Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Plants for Pacific Northwest Shade Gardens

My sisters were just asking for ideas about what to put in a moist, shady garden, which prompted this post. If you have such a place in your yard and are at a loss for what to put in, here are some ideas. I've found these plants have done well in the cool, maritime climate and acidic soil of Western Washington. At the end of this post are photos of a few of these plants from my gardens. Update: Yesterday I got some photos of shade plants at the Arboretum exhibit, "Bird Song" at the 2012 Flower and Garden Show. You'll find them at the end of this post.

Tips: Put the tallest plants in the back of the garden, and work forward according to size. Mix the plants with spiky flowers in with the bushier plants. Pacific Northwest natives are starred. * Natives are good because they require less care and support local wildlife. If you can't find them at a mainstream nursery, look for a native plant nursery either locally or online. See also the Washington Native Plant Society page.

Perennial plants from short to tall:
  • Iris moss - 1 inch (There are lots of different kinds of moss that are beautiful in a shade garden.)
  • Creeping Jenny (ground cover, yellow green, evergreen, likes to drape down things like sides of rockeries) - 1 inch 
  • Do not plant variegated ground elder. It will take over your entire garden and yard. Bill calls it a bio hazard.
  • Periwinkle/Vinca minor (dense dark evergreen ground cover with periwinkle blue flowers) - 2 inches
  • Native violet* (dainty. I personally love these) - 2 inches
  • Anemone (bulb. little blue flowers in spring. leaves die off in summer) - 3 inches
  • Grape hyacinth (bulb. small plant with bright blue flowers in early spring) - 4 inches
  • English Primrose - 4 inches
  • Bunchberry dogwood* (Ground cover with evergreen, dogwood-type leaves and white flowers that turn into berries.)  - 4 inches
  • Cyclamen (bulb. Flowers in late winter. Foliage dies out in summer. Needs dry shade.) - 6 inches
  • Western Trillium * - 6-8 inches
  • English Violet - 6 inches
  • Deer Fern * (the Hardy Fern Foundation is a great resource for ferns) - 6 inches
  • Oxalis* (ground cover - looks like 4-leaf clover, only leaves are much bigger and its a beautiful emerald green. needs rich soil, as in amended with compost) - 6 inches
  • Salal* (a native with wonderful evergreen foliage. florists use it a lot in bouquets) - 6 - 18 inches
  • Holly Fern *  - less than 1 ft
  • Coral bells (comes in a variety of colors, easy to care for) - 1 ft
  • False Solomon’s Seal * - 18 inches
  • Columbine* (biannual. self-seeding, blooms 2nd year. tall flower spikes. Nice leaves) - 18 inches
  • Astilbe (tall flower spikes in summer. a bit fussy. expensive. needs lots of water. a lot of people love them.) - 2 ft
  • Oregon grape* (Evergreen holly-like foliage. These can get leggy, so get one of the lower-growing varieties) - 2 to 4 ft
  • Aster* (tall flower spikes)  - 2-1/2 ft
  • Pacific Bleeding Heart * I love these because of the airy foliage and drooping flowers - 2-1/2 ft
  • Campanula (one of my favorite garden flowers - bell shaped flowers on tall spikes) - 2-1/2 ft
  • Hosta (hostas can cover a lot of bare ground. they come in all types of sizes with different colors of green, stripes, etc. They die to the ground in winter and come back in late spring. I love them!) - 2-1/2 ft + or - a foot
  • Iris * (natives are on the short end of the range) - 2-6  ft
  • Hellebore (Blooms in winter. Has fleshy stems and leaves. Grows in a somewhat random habit.) - 3 ft
  • Sword Fern * - 3 ft
  • Foxglove (biannual, self-seeding, blooms in second year. leaves are poisonous, so not good in a yard with young children). I just found this site that has lots of different varieties. - 3 ft
  • Evergreen huckleberry* (small bush with berries for birds)  - 4 ft
  • Deciduous huckleberry* (ditto)  - 4 ft
  • Hardy fuchsia (these can get large. Plant root ball at least 6 inches below ground level to protect from freezing. See also the Northwest Fuchsia Society) - up to 5 ft
  • Tree fern * (grows to be tree-like.) - 6 ft or more. 
  • Wood fern * Not as sturdy as a tree fern. Dies down to the ground in winter and comes back in spring.
  • Native honeysuckle vine * (dark glossy green leaves with fragrant orange flowers that attract hummingbirds. Leaves fall off in winter, so don't plant it all by itself in a focal position.)
  • Kalmia (aka Mountain Laurel. expensive to buy but has beautiful evergreen foliage and flowers) - 4 ft
  • Hydrangea (always one of my very favorites. Looses leaves in winter.) - 5 ft
  • Shade- or partial shade-loving rhododendrons * (Evergreen. Some varieties are native, and not generally the ones found in gardens, but essentially all of them do well in our climate. Can get very large, but are relatively easy to move if they outgrow their spot.) - 3 to 20 ft
  • Shade- or partial shade-loving evergreen azaleas (not deciduous azaleas, which need sun) 2 to 5 ft
  • Snowberry * (native deciduous bush with white berries) -  5 ft
  • Camelia (Glossy evergreen leaves. Can grow very large, but you can get smaller varieties.)
  • Snowball bush - vibernum (Deciduous leaves. Clusters of stems grow straight up from the ground, up to 20 feet high. Has the wonderful white flower balls in late spring.)
  • Vine maple *
  • Japanese maple
In the center foreground is a Yak rhododendron aptly named "Mardi Gras" because it will have gaudy pink, white, and purple blooms in late spring. Volunteer iris is growing up between its leaves. To the left is the newly planted hosta and some more iris. To the right is a Crocosmia, which I call the "hummingbird" plant because the hummers love it. In summer it has 5-foot long spikes covered with small, bright orange flowers. 
Camelia can grow 20 or 30 feet tall, although there are varieties that stay much smaller. They come in a variety of pink and red colors.
Hydrangea. To make next year's flowers pink, add lime to the soil. For blue, leave the soil acid. For in between, like these, go halfway with the lime.
Common floxglove stands tall against the fence. To the left in back is the tall iris foliage (will have yellow blooms). In front you can see a small vine maple that we'd recently planted. It's the one with reddish tinge on the leaves. It will grow up to 20 or so feet tall. To the right is some sort of crabapple tree with draping branches.
Fancy foxglove I got at the nursery. I call it the Beatrix Potter foxglove because it looks like the ones pictured in her books.
Variegated and plain hosta, center, sword fern, back left, in front of the fern is native iris and in front of that is English primrose. To the right of the primrose is Irish moss, then another foxglove. Behind the foxglove is oxalis. In the far back is a Fortunei rhododendron.
Native violet in foreground. Behind it is foxglove and then hosta. Further back is a large sword fern. To the right of the sword fern is bleeding heart. More oxalis in front of that and then another foxglove.
Lady ferns surround a Jean Marie De Montague rhododendron. Columbine grows under the rhodie and sends spikes of blue and white flowers up in between the rhodie's leaves.
Iris fronted by feverfew (not a good shade plant, BTW). This iris grows to about 2 feet with flowers another foot taller.
Coral Bark Japanese maple
I took the following photos of shade tolerant (or loving) plants at the Arboretum "Bird Song" display garden at the 2012 Seattle Flower and Garden Show. Most are Northwest natives.
Left front: Mahonia (Oregon Grape). 
Front left: Red twig dogwood. Middle left: Ninebark and then Camelia. In front of the  Paperbark Maple is sword fern.
To the left, Camelia and right with yellow flowers is a Witch Hazel variety.
Red twig dogwood, again. I don't know what the yellow bush is. 
Here's a richly flowered Oregon Grape variety, called Mahonia aquifolium "Orange Flame." I need one of these!
Ninebark in the background and Bunchberry in the foreground.
You can find some more plant ideas in Shady Characters, an article by Valerie Easton, published in Pacific Northwest.

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Robin said...

Thanks! I love this post on shady gardening in the NW, and also the great photos with identification.

Harley hippie said...

Thanks for helping remembering. I moved away for 6 years and miss my Portland garden. Now i'm in Washington and can't wait to start again. I also found the Pacific NW garden guide.
Harley hippie