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Wednesday, July 11, 2007 04:34 pm

Gardening in shady places

Here are some perennials that thrive on the dark side

Geranium endressi, or the “Wargrave Pink” geranium
Untitled Document Shade has always posed a challenge for gardeners. “Trying to find something unique and different, let alone being able to tolerate and perform well in the shade, often led to the old standbys of hosta, fern, and lily-of-the-valley,” says Greg Stack, a horticulture educator for the University of Illinois Extension. “Well, fear the shade no longer. Hybridizers and plant hunters are constantly coming up with new offerings for those shaded locations, [allowing] even the shadiest of sites to become attractively landscaped areas.”
Stack recommends a few shade perennials that love the dark side of gardening: Aconitum, or monkshood, is a stately garden plant for the shade garden. Growing to 24 inches tall, these plants prefer an area where soil moisture is constant but not soggy wet. The violet-blue flowers look similar to snapdragons and are produced in August and September.
Bergenia, or pigsqueak, gives a wonderful textural difference to the shaded garden. The large, glossy green foliage looks similar to the foliage of the wax begonia, only much larger. The plant likes a well-drained, moist site in light shade. Pink flowers are produced in April. Growing 12 to 15 inches tall, these plants offer an orange/yellow background for tall spikes of white flowers in August and September. Pigsqueak does best in a moist soil.
• Two types of bleeding heart can be used in the shade garden: Dicentra spectabilis and Dicentra formosa. D. spectabilis grows 3 feet high and produces locket-shaped pink flowers on long stems during May and June but goes dormant in the summer. D. formosa, or “Luxuriant,” is a short plant, at 12 inches, that produces fine blue-green fernlike foliage and small red flowers from May to August. Unlike its relative, it does not go dormant during the summer and continues to provide color all season. • When dealing with dry, shady areas, such as those under trees, look to Epimedium, Stack says: “This perennial competes well with tree roots and will, over time, provide a complete ground cover in these areas. The plant grows to 12 inches in height, has heart-shaped leaves, and blooms with yellow/red flowers in May. An added bonus is its outstanding burgundy/crimson fall foliage color.”
• The perennial geranium Geranium endressi, “Wargrave Pink,” does well in shaded areas. Growing 15 inches tall, it produces salmon-pink blooms in May and June and then sporadically through the season. Polemonium, or Jacob’s ladder, produces plants that are 15 to 18 inches tall with fine fernlike foliage. Depending on the cultivar, the foliage may be green or variegated green and white. As an added bonus, it has stalks of lavender-blue flowers in May. This makes a useful accompaniment to the broader-leaved favorites in the shade garden. Pulmonaria, or lungwort, is an outstanding plant for the moist, well-drained shaded garden. The plants form neat mounds of straplike leaves and are distinctive for the white markings on the leaves that look like paint splatters. • Stack recommends one last unique perennial for light shade: Tricyrtis, or toad lily. “This plant is valued for its late season of bloom around September and October,” he says. “Flowers resemble tiny orchids. Toad lily prefers soil that is constantly moist but will grow in regular garden areas so long as it doesn’t have to endure long periods of drought.”

For more information about the University of Illinois Extension’s Sangamon-Menard unit, go to www.extension.uiuc.edu/Sangamon.


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