Need Help?

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

See website, design work and favorite flowering plants at

Consultation and coaching for do-it-yourselfers is provided. Occasional emailed questions are welcome and answered free of charge. Oui, je parle francais.

See my work on Pinterest at Garden Guru Montreal

Entries in shade perennials (5)


Barren Dry Shade Can Become a Garden; a book review for

Planting the Dry Shade Garden  Graham Rice, Timber Press,

Dry shade can be a serious obstacle for gardeners attempting to design beautiful flowerbeds. Not only is it difficult to establish flourishing plants under these conditions, but it is also a challenge to make such a garden beautiful. Homeowners, who have attempted this project on their own, are often stymied and frustrated. Finally, we have a useful gardening handbook that focuses solely and realistically on this problem.

In some gardens, barren dry shade may be the result of mature trees creating a natural umbrella that blocks sun and rain. Tree roots that permeate growing beds, so that plants have difficulty thriving, may further exacerbate this situation. Sometimes, walls that create shade for part of the day, or a location with a northern exposure, also may be contributing factors. Whatever the cause, and there are more, the author offers suggestions.

Ostensibly, this publication lists the best plants for the most inhospitable, toughest spots in the garden. It is also a work of encouragement; it urges the reader not to give up, to rethink ones strategy, and to come to terms with nature.

The author has wisely framed the intent of the book. The reader must first understanding the problem before adapting recommended techniques. Realistically, all that can be done with the guidance he supplies, is to take the edge off drought and poor light.

To achieve that goal, the reader must understand the variability of shade and available moisture. Accurate information about one’s own ecological conditions enables gardeners to take appropriate steps to improve a site for planting. Sometimes, strategic pruning or trimming can contribute to diminishing the problem. Often, the situation may be alleviated by building raised beds, by installing irrigation, and by applying mulch regularly.

However, these options are only the beginning of a strategy. For best results, gardeners need to know which plants will survive in dry shade and they must select those that are appropriate for their specific conditions and growing zones. For example, some plants will benefit from the sun exposure they receive in early spring before overhead trees leaf out to create impenetrable shade.

What is undeniable is that, with few exceptions, floriferous plants with long blooming periods are not realistic options. Furthermore, the chances are unlikely that one might have masses of colorful blooms all season long, similar to the intensity achievable in a sun or part sun garden. Therefore, the dry shade gardener will focus on attractive foliage and delicate, seasonal blooms that are the features of the authors list of recommended plants.

Most of the book is dedicated to discussing the plants that have proven successful under the harsh conditions of dry shade. The reader will discover 11 shrubs, 5 climbers, 21 perennials, 15 ground covers, 4 bulbs, and 3 annuals/biennials, plus a list of 17 British, and 15 American, native plants.

Readers should feel confident that these recommended plant would be more than sufficient to produce a wide variety of plant combinations to make attractive, meaningful gardens out of inhospitable, challenging locations.

Graham Rice is an internationally known plantsman and the award-winning writer of more than 25 gardening books. With a degree in horticulture from the Royal Botanical gardens, Kew, England, Mr. Rice gardens in dry shade on both sides of the Atlantic in Pennsylvania, Zone 5 and Northamptonshire , England, Zone 8.




Gardening In The Shade

Planting in the shade is an opportunity for creative gardeners to mine their imagination. In this setting, we do not expect to create a colorful floral composition, although that would be welcome. Here green and white are the major players and various textured plants become flower surrogates. This is an opportunity for the artistic gardener to soar. The challenge is to create a composition based primarily on a theme of green and white. There is an unpredictable pleasure to be experienced from working successfully with such a restricted palette.

Two contrasting Hosta plants create visual chemistry that is enhanced by the lime-colored and delicate-looking Alchemilla Mollis, a beautiful shade plant that is a vigorous self seeder.The major architecture of a shade garden starts by planting gracefully arching ferns and low mounding Hosta. These two perennial plants establish the overall structure of the composition. The secondary theme is introduced by Pulmonaria whose playful visual textures and variegations offset the more disciplined lines of the Hosta. Now, add low-growing Japanese painted ferns with its feathery variegations that draw the eye further into the composition. Although it may not flower in full shade, the leaves of Geranium macrorrhizum Variegatum will add strong detail due to the generous amount of cream in its foliage.

A composition of silver Japanese ferns and Pulmonaria. This exquisite photo is the copywrite property of BelleWood-Gardens. Click on the image to visit that site. Illumination for a dark garden is supplied by the white variegations found in the leaves of some Hosta and in the silver-white decoration on the foliage of many varieties of Pulmonaria. The most cheerful addition however is found on Brunnera Jack Frost, whose green leaves, over-frosted in white, capture and reflects light.

This is Hexastylis minor Dixie Darling. This photo is the copywrite property of BelleWood-Garden. Click on the image to visit that siteEqually beautiful in the shade due to their ornamental quality, are the leaves of variegated Asarum splendens and its cousin Hexastylis minor Dixie Darling.

Primula bullesiana is colorful but hard to find.Adding color to the full-shade garden is not easy as few perennials will bloom without some sun. Those that produce flowers in full shade include specific varieties of Primula, Corydalis and Dicentra. In early spring, flowers of Primula bullesiana will supply rich colors as will Aquilegia canadensis. Various cultivars of Corydalis will bloom all summer in pink, blue and yellow. As long as the soil remains moist, Dicentra King of Hearts will bloom in pink throughout the season. It is also worth experimenting with Astilbe. This perennial needs sun or part shade to bloom but some gardeners have reported that it will flower in full shade but less intensely. 

Heuchera Purple PetticoatsAll-season color that is both muted and rich can be added to the full-shade garden by planting various cultivars of Heuchera. The foliage of these varieties supplies endless shades of purple, wine, apricot, and peach. Plant a composition incorporating purple Heuchera with silver-purple Japanese Fern and watch the magic unfold.



Thanks to Judy Glattstein of BelleWood-Gardens for permission to use some of her beautiful photos.


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.



Shade Perennials; How About Hosta?

Hosta "Wide Brim". Hosta is a work horse of the garden. Just plant it and forget it. This is another easy-care perennial. The only maintenance required is to snip off the bare spikes that carried its flowers after the blooms have gone. Even that chore is optional. Hostas are known for their resilience and durability. They withstand cold, heat, drought, clay and will bounce back from practically any trauma. This perennial grows reliably from zones 3 to 9.

As a lawn specimen or as a structural element in a shade garden, there is nothing as elegant as a mature Hosta gracing a garden with its symmetrical arcing leaves. Except for a few cultivars that can thrive in full sun, most Hostas do best in part or deep shade. They are successfully combined with other reliable shade plants to create visual interest where strong colored perennials cannot bloom. The graceful arcing of the Hosta leaves, like a short fountain, adds elegance to any garden whether it is used as a specimen plant or as part of a perennial composition.

There are thousands of varieties of Hostas to choose from. The easiest way to make a selection is to first determine which shades of green would look best in the garden and which variegated colors would be most effective. If an architectural or formal look is desired, choose one variety only and repeat it in several spots in the garden. Also, planting a row of one variety makes a grand impression.

By mid-summer, some Hostas become food for slugs that eat through their leaves and convert them into lace doilies. In most cases, cultivars with leathery elephantine-textured leaves are relatively immune to this slug fest.

Hostas work well as a physical border to delineate a flower bed from a lawn. Their arcing leaves suffocate the lawn beneath its leaves, ensuring that no grass will creep into the flower bed. Their sturdy root system does double duty as an anchor that prevents erosion on slopes. This feature also makes Hostas difficult to dig up when they become too large for their location. That is why it’s best to plant strategically to avoid having to move them later. However, they are so rugged that, if necessary, they can be dug up and divided anytime. Once out of the ground,  slice through the root ball with the edge of a spade to divide it into as many plants as needed. The new plants will go into shock when replanted, but no matter how withered they might look from the trauma of propagation, they will grow back the following season in good health.



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