Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Garden Canadensis, Part 2: Planting Combinations for Shade

Throughout the garden, and especially along its outer perimeter, mature trees cast pockets of the Chen and Linda's magnificent garden called 'Garden Canadensis' into shade and part shade. 

What I think will surprise and delight you is just how vibrant shady areas in a garden can be.

Here then are some of the many wonderful plant parings from Garden Canadensis for shade/part shade, with a brief explanation of why each combination works, as well as a bit of information on a key perennial in each grouping.

Plant combination: Dicentra 'Stuart Boothman' and Hosta 'Dancing in the Rain' 

What's nice about this mix is the combination of fern-like foliage and the large, broad leaves of the hosta.

Chen writes: 

"I like all Dicentras, the fern-like leaves and the dainty flowers, and would like to have all varieties if I can, eventually. Ideally, I try to plant them in the shade of some trees with enough sunlight for decent blooms, but not so much that their leaves deteriorate too quickly into summer."

Dicentra 'Stuart Boothman' which is pictured above and has pale pink flowers and greyish foliage.
Dicentra 'Aurora' A good reliable creamy white dwarf Dicentra.
Dicenta 'Bleeding Hearts' Chen writes, "This is probably the most showy Dicentra, although it is not vigorous in my garden. I have lost 2 trials mostly because of vole problems."

Plant Combination: Brunnera 'Jack Frost' (left) with Heuchera 'Silver Scroll' (in the foreground) and Hosta 'Fire and Ice' (in the upper right).

What's nice about this combination: Both the Brunnera and the Heuchera have silver foliage, but they couldn't be more different or more complimentary. The cream of the hosta's foliage adds that all important element of contrast.

Plant Combination: On the right is Pulmonaria longifolia 'Diana Clare' and to the bottom left is a deciduous rhododendron: Rhododendron schlippenbach which the "rabbits like to chew on". Above them is a hosta with a lots of cream trough the centre of its dark green foliage.

What's nice about this combination: I would particularly like to draw to your attention to the silvered-grey-green Pulmonaria. Chen notes that:

"The quiet beauty of Pulmonarias is indispensable for the shady parts of my garden. The flowers may be early and brief, but their foliage is highly ornamental from early spring into late fall. In mid-summer they typically go through a decline, but this can easily be taken care of by removing their foliage. New foliage will emerge, and be ready, as the weather is cooling off.
They appear to self-sow readily (but not wildly) in my garden. This presents a problem for keeping the named cultivars intact after a few years. I suspect that many Pulmonarias on the market are just derivative seedlings of some kind. For the same reason, many name cultivars are not that distinct from each other."

Just a few of Chen's Pulmonarias that caught my eye are :

Pulmonaria 'Diane Clare' shown above has pale blue flowers:"Its foliage is highly ornamental for the whole season. It is a very vigorous Pulmonaria."
Pulmonaria 'Opal' which has white flowers. Chen describes this variety as a "must have".
Pulmonaria 'Raspberry Splash' which is a vigourous plant with showy red flowers and is "one of the best Pulmonarias".

Plant Combination: Chen tells me that the neat green mound at the front of this planting is Buxus microphylla 'Kingsville'. It is "probably the most dwarf form of boxwood, and is popular to use in bonsai."

The large golden Heuchera in the centre of the picture is Heuchera 'Carmel'. In front of 'Carmel' is what Chen describes as a"very weak, but pretty" Heuchera 'Autumn Leaves' (with reddish foliage). 

In the lower left corner is Heuchera 'Christa'. Behind 'Caramel' and to the right with the purplish-green foliage is Heuchera 'Petite Pearl Fairy'. Peaking out from behind it is the green foliage of Heuchera 'Silver Scroll'.

What is interesting about this planting is how multi-colored it is despite the shade conditions and minimal flowers.

Planting Combination: On the top left is Hosta 'Sagae'. Below it is lime colored Hosta ' Blaze of Glory'. 

With tiny white flowers in the centre is Corydallis ochroleuca. Peaking out from the lower right is Heuchera 'Delta Dawn'. Bending over the whole group is a Japanese Maple Acer palmatum 'Peaches and Cream'.

It may be primarily one color: green, but what makes this combination work is contrast. There are the cut leaves of the Japanese maple, the large leaves of the hosta and the small, dainty fern-like leaves of the Corydallis ochroleuca. Each green is distinct and mixed together they are actually quite colorful.

An excerpt from Chen's notes on Corydallis:

"This is a delicate and elegant class of perennials like their relative, Dicentra. The blue flowered varieties are particularly precious, but they are not the easiest to grow here. I like Corydallis enough that I tolerate some of them that tend to self-sow wildly, bordering on weedy. Fortunately, they are relatively easy to weed...
Corydallis ochroleuca is an important filler plant for me; both for the foliage and the flowers...."

Another beautiful Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum 'Shigitasu sawa' which Chen 
says is one of his favourite maples.

When I was going through my pictures, I came across this planting and was surprised to see hostas and conifers grouped together. I had always thought that most conifers needed sun. So I asked Chen about it. 

"I would estimate that this part of the bed is at least in 50% shade, if not more. Those conifers are not afraid of shade at all, especially the Alberta Spruce (I have some in very dense shade). The blue conifer in the front and the bright green conifer behind it are the common Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Boulevard' and Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Gracilis' respectively. They can take full sun to a fair amount of shade.", Chen tells me.

What's nice about this combination: I love the way Chen has echoed the bluish-green color of the Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Boulevard' with the frosty, blue-green Hosta 'Regal Splendor'. The lime colored hosta in foreground is Hosta 'Silk Kimono'.

The maroon foliage of the Japanese Maple makes a perfect counterpoint to all the cool greens.

I am embarrassed to admit that I used to think hostas were kind of boring! In truth, I just hadn't seen anyone use them quite so imaginatively. 

Plant combination: Hosta 'Sum and Substance' (upper right) and Hosta 'Smooth Sailing' (in the foreground) light up in contrast with the deep, dark plum leaves of Ligularia 'Britt Marie Crawford'. Not only is this color combination sublime, this mix of perennials offers an interesting variety of leaf shapes and sizes as well.

Chen speaks highly of the contribution hostas make to any garden, particularly a northern one:

"I would think hosta is an essential perennial for the northern garden...They add an element of large leaf texture that is not prevalent in northern vegetation (in comparison with tropical environments).
 Depending on the variety, hosta can take full sun to full shade, and are hardy and (practically) maintenance free (except for the HVX virus). Unfortunately, it is often relatively expensive for a fair sized specimen, and takes years to develop into a nice size clump...Although I am not a Hosta addict by any means, I do like to acquire a few each year since they are so useful, elegant and take care of themselves."

Here is another combination that includes conifers in shade conditions. Chen tells me that this area, "... only sees sunlight very early in the morning, and for a very short time at noon, when the sun passes between the large conifer, and the cover of a forty plus year old crabapple tree. I would estimate that this part of the garden has 60% shade or more."

Plant combination: The light green conifer in the back is Juniperus rigida. As well as several hosta, there is a Japanese maple on the left: Acer shirasawanum 'Jordan' and the lime colored maple on the right: Acer palmatum 'Purple Ghost'. In the foreground with tall red flower spikes is Rheum palmatum 'Atrosanguineum'.

Why this combination works: Each and every plant contributes something new and appealing to the grouping. Every green is distinct and the deep maroon of the maple adds a nice punch of warm color. The mixture of scale and texture makes an area that is largely green anything, but boring.

A few more examples from Chen's hosta collection. On the left is Hosta 'Gypsy Rose' and on the lower right is Hosta 'Orange Marmalade'. The lime colored hosta behind it is Hosta 'Ogon Amagi'.

In the foreground of the righthand picture you can see a very unique hosta cultivar that has upright foliage. In the picture on the right you can see Chen's photograph of it in flower. This is Hosta 'Praying Hands'.

This paring is quite stunning don't you think? 

Plant Combination: The vivid chartreuse of Hosta 'Sun Power' practically glows in contrast with the deep maroon of the Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum 'Tamuke yama'.

Up next will be perennials and plant combinations from 'Garden Canadensis' for sun.


  1. A wonderful and much needed post, Jennifer.
    We have an area that rarely sees the sun, and knowing that it can still look so nice is really good news.
    Thank you!!

  2. I have never seen a garden so stuffed full of plants - it is a wonder he can find room to plant anything new. How does he manage to keep his host as so slug free?

    1. It is interesting that you ask how Chen keeps his hostas so perfectly free of slug damage. As I was sorting through the pictures for this post, I wondered the same thing, but forgot to ask him about slugs. Thank you for the reminder Elaine. I emailed Chen and here is his answer:
      "I should really touch wood a few times before I say anything. I was asked that question last year by a few gardeners that visited on a garden tour.
      Unfortunately, the honest answer is I don't really know. I do have snail problems in the garden, and every year towards fall, some Hostas etc. do get chewed up somewhat (especially the creamy colour ones). At this moment I do not use any baits or traps etc. I did use them a couple of times years ago, but sparingly. I do use woodchips extensively to control weeds and preserve moisture. Intuitively, one would expect this to make the problem worse. Maybe the opposite is true. Generally, I do not make special effort to catch them. I do pay attention to removing them when I weed or clean the beds. I don't do this chore very often; typically once in spring and fall cleanup, and once or twice or none in between depending on the weather conditions and the beds. The other possibilities are:
      1. I tend to keep my garden on relatively dry side, because of limited water resources.
      2. I have lots of their predators in my garden (frogs, toads, snakes, and a variety of different birds).
      That said, I fully expect that the same problem other gardeners have with slugs will prevail in my garden someday. This winter I collected a pile of coffee grinds. I will try to scatter them around the bases of at least some of the hostas and sedums etc. in desperate hope to minimize any potential snail invasions. (Keeping my fingers crossed.)

  3. Stunning use of plant combinations proving once again that shade gardens can be interesting. His use of hostaa is terrific! I'm inspired to add to my shade garden (especially the dicentra). Can't wait to see more.

  4. WOW! I must say that their garden has so many elements that I hope to develop in my own space! His use of foliage is extraordinary! And that dwarf boxwood won my heart! I would really like some of those for my garden as its form is just perfect! Thank you for the shade inspiration...I need it! A wonderful week to you friend! Nicole xoxo

  5. omg, what an AMAZING garden. Wonderful plant pairings. Love the hosta 'sun power' ~ I bought one two years ago but it didn't return. I'm glad I dropped by & got to see this truly inspiring garden. Hope you're doing well Jennifer?

  6. I don't know where I found your blog, but it was a few days ago and I'm now completely obsessed. Your photos are dominating my Pinterest boards. Love, love, love it. I'm a gardening junkie - in Oregon where spring is just coming on - so I'm loving every single thing you're posting right now.

  7. What a great post. I'll be reading it several times over to digest this information. The pictures are just beautiful.

  8. People are always thinking that you can't grow plants in the shade. But you showed the opposit, what a beautiful combinations Jennifer.
    Have a wonderful day.

  9. Absolutely stunning. I am a big fan of the shade garden, and this is one of the nicest I've seen. Thanks for posting! :)

  10. Very beatiful pictures, and very inspirational. I love hostas, heuchera and acer. Their website has now been addes to my favourites.

  11. What a wonderful garden and so much to inspire me! We have so much shade and I do love shade planting, but this garden shows that you don't need flowers to make and interesting garden, it has so much colour shape and texture of foliage alone.

  12. Wonderful combination of color and shapes, Jennifer. I love the most hostas and deep-red maple, heuchera and light green leafed bush.Thank you for sharing!

  13. All I can say is OMG! That is the garden of my dreams. Incredible use of foliage texture and color contrast. Thanks so much for sharing and I'm really looking forward to part 2!

  14. Wow....what a beautiful garden, so much variety...how do they manage it? I love the Acers and all the Hostas..some delightful combinations there...mine all get devoured by slugs sadly....xxx

  15. I know shady gardens can be vibrant, my garden is about ¾ shade and ¼ sunny and I thought at first that was a shame but after a few years I learned to see it as an opportunity – although I am probably stretching some of the plant’s growing conditions somewhat :-)

    Loved the combinations you are showing here, I like all Dicentras too. I have 4 so far. The Heuchera Caramel is lovely, I have it too although a much smaller plant and I am planning to start a collection this year of different Heucheras. And some of the Acers you are showing are just gorgeous – I need a bigger garden!

  16. Sigh. I´d need someone to come and fill my garden up with prettiness like this. :-)


  17. Hi Jennifer
    Excellent combinations and lots of ideas for me. I have had some of these plants before, but they have died out from drought. I think I may try them once more, though. I am falling in love with heucheras and dicentras all over again!

  18. Hostas rock. This garden has so many jaw dropping varieties. I should be embarrassed to say I am not a big fan of heuchera. Very rarely do I see one I really like.

    1. Okay, I really liked the Heuchera 'Paris' in the third post of this series but that's about it.

  19. C'est très très beau. De très belles associations dans ce beau jardin. Bonne journée.

  20. Does anyone happen to know the name of the large leaf hostas in pictures number 6 & 14? We use beer and copper flashing to keep slugs away.

    1. Hi Jerry, I will contact Chen and see If he knows the name of the large leafed hosta.

    2. Hi Jerry, Here is Chen's answer to your query:

      The two large leaf Hosta in picture 6 are 'Sum and Substance'(left) and Hosta sieboldiana elegans (right). The bluish large leaf Hosta in picture 14 is again Hosta sieboldiana elegans, and right in front of it (mostly hidden behind the Aconitum) is Hosta 'Love Pat'.

      I also asked Chen to recommend a few large-leafed hosta. Here is his response:

      As for recommendation, I am not a serious Hosta collector, and different gardeners looking at the same Hosta can have quite different liking or opinion on it; very much a personal taste thing. For me, there are a few relatively 'big' leaf Hosta that I would use them as potential anchors here and there because of their ornamental attributes, and the rest are used mostly as fillers. Apart from 'Sagae', 'Sum and Substance', 'Sun Power', Hosta sieboldiana elegans that you showed in your post, other larger leaf Hosta I also like are, for example, 'Earth Angel', 'Climax', 'Northern Exposure', and 'Sunshine Glory' etc.

    3. Wow Jennifer, you really came through. Those are some great recommendations too. Sorry for the late response. Thank you for going to the trouble of answering my questions.

    4. Hello Jennifer,
      Your garden is truly inspirational,like the garden of my dreams. So I'm on my way out the door right now to the Nursery to begin the transformation [I hope] of my own garden. Love it completely !!


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