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Flowering Shade Plants 1


This is the time of year when I start to spend more time in by the fire than out in the garden (although I still have more bulbs to plant…). One of my amusements is to look through the garden pictures, with an eye to what worked and what didn’t.

I want to make my grouping of plants under the big madrone into a more cohesive group, so one of the things I’ve been looking for is plants that have worked well in semishade for me. Northern Shade has opened my eyes to how much texture and color you can get with the right foliage, something I might have worked out by looking at the forest floor. But sometimes gardening is like a crossword puzzle: somebody fresh has to come along to fill in the blanks you can’t get.  I’ll need to do research on the plants Northern Shade recommends, though, since my climate is a lot hotter and dryer.

Before I was reminded of the possibilities of foliage, though, my original shade-plant-finding focus was a hunger for flowers; flowers for summer (after the bulbs) and for shade to semishade, which is mostly what I’ve got.

The digitalis in the photo at the head of this post obviously did very well under the madrone (the red-barked shiny-leaved tree you can see in the picture). And I have a past history of digitalis doing well in places like this, where they get some morning sun, and occasional dapples throughout the day. This foxglove (an unknown variety from the drugstore) kept on gradually increasing its spire as it flowered, until it had a whippy spine of seedheads several feet high, topped with a few flowers.

My ‘Royal Standard’ hosta is a common plant, but a new venture for me. It sulked in the full shade I gave it before, putting out a few leaves but never flowering. I had mixed feelings about hostas; they seemed kind of like, I don’t know, plants for gardeners who had completely matched wardrobes and sock drawers with no strays: not plants that would fit in my garden.  But in my continual research for shade plants that flower, I’d found that hostas fit the bill, and that some of them even had fragrant flowers. When I went to a local plant sale, it was pretty easy for me to get persuaded into a good deal on Royal Standard.

I found that this junior leaguer actually fit quite well into my garden, once I put it in a pot on the back porch where it got more shots of sun. It brought forth the beautiful rose-flushed buds that turned into a modest scape of (to my nose) mildly sweet-scented flowers. (For those of you who are wondering about the dead leaves in the background: those are buckeye leaves, which are the earliest to come out, and shrivel by late summer.)


My prejudices began to tumble. I started to see what people saw in the leaves: the innocence of the tiny leaves on the flowering stem,


the sensuous ribs of the broad leaves below–


which turned gold all at once in fall.

Next post: more flowering shade plants

{ 5 comments… add one }

  • Sylvia (England) December 17, 2008, 1:59 am

    I love my shady areas Pomona, for me the problem areas are the sunny ones, not sure why! I also have a love/hate of hostas but that is because in our damp climate they are eaten by slugs and snails. I am trying some of the larger, thicker leaved one before I give up all together. Like you I enjoy the flowers and never cut them off, as I hear some people do. I wonder if your hosta was suffering from the dry soil rather than lack of sun? It probably got more water in a pot by the door.

    I have a lot of ferns which like the shade and I also grow lots of foxgloves. I do like your white one, I grew some seeds of a similar one called ‘Pam’s choice’ which I am looking forward to seeing the flowers next year. I have read that lots of people have problems with foxgloves in the US but they grow like weeds in the UK and the seedlings need a regular cull.

    Best wishes Sylvia

  • Pomona Belvedere December 17, 2008, 11:08 am

    That’s a good thought about the hosta suffering from lack of water rather than dense shade; I’m not sure. I had it in a self-watering pot before, and those usually give a steady supply of water, but maybe it wasn’t quite enough.

    Sorry to hear about your slugs! I have friends and family in the Pacific Northwest, which probably has a climate more similar to yours, and they are plagued with slugs. You’ve probably already tried copper barriers and beer; they work here but we don’t have the armies of slugs damper places get. Foxgloves grow wild in the Pacific NW, as in your climate. How fortunate to be in a position where you have to cull them!

    I love ‘Pam’s Choice’ foxglove with its heavier maroon markings and hope to have some next year.

  • cheryl December 17, 2008, 2:04 pm

    I’m finding myself drawn to simplicity and the images of the giant leaves are so pleasing to the eye!

  • titania December 18, 2008, 1:35 am

    I love foxgloves and have grown some here not with great success, to humid, to hot! Violets come in a huge array of blues and make pretty ground covers under trees in the shade. Lily of the Valley is another good one in the shade. Bedding Begonias do very well in deep shade and flower freely, so they are only annuals. I usually make cuttings. I grew the above in my garden in Switzerland.

  • Pomona Belvedere December 18, 2008, 7:52 am

    Cheryl, it’s true, there is something innocent about those big hosta leaves, maybe that’s why people are drawn to them.

    Titania, I love lily of the valley, but though it is supposed to be easy to grow (even an aggressive spreader), I’ve never had any luck with it. Ideas? Begonias the same, though for them I’ve always assumed it was too dry in my area. There are so many beautiful types, I’d love to learn how to grow them. So you have some compensation for your lack of foxgloves!

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