What would YOU plant in this spot?

bgaviator(7)April 23, 2013

I am trying to come up with a concept for this little area next to the house. (don't worry, the cinder block will be removed, and it will be cleaned up). It's on the East side of the house, and only gets a little bit of sun in the morning. It's mostly shade.

The area is about 3.5 feet wide, and just a hair under 3ft front to back. At first I thought I was set on Astibles, but I am a little dissapointed with how short their bloom season is from what I've read. I then was at the garden center today, and was really liking the look of some of the Coral Bells....but I was overwhelmed by the number of varieties, and I want something that will have the longest lasting blooms. Some of the ones that really caught my attention were Hercules, Ruby Bells, and Bresingham. But then I was thinking that maybe this space needed a big center piece. The space already has some type of ferns growing in it. My wife loves them, but I think these particular straight green ferns are boring.

I was curious about maybe a medium sized Hosta of some kind (I want something interesting though, not boring green) in the center, and then putting a Japanese Painted Fern in each back or front corners....maybe something that will get a little tall in each back corner....then leaving the front for some type of shade loving annuals. It's not a very big space I know, so I know I have to plan carefully not to overcrowd.

I am not good at visualizing things so that's why I'm asking for suggestions. Thanks!

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cyn427 (zone 7)

How about a couple of Hellebores (evergreen which is nice and I love the flowers)with a medium-sized blue hosta, painted fern, and maybe a bleeding heart which will bloom early and then disappear in the heat of summer (reappears the next year)? I love shade gardens...maybe because that is mostly what I have. :)

    Bookmark   April 23, 2013 at 8:38PM
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In that tiny area, in the shade, you really need to consider foliage form and color for a long season of interest. For that reason, I like your coralbells idea. Or heucherella (a cross of heuchera & tiarella). Choose for the leaf color that will best complement your other plantings.

For height, how about cimicifuga (basal rosette of leaves with white bottle-brush type flower stalk to 5' in late summer) or variegated Solomon's Seal, with its tiny white flowers in spring and season-long foliage edged with white. S.S. will spread, however, so put in a barrier or be prepared to pull out the shoots before they crowd their neighbors.

As suggested above, hellebores, hostas, painted fern and bleeding heart are also very nice, but keep in mind the bloom times. If you choose one of the late season hostas, you will have spring and late summer blooms.

If you replace the cinder blocks with some other type of material for a retaining wall, it would be nice to have some sort of cascading plant to grow over and soften the edge, but right now my mind is drawing a blank. However, I'm sure there's something.

I wouldn't bother with shade-loving annuals. Each year you go to plant them, you will be disturbing the roots of the perennials. Choose and plant your perennials with care and they will give you years of beauty. Prepare the soil well, give them room to grow and remember that they take 3 years to become established: the first year they "sleep", the second they "creep", and the third they "leap."

    Bookmark   April 24, 2013 at 9:35PM
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Thanks for those suggestions! The more I look at the space, the more I realize there isn't really a lot of room. My wife wants me to leave the ferns growing in there alone, and they are starting to pop out around the perimeter......I am still torn between Coral Bells and Astilbe....seems like the Astilbe will get bigger, so I am worried that there won't be much room for anything else if I pop a couple of Astilbe in the back.......but on the other hand, I am worried that Coral Bells will be too small and get hidden behind any Hosta that I would put in the center as a focal point.
I was thinking that divine impatiens would look good along the front.....but I didn't realize I would be disturbing the roots of the perennials too much.....might have to rethink that idea.
I don't know anything about hellebores....I'll have to do some more research, but a Google pic search makes them look pretty cool.

This post was edited by bgaviator on Thu, Apr 25, 13 at 4:48

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 4:36AM
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I kind of like this color scheme....I was at the garden center today and played around with holding various plants next to each other. What do you guys think? June Hosta in the center of this area, surrounded by Plum Pudding Coral Bells? If this gets a thumbs up, how many coral bells do I need to plant around the hosta? The area is 42 inches wide, and I heard this Hosta will get like 20" wide. The front/back size is smaller, at only about 30 inches wide. Thanks.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 4:18PM
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cyn427 (zone 7)

June is one of my favorite hostas. I love your color combo there. It will take a number of years for June to reach her mature size. I might cut down a little on the number of Heuchera and add in a hellebore. The evergreen aspect is nice and once established, they will bloom like mad. That said, you should do what you like. It is your little garden and you can always change it as the years go by. I cannot begin to tell you how often I have changed things over the years around here.

A note on Astilbe: I love them, but they really only flourish in my yard around the bird baths where I dump the water daily. They love water (as do hosta, but don't overdo).

I cannot wait to see your 'after' pics! Have fun.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 8:53PM
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Well, my wife ended up shooting down my idea. She is mad that I want to crowd out her beloved ferns that grow there every year. These ferns are just boring in my opinion....just straight up green, and end up turning brown and scraggly during summer. I asked her if I could at least put a Japanese painted fern in there.....something with color. She said I could do that. I might throw in some coral bells still just to have some contrast.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 9:15PM
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Coral bells are not exactly shade plants - they really are at best only tolerant of part shade, especially if you want flowers. And the darker the foliage, the more sun they will tolerate. In fact, many of the dark leaved forms will lose that deep purple or black coloring if in too much shade and turn more of a washed out bronze or purple-green. The more chartreuse or gold the foliage, the better the plant will do in shade.

If you don't have a lot of extra room with the ferns in place - and ferns are wonderful shade plants, btw - consider a container planted with impatiens or begonias right in the center for some seasonal color.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 4:46PM
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I'd plant some spring ephemerals (virginia bluebells) and bulbs. The ferns would grow over their fading leaves. Then I'd tuck something like veronica crater lake blue in the corners. I bet they would drape over the edge of the wall.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 8:59PM
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I always find it interesting the variations in opinions about light requirements. At my local garden center, one of the head gardeners on site said the more shade my area had, the better off I would be with the darker Plum Pudding type Coral Bells. In fact, the tag on those were some of the only Coral Bells that said they would do good in part/full shade....most of the others, especially ones with green foliage were just showing part shade.

Funny though if I go to Lowes, their garden center has Plum Pudding Coral Bells, and some of the tags say plant in part-sun, while some of the tags say plant in full shade.
Same plant....different tags....it can get confusing. This area will get hit with a couple hours of sun though as the sun is crossing over the house as it's starting to go down.

This is around 4:30pm, it is getting some light.

This post was edited by bgaviator on Sun, Apr 28, 13 at 9:29

    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 9:23AM
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Here is the Painted Fern I ended up putting in the middle. You can see the other ferns around the perimeter starting to pop up.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 9:26AM
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A great deal of the variation has to do with lack of knowledge :-) These "facts" get passed on without any real basis or understanding about the plants or their origins and then become the accepted convention, forget whether or not they are true. So nursery people and nursery tags get this less than completely accurate info and it becomes so commonly used, published or discussed it is accepted as fact.

Our modern heucheras are mostly hybrids and the parentage of these plants are from heuchera species that are not necessarily woodland or shade plants. They are found in open meadows, rocky outcroppings or at woodland verges. Some species are even native to the Channel Islands of California and to dry Arizona canyons! 'Plum Pudding' is a micrantha hybrid and H. micrantha is native to rocky slopes and cliffs of the western US - not exactly shady locations :-). Why these hybrids would require shade when their parents do not is quite mysterious, eh??

    Bookmark   May 1, 2013 at 4:50PM
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When I visited Mt. Cuba Center last summer for the grand opening of their trial garden, all the coralbells of many colors were growing and flowering (very nicely, too) under shade cloth.

They do very nicely in my gardens in half sun or dappled shade. In areas with less than half sun, they get a bit more leggy.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2013 at 4:41PM
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They look great mixed in with there relative the Tiarella. Thats probably where the shade and water needs come from if I had to guess.

Silver scrolls always seems to look great w/rebloom usually too. Electric lime I have mixed feelings over. Plum pudding is ok too from my experiences in a z5

Just an idea, but since you dont like the scorched fern look by the end of summer, plant some late oriental bulbs in there after you cut those ferns down?

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 10:19PM
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