Look who’s popping up in one of our shady corners, on cue, in mid October. This Ellen Hornig selection of Spotted Arum (named for the wonderful gardener, Pamela Harper) has stunning white marbled foliage edged in dark green throughout the winter, even when temperatures dip well below freezing. It does send up a flower spathe in spring, which will be followed by orange fruit that encases the seeds. The foliage is summer dormant, so you may forget that it’s in your garden until fall arrives when once again the new growth emerges.
Arum italicum ‘Pamela Harper’ is hardy in zones 5a-10. It prefers well drained soil in dappled shade. Foliage height is 6-10″ tall. Not especially fast growing for us in a northern climate, but the bulbous roots produce little offsets which can be lifted and divided to spread about your garden.
Do note that all parts of this plant are poisonous.
We are always looking for summer blooming perennials for shade, and here’s one you should consider. Many of us notice plants when their blossoms present themselves , and indeed Tricyrtis ‘Autumn Glow’ does captivate with its purple-blue orchid like flowers. I say that this form of Toad Lily deserves attention for its large and bold golden edged foliage. Ovate leaves grow to 6″ long and 3” wide and plants enjoy a rich, somewhat moist but well drained soil. Plants spread by stolons and clump up quite quickly, growing to 2’ tall and up to 3’ wide in dappled shade. ‘Autumn Glow’ is reliably winter hardy in zones 5-8.
Tricyrtis ‘Autumn Glow’ still showing off in early October
The flowers, born in sprays from late July into early October, are lovely as cut flowers and do attract butterflies. Pair Tricyrtis ‘Autumn Glow’ with ferns, such as Athyrium otophorum, or golden leaved Hosta for a nice shady vignette.
For the first few years that we grew Pineapple Lilies, we understood that the hardiness range was zones 7-10 for most forms. And that was okay. We would grow it in containers or dig the corms up after a killing frost.
Then we heard that some forms of Pineapple Lily were proving to be quite hardy, especially a purple leaved variety, Eucomis ‘Oakhurst‘. Not wanting to perpetuate “fake news”, we needed to be sure this was in fact true. Four years ago we planted several plants in our zone 6A garden in average, well drained soil where they get 6 hours of sun. ‘Oakhurst’ has not only returned dutifully each year, it has produced offsets as well as viable seed, which have germinated easily giving us many dark leaved progeny. Some folks are even reporting that is equally hardy in zone 5 in a protected spot.
Eucomis comosa ‘Oakhurst’s strap like leaves are an especially dark wine in cooler temperatures, and green up a bit during summer heat. In late July and early August. ‘Oakhurst’ produces spires of pinky white starry blossoms on 20-24″ stems. Seed heads remain attractive, and you can leave them for the seed to mature if you like, or remove them to send more energy to the bulbs below ground.
Mahonia x media ‘Charity’
What shrub has evergreen foliage resembling both holly and fern, blooms in late fall/early winter with a candelabra of fragrant primrose yellow flowers, is drought tolerant once established and not a favorite of marauding deer? Answer: Mahonia x media ‘Charity’, a hybrid of the two species, M. japonica and M. lomariifolia.
Ever since I saw a form of Mahonia blooming in winter in the Plymouth MA garden of my friend Susanne, I have wanted to have this plant in my garden. Certainly, this is pushing the hardiness limits in our neck of the woods, so I have been scouting for a very protected spot (thinking of a clearing in our now dense grove of Yellow Groove Bamboo). ‘Charity’ is hardy to 0 degrees F, but we usually dip below that for at least a day or two each winter.
Of course all of you who live in balmier zones 7-9 should consider giving this winter interest plant a try. It is a broadleaf evergreen, and so it would be prudent to choose a site with protection from winter winds and strong western sun. Plants develop a vase shape and usually grow to 5-7’ tall but can reach 10’ in mild climates, with a width of 3-6’. The flowers begin forming in late October, providing unexpected color when you need it most from late November into January. The multiple upright racemes of small flowers are magnets for bees, who may venture out on mild days. Rich blue fruit follow in spring, thus the common name Grape Holly, and these are relished by birds. Older foliage may take on reddish tones in late winter, and tarnished leaves should be pruned once fresh growth begins to unfurl.
Mahonia can be grown in full sun or dappled shade, but if grown in full sun it it may require a bit more watering in dry spells. I should also add that the foliage has rather unfriendly sharp edges, and can deliver a “look but don’t touch” message to passerby.
Do you grow any forms of Mahonia and how have they performed where you live? Please share your experience.
Magnolia macrophylla ashei foliage
There is no other way to say it: Ashe’s Big Leaf Magnolia is boldly beautiful. Folks often grow Magnolias for their early spring bloom, but you will want to seek out Magnolia macrophylla ashei for its large green foliage (up to 2+’ in length) which is undersided in a lovely shade of silvery celadon. (Floral designers take note: the foliage is gorgeous when cut and dried for winter arrangements.) Early summer flowers are sweetly fragrant with white petals accented with a red brush stroke and are large as well, up to 1′ across.
Magniolia macrophylla ashei, a Southeastern US native, forms a large shrub or small tree. It’s tropical appearance belies its hardiness as it is easily grown in zones 6-9 (with reports of it also growing in zone 5 with protection). The form ashei is a smaller tree than the straight species, and is often seen as a multistmemed shrub but can be pruned to form a small tree, growing to 15′ tall in its northern most range, and up to 25′ tall in milder climates. Big Leaf Magnolia prefers a sunny or partially shaded place in a border with rich evenly moist soil that has good drainage. Very windy spots are not recommended, as the gorgeous foliage will get damaged. Another positive note…Big Leaf Magnolia is deer resistant.
Mukdenia should be grown in more gardens and I will speculate why it is not; it has had the misfortune of having more than one Latin name, which gets confusing. For awhile the taxonomists declared it should be called Aceriphyllum rossii, which makes sense (Acer = maple) and the foliage does have exquisite rounded maple like leaves. The cultivar name has a translation that would be easy to remember as well, ‘Crimson Fans’.
I am sweet on its blossoms. In mid spring, Mukdenia produces sturdy 15-18 stems bearing rounded panicles of starry white flowers, just before and as the foliage appears, welcoming the bees into the garden. Mukdenia makes pleasant company for early blooming bulbs and Epimedium. The somewhat glossy, somewhat velvety, dark green foliage forms tight clumps to 12 tall, keeping their good looks all summer, then change vividly to brilliant shades of red when cool temperatures arrive in autumn. Weve found that Mukdenia grows best with afternoon shade in a soil that has good drainage yet is fertile and adequately moist. You will be pleased to know it is hardy in zones 4-8 and is also deer resistant.
Let us reacquaint you with an underutilized evergreen plant for cold climates.
Bold, colorful, architectural evergreen foliage. Dramatic creamy nodding lily flowers in early summer. Deer and rabbit resistant, it grows in poor and dry soils, and is perfectly hardy in zones 4-9. Why oh why don’t more landscapers and gardeners plant Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’?
Yucca ‘Color Guard’ provides northern gardeners with a brightly colored vertical accent for mixed border plantings. Plants attain a foliage height of 24″, and when ‘Color Guard’ chooses to bloom, those creamy white lilies are held on 4-5′ tall towering stalks. Hummingbirds almost swoon over the plants in pour garden. We have it planted in a hot dry bed, with Acanthus hungaricus, Crambe maritima Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ and dwarf evergreens.
Persicaria polymorpha at dusk, photo by Paul Clancy
Mention the name Persicaria in horticulture circles, and you may raise a few eyebrows. Persicaria has a very bad cousin: Polygonum cuspidatum, commonly known as Japanese Knotweed or Running Bamboo (but it is not a bamboo!), and this cousin can spread DREADFULLY. But please read on…
Persicaria polymorpha is commonly called Giant Fleece Flower, and this common name describes it well. Within a few seasons, Persicaria polymorpha will reach 5′, maybe 6′ tall and form imposing clumps, increasing in width each season to 6′ or more. Talk about taking up space! In June and July, white Astilbe like plumes adorn the plant and the blooms seem to last and last. This is a great plant for a long distance view (think about its size and white color) and is memorable when viewed in the early evening light.
Here are the facts: Giant Fleece Flower likes average soil, or moist soil, or even very dry soil once established. It loves full sun but will grow in partial shade. It is a bold perennial and and adds contrast to the finer textured plants in your garden. Like Baptisia, it is one of the first herbaceous plants to attain good height in the spring. It is deer resistant and long lived. I have yet to discover seedlings about, although it can be propagated by seed. Persicaria polymorpha is hardy in zones 2b-9. (updated hardiness from commenter’s notes.)
Consider Persicaria polymorpha when you are in need of a big, bold, hardy, long blooming, deer resistant plant.
Looking for a bold foliage plant that is cold hardy through zone 5, deer resistant and is one of the first to show signs of life in the spring? Meet this form of Variegated Russian Comfrey, a naturally occurring hybrid of S. officinale x S. asperum. ‘Axminster Gold’ will form 18-24″ tall robust clumps of 14″ creamy yellow edged lanceolate leaves, which grow 2-3′ wide. In late spring and early summer, pink and lavender “bluebell-like” flowers will bloom on nodding 4′ stems, attracting a myriad of butterflies. Once the blooming period is over, do remove the aging stalks to promote fresh foliar growth. Last summer we saw ‘Axminster Gold’ in a garden paired with Periscaria ‘Firetails’, and want to duplicate this combination.
Grow ‘Axminster Gold’ in full sun or partial shade in a soil that is rich and somewhat moisture retentive. ‘Axminster Gold’ can be quite vigorous once established in the garden but is somewhat scarce in the trade due to propagating difficulty. For some reason plants propagated from root cuttings will be solid green , so divisions must be taken from the central crown in order to ensure you’ll be getting the gold variegation.
A wintry mix of weather blew into town this week, but Ligularia ‘Last Dance’ didn’t want the waltz to end. This recent introduction from Itsaul Plants looked smart all season with glossy bronze purple round foliage accented by slightly pointed lobes. To add Halloween contrast, it sent forth bright yellow composite flowers in October and is still blooming away as of 11/14. Hardy and tropical looking…hmm. First disclaimer…it did winter over in our zone 6 garden last year, but during the coldest period we were blanketed with snow. Ligularia x ‘Last Dance’ is a hybrid of Ligularia (Farfugium) hiberniflora and Farfugium japonicum, two species from Japan and Taiwan, but the Farfugium japonicum can’t be trusted in zones colder than 7.
Ligularia ‘Last Dance’ is being marketed with plant tags saying it is hardy into zone 4. I’m thinking this is a stretch. Reports from commercial growers say it is growing and wintering in Zeeland, Michigan (Zone 6) and Philadelphia (Zone 7). If you do want to grow this for its end of the season burst of color, here is the data: Foliage height is about 12″ high, and can grow to 2-3′ wide. Yellow blossoms are held on 1-2′ stems. It does well in sun or partial shade in a moist soil, but seems as happy in average conditions.
I think this season I will put down a winter mulch to protect my investment. Should it prove not to be zone 6 hardy, I say it should get 100 points for being a stunning container plant. Would love to hear from anyone else who is growing Ligularia ‘Last Dance’.