Shade can be challenge enough, but dry shade is a double whammy that I must contend with in the back section of my garden.
Over the years, I have done lots of experiments with different perennials in this part of the garden. I have found that there is a big difference between what will thrive in dry shade and what will merely survive in such conditions. Astilbe, for instance, limps along, but isn't happy at all. If I ever neglected to water it in late summer, it would simply pack it in.
Some taller varieties of sedum like 'Autumn Joy', which usually come along with a planting recommendation for full sun, have turned out to be a pleasant surprise. They actually don't mind a fair bit of shade.
Geranium phaeum 'Samobor'
One of the plants, with which I have had the greatest success by far, is geraniums. In fact, I have been so pleased with them, I have added new varieties each year.
In my experience, geraniums are pretty undemanding. Mine are planted in everyday, average soil. I do however, make the effort to mulch the flowerbeds, which helps soil retain whatever moisture there is.
Even when not in flower, foliage on most geraniums is attractive generally speaking. I do find that some varieties like 'Samobor' (see image below) benefit by having their foliage cutback after flowering. Fresh new leaves emerge within a few weeks.
Some of the geraniums in my garden readily self-seed. In fact, one of my raised vegetable beds was filled with tiny 'Mourning Widow' seedlings this spring. This is another reason to give varieties of Geranium phaeum like 'Mourning Widow' and 'Samobor' a close haircut after flowering.
Geranium phaeum 'Samobor' has nodding maroon-purple flowers with green leaves splashed with purple-black. I find cutting back the foliage after flowering promotes fresh growth. Flowers appear in June. Height 60 cm, Spread 60-70 cm.
Geranium phaeum 'Mourning Widow' This image is perhaps a bit deceiving. In the bright sunlight the flowers appear purple, but in average light they are actually maroon-purple. This plant forms mounding foliage and tolerates dry shade better than most. Height 60 cm, Spread 60-70 cm
Bigroot Geranium, 'Geranium macrorrhizum'
I have found that one of the best geraniums for shade is 'Geranium macrorrhizum'. The plant forms low mounds of fragrant leaves. Bigroot geraniums have creeping, underground rhizomes that I often break off and replant in early spring to create new plants.
Bigroot Geranium, 'Geranium macrorrhizum'
Midnight Reiter Cranesbill, Geranium pratense 'Midnight Reiter'
I have this geranium in full sun and have as yet to try it in shade. From what I have read, Midnight Reiter' does not mind part shade. It is the deep burgundy leaves that make this cultivar extra special.
Midnight Reiter Cranesbill, Geranium pratense 'Midnight Reiter' is a slow growing geranium with lavender-blue flowers over maroon leaves. Height 25 cm, Spacing 30 cm
Bloody Cranesbill, Geranium sanguieum
This is another geranium that I have in full sun. It blooms alongside peonies and evening primroses in June and makes a nice understory for the other taller flowers.
Geranium sanguieum 'Striatum' is a geranium with a mounded shape. It has blush-pink flowers with darker stripes and also blooms June to September. Height 30-45 cm, Spacing 45 cm
This is a third geranium that I have in full sun at the front of the house.
Cranesbill Geranium, Geranium 'Rozanne'
This is the last geranium that I am going to show you from my garden. Geranium 'Rozanne' is blooming in the garden right now. 'Rozanne' flowers much later than the other varieties I have in the garden and continues to bloom well into late summer-early fall. My only complaint about 'Rozanne' is the fact that the plant tends to flop, when left unsupported.
Geranium sanguineum 'John Elsley'
Briefly, here are a few other geraniums that I have seen and noted in my travels. Above and below are Geranium sanguineum 'John Elsley' which I saw at the Royal Botanical Gardens in May.
The image below shows John Elsley's proper place at the front of a flowerbed (see lower left corner). At the RBG, it enjoys the company of a Siberian Iris and magenta-colored Centaurea hypoleuca 'John Coutts'.
Geranium syvaticum 'Album' has pure white flowers over green mounding foliage. Flowering May to June. Often shows good bronzy-red fall color. Height 25-30 cm, Spacing 60-75 cm.
This is a very pretty geranium that I also saw at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton, ON.
Geranium syvaticum 'Album'
Geranium maculatum 'Beth Chatto' at Humber Nursery
Geranium maculatum 'Chatto' or 'Beth Chatto' forms an upright clump with lilac colored flowers in May or June. Height 60 cm, Spacing 45cm.
Geranium cinereum 'Ballerina' which I saw at Humber Nursery
This is a ground cover geranium that blooms June to September. Height 15 cm, Spacing 30 cm.
Geranium cantabrigiense 'Biocovo' at Humber Nursery
Geranium cantabrigiense 'Biocovo' has clusters of white flowers with a tinge of pink and fragrant leaves that form a low spreading mound. Flowers June to September. Height 15-20 cm, Spacing 30-45 cm.
If you haven't tried geraniums, give them a go!