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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Entries in shade garden (3)


Heuchera Hercules, a Painterly Perennial

Over the past few years there has been an explosive growth in the number of new varieties of Heuchera. I can’t imagine that the hybridizing that produces this never-ending assortment is going to end soon. We are hooked on the melodrama: What will next year’s Heuchera selections look like? How are they going to top this year’s? Don’t worry! They will top it and we will all be amazed once again.

For that reason, I draw your attention to a delightful but unnoticed Heuchera cultivar called “Hercules”. What set this plant apart from all of the other richly colored varieties are its white leaves splashed with green. Not just any ordinary green but green that has been mottled and water-colored with pools, puddles and marbling to create a perennial that shimmers in the shade.

The moment I laid eyes on it at a nursery, I knew I was on to something special. After planting it in a client's shade garden, I was so taken by the visual effect it created that I returned to the nursery to buy more. Clearly, other gardeners must have had the same reaction because this was the only variety of Heuchera to have sold out. I resorted to purchasing additional stock, on line, from a friendly Canadian grower called Floral and Hardy in Mapleton, Ontario.

This cultivar will tolerate sun, shade and part shade but cannot tolerate drought or a winter without the insulation of snow. Sometimes, Heuchera foliage gets weather-beaten over the winter. For a clean look, trim damaged leaves in early spring to encourage new growth of vibrant foliage.

Hercules grows in zones 4 to 9 and reaches a height of 10 to 15 inches and a width of 14 to 16 inches. Its deep scarlet red flowers, intense and beautiful, bloom in late spring to early summer. However, most new cultivars of Heuchera are not grown for their flowers. In the case of “Hercules”, gardeners choose this plant for the vibrancy and hypnotic effect of its leaves. To create an eye-catching shade composition in green and white, place this perennial near any other plant with solid green leaves and watch the drama unfold.



Dicentra: Some Varieties Bloom All Summer

Dicentra eximia Alba blooms in white and will tolerate sun but not drought. Photo courtesy of Old

There is an overlooked group of perennials known as miniature Dicentra or Bleeding Hearts, that bloom from early spring through summer until fall. These flowers grow on soft mounds ranging in height from 10 to 16 inches and spread no more than 12 to 20 inches in width, depending on the variety. The soft fern-like foliage range in color from blue-grey to blue-green and act as a perfect foil for the gentle flowers that bloom in shades of white, rose, pink and deep red.

The flowers of Dicentra formosa Luxuriant are cherry pink. Photo courtesy of Sooner Plant

All of these plants thrive best in shade. Those that can tolerate part or full sun still need to be kept moist. If any of these perennials experience drought, the foliage will disappear. The plant will go dormant and will not bloom again until the following year.

This is Dicentra King of Hearts.It blooms in dark rose. Photo courtesy of White Flower

This is a family of delicate looking plants for the front of a shade border or at the edge of a footpath running through a shaded area. A miniature Dicentra needs to be seen up close to be appreciated. The unusual color and texture of the foliage adds lightness and contrast to a composition of shade perennials.

This is Dicentra Burning Hearts, the newest miniature Dicentra , not yet available everywhere. It flowers in deep red with a dramatic white trim. Photo courtesy of Garden


Let "Jack Frost" Light Up the Perennial Shade Garden

Click on the image of Brunnera "Jack Frost" to visit the Kemper Garden Center

I've never been a fan of groundcover in general or Brunnera in particular. I find the texture of its leaves too coarse.Yet, I do like the Brunnera cultivar Jack Frost because its foliage will illuminate a dark spot in the garden. This perennial forms a dense clump that grows into a thick ground cover about one and a half feet tall and wide. While it does sport blue flowers in spring, it is grown primarily for its basal foliage.

The leaves are silvery white, heart shaped, with green veins and a thin green rim around the leaf edge. The foliage remains attractive throughout the growing season. The Kemper Center for Home Gardening is one of the few websites that offers a realistic photo. Most nurseries display an aerial view of the leaves which make them appear much whiter than they are.

Brunnera grows well in zones 3 to 8, in moist, well drained and organically rich earth. It requires part shade and does not tolerate dry soil. Plant this perennial in a dark spot, in the front row of a shade garden and watch it glow.