Thursday, January 28, 2016

Made for the Shade: Solomon's Seal

Nothing causes a novice gardener anxiety like this simple five-letter-word: SHADE. In the coming months, I hope to highlight a few plants that thrive in shade. The first plant I'd like to feature is Solomon's Seal, Polygonatum.

Solomon's Seal is an ugly duckling that quickly transforms into a swan each spring. It emerges from the warming soil with a tight, serpent-like envelope of blue-green foliage.

In the gentle heat of the spring sun, Solomon's Seal thrusts forward out of the ground gradually releasing its secret stash of leaves.

Jamie DeWolf's woodland garden in Mississauga, ON

When fully open, Solomon's Seal's has left its slightly sinister serpentine appearance far behind. 

Solomon's Seal in my friend Donna's garden.

Bright green foliage alternate along the length of elegant stems that curve gently. The lance-shaped leaves remain attractive all summer long and then turn golden in fall. 

Spring raindrops bead on the surface of the leaves and sparkle like diamonds.

White bells tipped with green are a wonderful spring bonus. These flowers don't require any deadheading. They drop to the ground naturally. 

Solomon's Seal likes part-shade to full shade. It also likes organic-rich soil.

Solomon's Seal form a backdrop for hosta in this private Ontario garden.

Jamie DeWolf's garden

I find Solomon's Seal is slow to mature and requires a bit of patience. My garden is perhaps drier than it would like, so my Solomon's Seal hasn't taken off as well as it would have if conditions were more ideal. (It also doesn't help that the dogs flatten it on a regular basis!)

Eventually, Solomon's Seal will grow into a sizeable vase-shaped clump that is perfect for naturalizing in a woodland setting like the one you see above. The good news is that once established clumps of Solomon's Seal are long-lived and are relatively low-maintenance.

Private Garden, Mississauga Ontario

I wanted to show you this front garden because I think the slightly elevated placement of the clump of Solomon's Seal shows it off to perfection. (The Solomon's Seal is up near the corner of the garage in front of an Ornamental grass.)

A closeup of the previous garden

The tiny white flowers of this plant are somewhat understated and so the raised elevation makes it possible to enjoy a better view of them.

When sunlight hits the tiny flowers, they glow like a string of tiny twinkle-lights. Here are three basic varieties:

Polygonatum Biflorum is true Solomon's Seal

Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum' is a variegated form that has arching reddish colored stems and foliage that is edged with creamy-white. The fragrance of the flowers is lily-like. Height: 50-60 cm (20-23 inches) Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches)

Giant Solomon's Seal, Polygonatum biflorum var. commutatum is one of the tallest varieties. Blue-black berries follow the flowers. Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches) Spread: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches).

Foamflower, Tiarella

Companion plants could include Brunnera, Heuchera, Hosta, Ferns, Hellebores and Foamflowers, and Bleeding Hearts.

Plant type: Perennial

Plant size: Depending on the cultivar this shade lover can range from 60-120 cm (23 -47 inches) and can spread to 60-90 cm (23-35 inches)

Shape: Vase-shaped

Flower: white bell-like flowers tipped with green

Bloom period: Early spring

Leaf color: Deer resistant bright green foliage

Light: Part-shade to shade

Growing Conditions: Moist, rich organic soil

Companion Plants: Hosta, Heuchera, Brunnera, Bleeding Heart, Ferns, Hellebores and Foamflower.

Divide: In early spring or early fall

USDA Zones: 3-9

Solomon's Seal is generally started by transplanting the plant's rhizomes rather than by seed. It may take several years before you would be able to make a plant division for propagation purposes. It's best to divide Solomon's Seal in early spring or early fall. 

All things considered, it's a great plant for a shady garden.

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  1. There is a ton of false soloman's seal along our creek but I think I am going to go with the real thing. The flowers in your photos are so beautiful.

  2. This stuff grows like a weed out here. Beautiful glossy leaves, though. I can't wait for spring...

  3. One of my favorites. Thanks for your high-class images! Very good post Jennifer! And, the gardens that you show us, are beautiful!

  4. As you point out, it is first and foremost and elegant plant, always very graceful. I wish it would spread faster but good things take time. Thank you for telling us about the giant form. It did not know about it.

  5. I think it's beautiful, I really must look out for some.....sounds like a lot of patience is requires though, but that's often the case isn't it?xxx

  6. I use Solomon's Seal extensively in my shade garden - I plant it at the back of the border behind smaller hostas, astilbe and ferns. It's one of my favourites. And I have some of the variegated kind which is gorgeous!

  7. I love Solomon's Seal and the framing it gives to shady paths. You captured this plant beautifully! And that front garden is exquisite!!! Thank you for sharing this goodness!!! Nicole xo

  8. I am finding Solomon's Seal in our woods, which is very exciting. I am drooling over the plant combinations that you have further north. Sadly, some options (Brunnera) don't grow here and others don't bloom at the same time. I hadn't considered Cinnamon Fern as a complimentary plant but I love it.

  9. Lovely article about one of my favorite shade plants. Unfortunately, my nursery customers don't buy it even though I have large stands in my display gardens. The key difference between P. biflorum and P. odoartum, for me anyway, is that biflorum is native to North America and odoratum is not. I love the dwarf Solomon's seals too.

  10. I have inherited some Solomon Seal in the new garden. While our conditions are pretty dry during the summer, there is one shady and slightly wet area in which ferns and Solomon Seal thrive. It is nice to have that dependable green when the rest of the garden is panting for water.

  11. We have a huge oak tree right out in front of our house and no landscaping whatsoever, so I am starting from scratch. Last year I planted some hostas but have no clue where to go from there so I am very much looking forward to your posts highlighting shade plants!

  12. I love shade, I have to with all our ancient trees. It was a steep learning curve when we first moved here, but now this is my favourite sort of planting. We have Solomon's Seal in a few places here and they are spreading nicely, but unfortunately we also have the Solomon Seal Saw Fly which eats the leaves and makes the plants look a mess after flowering, all you can do is to cut them down.

  13. I'm so happy to know that you are going to be sharing shade-loving plants with us Jennifer. I love Solomon Seal, but have't planted any here in the garden at home, but it covers the floor of the woods where I have a 'tiny house' on our other property in the mountains. It flourishes there because the ground is so damp and shaded. It's such a beautiful plant. Such a great post with gorgeous photos!

  14. A very pretty plant for shade Jennifer, wonderful photos.

  15. I've been a collector for years but my prized possession is the older variety that happened to find my garden a home from a derelict "heritage" property that is now nothing but weeds. I luv their elegance and determinedness to grow. Mine have become a feast for those bloody Red Lily Beetles, arrghhh. So I've become very mindful and inspect them daily because in no time the leaves will be shredded. If you suffer from those beetles check the seals. Another beautiful post Michelle, thank you :)

  16. I adore shade gardens and this plant. I started a few a couple of years ago. And I am doing a profile of this plant at the end of Feb. Your photos are so much better than mine. And I just read the comment above...I will have to see if those pesky beetles find my seals.

  17. Hands down, one of my favorite plants in the garden.

  18. when I lived up north I always wanted Solomon's seal but couldn't have it (at least not as a perennial). Now that we're on the west coast, I have it planted in a gigantic pot outside the guest bedroom window in a spot shaded by a mature Japanese maple. In the pot with the Solomon's seal is Brunnera with it's delicate blue spring flowers and some languorous Golden Hakone Grass. Everyone always comments on it.

  19. I have a lot of variegated solomon's seal that I brought over from my other garden, which was destroyed by the new owners. :o( I have 25 plants of the native variety that has blue berries on order for my new back shade garden. It's such a tough, beautiful plant!


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