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by Pernell Gerver

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"The Best Shade Perennials"

Gardening in the shade can present a challenge as well as an opportunity. There are many different degrees of shade including filtered shade, part shade, open shade, deep shade, and seasonal shade. Depending on the amount of shade, there are many perennials suited to growing in a range of shady conditions. By choosing perennials with a range of bloom periods from spring to fall, it's possible to have a succession of bloom all season long. Click on a plant name below to order it from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.

One of the earliest-blooming perennials for partial shade is Christmas rose. This clump-forming plant begins blooming as early as Valentine's Day in my garden. It bears two-inch-wide white flowers that are tinged with pink. The flowers are long lasting. It has evergreen, palm-shaped foliage that grows about a foot tall or so.


Lenten rose blooms about a month or so later than Christmas rose. In bloom alongside daffodils, the flowers of Lenten rose are creamy yellow, pale pink, rose, or deep maroon. Many are speckled or spotted. Lenten rose is also evergreen. It grows a foot and a half tall and forms a clump up to three feet wide at maturity.

Another early-spring-blooming perennial that thrives in shade is Epimedium rubrum. It forms a compact clump of green, heart-shaped foliage. New leaves that emerge in spring are tinged bronze. Flower stems 10 to 12 inches high carry clusters of red, spider-shaped flowers. The flower stems rise through the foliage in late April to early May. It grows well in dry shade, which is a difficult area to grow plants. It stands just under a foot tall and spreads to form a nice groundcover.


Without a doubt, the best summer-blooming perennial for shade is Ligularia 'The Rocket.' It grows in the deepest, darkest shade there is. In my own garden, it's growing on the north side of my potting shed under the shade of tall trees. It never sees sun, but it's thriving and blooming. It forms a two-foot-wide mound of interesting, triangular leaves. The leaves have deeply-serrated edges, giving them a prehistoric look. In summer, five-foot-tall deep purple flower stems rise through the foliage and bear bright-yellow flowers. Ligularia 'Little Rocket' is a size breakthrough in ligularia. It grows just two feet tall, with the flowers, and has the same triangular leaves and wands of bright-yellow flowers, just in a smaller version.

One of the most common perennials for shade is hosta. It's a large group of plants with a wide range of sizes, from miniatures that only grow several inches wide and tall to large varieties that grow several feet across or more. Hostas are grown mainly for their colorful foliage. There's a wide range of leaf colors from dusty blue to chartreuse. Many varieties have variegated foliage. A hosta I grow more for its flowers than for its foliage is called August lily. It bears six-inch-wide, tubular, white flowers in late summer. The flowers are extremely fragrant, similar to freesia. It's a medium-sized hosta growing two feet high and wide. It has bright-green foliage and grows well in shade, as well as sun!

Japanese anemone 'Pamina' is a late-summer and early-autumn-blooming perennial that grows well in shade. It's one of the best varieties of Japanese anemone. It forms a handsome mound of foliage not quite two feet tall - no staking required! Flower stems rise through the foliage and stand three feet high. Dozens and dozens of flowers bloom over a long period from early September right through frost. The double flowers have many petals surrounding a central cluster of orange stamens. Flower color is rosy lavender.

Hakonechloa is one of the best ornamental grasses for shade. It forms a dense mass of arching stems variegated with gold and white that really brighten up a shady spot in the garden. All the stems arch downward in the same direction, creating a flowing effect. Hakonechloa is a dwarf ornamental grass, growing only about a foot and a half tall and a couple of feet wide.


Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Annuals vs. perennials"

Q. I am new to gardening and have just started reading your column. I want to put in a flower garden and want to know if I should plant annuals or perennials. Thank you for your advice.

A. I'll give you the pros and cons of annuals versus perennials. I like both types equally. Personally, in my garden I like a mixture of all sorts of flowering plants. My gardens are known as "mixed borders" and contain not only annuals and perennials, but also small trees, small shrubs, bulbs, groundcovers, and other types of plants. As a horticulturist, instead of a garden made up entirely of one type of plant, I enjoy the look of a mix of all types of plants. For you, it's a personal preference.

Annuals give you instant and constant color all season long. Although you have to plant them every year, I consider that a plus because it allows you to change your display from year to year to keep it interesting. Annual flowers begin blooming right away. They also will bloom the entire season instead of having a particular blooming season. Annuals are also some of the least expensive types of plants.

Daylily 'Always Afternoon'Perennials, by definition, are plants that come back year after year. You plant them once and the only yearly maintenance, if necessary and depending on the particular plant, is to cut them back at the end of the season, provide any winter protection, and divide them if and when the plant needs it. Each perennial has its own particular bloom period and that varies plant by plant. Perennials cost more than annuals, but they are a one-time investment.

It's up to you on the type of flower garden you put in, whether it is all annuals or all perennials or a combination of both or combined with other types of plants. I'd suggest looking at other gardens either in person or in books and magazines to get an idea of what you like yourself.

Click here to browse the annuals and perennials sections of Pernell Gerver's Online Store.

Click here to submit gardening questions for Pernell Gerver's online Q & A column.

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