gardener's toes at times. After praising everything in a fellow master gardener's garden, I commented that I found the salmon color of the California fuschias hard to work with as they don't combine well with very many colors. I've been backtracking on that statement ever since.

  6. Well I love the plant selection and the way you have them grouped. Your fern will look better every year. Mine are starting to fill in my shade bed too. With the astilbe to echo the same colors I really like what you have done.

  7. Hi VW, I too think it looks great! Designs are constantly evolving anyway, gardens cannot be static unless they are made of concrete! I love the heucheras, all of them and think they are very artfully displayed. The different colors of astilbe are especially fetching. I love when you get two or more plants in the same pot for one price. If it was me, I would divide them while you can tell which is which, but you probably shouldn't. Maybe you could make it somehow to divide later. That High Society is really something! :-)

  8. I'm with everyone else, I think it looks very nice and that it all works together.

  9. What they all said! It looks wonderful to me, too!
    What about Japanese Painted fern as a companion to the Silver Prince heuchera? gail


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