Shady Beauties

Our shade garden is a work in progress. OK, all of the garden is a work in progress, but the shade garden is one of the last frontiers for this gardener to tackle. As the majority of of our garden is sunny and dry, the shade garden with its promise of lush, soft green growth serves as a relief and a favorite of Facilities Manager. It has expanded over the last three years and this year it will span the entire length of our northern border (minus the chicken yard). A portion of it is fairly established, however so much of it is so new that the weeds outnumber the desirable plants by far. The established part is lovely, but it tends not to photograph well, likely due to the neighbor's background of blackberries and weeds as well as the fact that the shrubs and other anchoring features are not mature, but I see glimmers of beauty. It's time to share a little of that.

First up is Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty', Facilities Manager's favorite plant, I think. She has spread this year, sending out satellite plants in two other locales. We count ourselves lucky.

Suddenly the Epimediums are looking fine. This one is E. warlyensis, a lovely orange flowered variety.

Pulmonaria 'Benediction' really impresses. It's grown to a good size and the azure blue blooms last for a very long time. In the foreground is Heuchera chlorantha, a native heuchera that is semi-evergreen and sends up spikes of yellow green flowers and is definitely great for pollinators. A very cool, underused plant in these parts.

Anemone nemorosa 'Flore Pleno' is also finally spreading a little bit. This tiny anemone makes a large impact and can be seen from quite a distance. It is dormant for most of the year but when it's in bloom, it steals the show.

New growth on Fatsia j. 'Spider's Web' is exciting! I look forward to seeing this handsome plant grow large. I am especially happy it's evergreen.

Emerging fronds of one of many ferns in the garden. I have misplaced the name, so if anyone knows please chime in.

Oxalis oregana 'Klamath Ruby' has deep wine-colored reverse on the leaves and the flowers are tinted pink. This is not as aggressive as the straight species in my garden, although I love them both.

Emerging fronds of a Polystichum fern, again, not sure which one but they're cool!

Fothergilla x intermedia 'Blue Shadow' finally has many pretty flowers. This is the best flowering year for it so far. Its fall color is fantastic, by the way.

Emerging fronds of our native maidenhair fern, Adiantum pedatum.

Another shot of this, my favorite fern with its black stems.

Geranium phaeum 'Margaret Wilson' is a lovely variegated leaved geranium I found at work. Although not vigorous like other geraniums, it sparkles in the shade and for that I love it.

The Oxalis oregana is finally covering some ground. I want it to cover this berm that would otherwise be overtaken with weeds. You can see the difference between it and the earlier version I showed 'Klamath Beauty', a clump of which is on the far right.

Oxalis oregana overtaking my Rhododendron occidentalis or western azalea which smells like lilies, by the way. It has yet to bloom this year. Stay tuned.

Can you tell I like Oxalis oregana? I have so much space to fill that it is my friend, doing fine under fir trees and dry shade. Here it mixes with Pulmonaria 'Little Star'. This is also 'Klamath Beauty' Oxalis, by the way.

Geranium phaeum 'Samobor' given to me by fellow blogger Alison is blooming for the first time for me. I am thrilled! Check out her blog for a fantastic shade garden, my friends.

The leaf coloration is especially handsome.

The celandine poppies or Stylophorum diphyllum, a native wildflower of the East coast, is blooming in its first year for me. 

Blechnum penna-marina or water fern has formed a sweet little colony. Reaching only a few inches high, these evergreen leaves are a welcome slow-spreader at the edge of a path.

Anemonella thalicroides started off with bronze foliage that has turned bright green. Another ephemeral woodland plant, I really treasure this.

Although it can handle sun, this Cornus sericea 'Hedgerows Gold', one of our native dogwoods, looks quite pretty in dappled shade. I'm hoping it will put on a lot of new growth this year.

The colony of Saxifraga x geum 'Dentata' pairs nicely with the water fern seen on the left.

The original may apple, Podophyllum pleianthum, shoots out of the ground very quickly once it decides it's time to grow for the season.

A throw-away from work a couple of years ago, Dicentra 'Gold Heart' didn't win my heart over because the color clash kind of hurts my eyes. But it actually brightens up the shade garden and I guess I'll admit I like it. 

Waldsteinisa fragarioides or barren strawberry is an evergreen ground cover native to the East coast. It will naturalize so I am growing it in a small area to see how it behaves. So far it's quite handsome and has spread a little over the winter.

Cardamine trifolia is an evergreen small scale shade ground cover grown here at the edge of a path. It handles dry shade once it is established and is, in a word, charming.

Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum' has settled in and is growing in dry shade as it's supposed to. This is the first year it has really flowered, although I do grow it for the foliage as a ground cover.

Saxifraga primuloides has spilled out of its pot over the edge, just like the one we have at work. It took several years to reach this stage but it's an easy plant, so well worth the very little effort it took. 

Salix nakamurana var. yezoalpina is a very small prostrate creeping willow with fabulously furry leaves in early spring. From the Missouri Botanical Garden's website:

Salix nakamurana var. yezoalpina is a prostrate, creeping willow (sometimes commonly called yezo dwarf willow or creeping alpine willow) that is native to mountain slopes in Hokkaido, Japan. It is basically a shrubby, low-growing, alpine ground cover that prospers in harsh mountain terrain. Branches will crawl through crevices and over large rocks. This willow develops a very short trunk which does not rise upwards by more than one foot, but from which stiff woody reddish brown branches radiate outward along the ground in all directions to 6' wide or more. Branches root where they touch the ground. Silky, fuzzy, yellowish catkins (each to 2" long) commonly called pussy willows appear upright along the branches in early spring (late March-early April) prior to the emergence of the leaves. Catkins purportedly resemble the pads on a cat’s paw, hence the common name. Ovate leaves (to 1-2" long) covered with silky white hairs emerge shortly thereafter. Leaves turn deep green by summer. Fall color is variable shades of yellow sometimes tinted with red.

The Uvularia bloomed in its first year, I am so happy! I look forward to seeing a large colony of this over time.

The garden just doesn't photograph well, the debris on the soil kind of spoils it, but all the same, here's a shot of one corner.

A wider shot of the most densely planted corner.

And a final parting shot with many other treasures tucked in there to be discovered another day.

Our infant shade garden has a way to go, but I'm patient as I have a billion chores to keep me occupied. In the mean time, I enjoy the plants individually, even if many are surrounded by weeds. Over the years it will meld together to form a whole, a rambling, pretty shade garden with large shrubs with delicate ferns tucked in here and there. And no weeds, right? That is the hope.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you so much for reading and commenting and happy gardening, everyone! Yay, spring!


  1. My Wisconsin garden is full of spring plants emerging in a ground cover of messy shredded leaves. Not my favorite look, but one that makes sense. So I would not let yourself be bothered by it in your photos. It all looks lovely.

    1. Messy shredded leaves! That's it! Exactly, and I know it's good for the soil so I leave it. Thank you for your kind words!! I'm glad fellow gardeners understand.

  2. You have some wonderful, choice shade plants. It won't be long before they all grow together and cover all that patchy ground. Watch for seedlings of 'Samobor,' she does like to fling her seeds around. Most of them are just like her, with that nice dark splotch on the leaves. Hopefully you won't find her too aggressive. I know Hostas aren't exactly cutting edge, but I recently sort of rediscovered them for my shady areas. As long as you can keep the slugs off them for long enough as they emerge, I've found they are great drought-tolerant perennials for me.

    1. Thank you for your words of encouragement, Alison. I will watch for Samobor - but flinging seeds is what I chiefly need, so I'd welcome volunteers! Hostas are awesome, I do adore them. Interesting that they are drought tolerant - I've never thought of them as such but you are right...I don't water the ones I have excessively and they always look a-ok. Must add more, me thinks.

  3. Well I guess it's good to know it's not just me who has trouble photographing this charming corner of your garden. Nice capture of the emerging Adiantum pedatum fronds, they look like aliens.

    1. Ah, thanks Danger. Such a weird challenge...I guess it's just not mature enough to stand up to the scrutiny of the camera. It always looks better in person. Oh, yeah, that Adiantum - I never thought of them as aliens but now that's all I can see. Thanks.

  4. Your collection of shade loving plants is breath-taking, Tamara. On this occasion, sadly, I can't claim to have a single one of those plants in my own garden. I've long coveted Epimediums and even tried growing one in my former garden but the best thing I can say about that experience is that the plant didn't immediately expire.

    1. Oh, Kris, while I say that is too bad you can't grow any of these, you have a special climate for special plants we all covet here in the PNW. Each garden is different and yours is gorgeous. Despair not.

  5. Any pictures in Spring when the garden is waking up are tough as there are lots of dead bits still around. I have lots of beautiful little minor bulbs flowering but so tough to capture the whole picture. However, with the individual shots of so many of your lovely Spring beauties, and a little imagination, it's easy to see how enchanting the space must look.

    1. Thank you for your kind words of camaraderie, luv2garden, it's true - the dead bits show up so well! Here's to imagination filling in the blanks ;)


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