When acquiring plants for a shade garden, remember that plants grow slowly in the shade, so get large plants. Plants often grow differently in the shade and some experimentation with size and blooming times are in order. The following plants grow well in deep shade.
While the common Bleeding Heart will take some shade, the Fern Leaf Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa) thrives in full shade. It is possible to buy the Fern Leaf Bleeding Heart with red or white blossoms, but the hardiest variety has pink blooms. This perennial usually grows between 8 and 15 in (23-38 cm) tall and blooms all summer.
The Fern Leaf Bleeding Heart should be propagated by root division as it grows very slowly from seed.
Snake Root (Cimicifuga ramosa) is an interesting plant for the back of the border. Its height is dependent on the amount of light it receives, but they usually grow between 3-5 ft (90-180 cm) with a similar spread. The white blooms are born above the foliage giving fuzzy, bottle brush effect.
The Black Snakeroot, with exotic darker purplish leaves, is harder to find but well worth the hunt. Snake Root is best propagated by division.
Cranesbill (Geranium) differ from the annual geranium. The plants range in height from 1 to 3 ft.(30-90 cm) depending on the variety. The newer varieties sold in garden centers, are smaller with purple-pink flowers. They spread by rhizomes while the older varieties are blue, white or combinations of both. They spread by seed. The hybrids bloom for about a month in July while the older varieties bloom, for about 2 weeks in August.
There are a multitude of Primroses that grow in Central Alberta. Most grow in partial shade to full shade and bloom early in the season. Primroses come in all shades, sizes and colors. To view all the possibilities visit the Devonian Botanical Gardens just south of Edmonton.
The staff have been working with Primroses for years finding the hardiest varieties for Alberta. “The Primrose Del” showcases their findings. Some species appear to be short lived and need to be replaced every couple of years.
Lungwort (Pulminaria) also known by Joseph and Mary or Soldiers and Sailors, is an ideal shade plant, but will also grow in full sun. The plant grows about 8 in.(20 cm) tall and has spotted leaves. The most common variety is dark green with silver or white spots but other hybrids are also available. Lungwort blooms early in spring. Its flowers start pink but turn blue as they age. The plant occasionally needs split and will self seed if it isn’t deadheaded.
Rayflowers (Ligularia) are large plants 3-4 ft (90-120 cm) in height and width. They grow in part to deep shade. The flowers are tall spikes covered with small yellow daisies.
The huge heart shaped leaves add interest all season. For a more spectacular plant purchase the hybrids that have striking red stems. The hybrids must be propagated by division as they don’t come true from seed.
Solomon’s Seal (polgonatum multiflorum) is larger than the native variety. It grows about 2 ft. (61 cm) tall with white flowers in June. Seeds form soon after looking like round berries that begin turning red by the end of July and end up dark black by September.
The roots of Solomon’s Seal are slow spreading rhizomes that propagate easily by division.
The Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) is very hardy, low maintenance, shade plant. They grow to 4 ft.(1.6 M) with a similar spread. Ferns spread by underground rhizomes multiplying rapidly once established.
Fall is a great time to plant so start looking for these and other shade plants to add the garden.