Celebrating foliage that can be every bit as satisfying as blooms: heart shaped brunnera in lacy sterling, ajuga’s brocade of bronze-green, lamium from lime to silver, jagged hellebore in deep glossy green, coral bells and nasturtium in creamy swirls, chameleon plant with vivacious pink accent, painted fern's feathery mauve, dramatic elephant ears…more than can fit in one post!
Ferns carry such nostalgia. Their trend setting fronds have decorated fabrics, homes and gardens forever. The ostrich fern (Matteuccia strathiopteris) is one the most common ferns, and super easy to grow. They start as gourmet fiddleheads that are fascinating to watch uncurl and unfurl. In the fern’s young days, they remind me as much of an octopus as of an ostrich. In their full grown spendour, each fern clump resembles a bouquet of ostrich plumes, with fresh green fans tapering to the base crown. Ostrich ferns spread by underground roots (stolons) that develop new crowns. They can be invasive, especially in preferred conditions. However, if you have a shady corner in need of soft, feathery green that sways in breeze, then consider ostrich ferns.
Technical stuff – Ostrich fern/Matteuccia strathiopteris, hardy perennial to zone 1, height of about 48” and spread of about 36”, prefers moist, shade or part shade, can be invasive in ideal conditions.
Looking to add some sparkle to your shade garden? Foamflower (Tiarella) grows contentedly in part to full shade, with the perk of twinkling flowers in late spring. The blooms start as spikes of pearly baubles that open to a shimmering cloud of delicate starry white. Even better is the mounding foliage of lobed leaves with dramatic burgundy veins – a satisfying colour combination with various purple shaded coral bells (Heuchera). Foamflower has been crossed with coral bells to create foamy bells (Heucherella), which is also an enchanting option for shade. Being a woodland native, foamflower thrives in rich moist soil, but has adapted to drier conditions in my garden. Though it spreads by runners, it is not aggressive, so easy to snip back if you’d rather. This is also a useful perennial for hiding browning bulb foliage.
Technical stuff – Foamflower/Tiarella, hardy perennial to zone 3-5 depending on cultivar, height of 6-12”, spread of 12-24”, part to full shade, blooms late spring, most popular Tiarella cordifolia.
Stellar foliage, chartreuse blooms and being super easy to grow earns this perennial a spot on my cherished ‘garden staples’ list. Its magical leaves start as wee ruffled bundles that unfold to gently frilled scallops in luxuriant green with a soft velvet finish. Lady’s mantle is most refuted for capturing and holding dewdrops like glistening jewels (read more on that here). The mounding form softens any garden design, adding green calm and lushness. In late spring the lacy clusters of yellow green flowers are perfect for cutting. And since lady’s mantle can be a rampant self-seeder, you don’t feel guilty snipping away. Lady’s mantle is flexible in siting – in my garden I have it anywhere from full sun to shade, though it prefers and performs best in part shade.
Technical stuff – Lady’s mantle/Alchemilla, hardy perennial to zone 3, about 300 species, Alchemilla mollis being the most popular with height of 10”-18” and spread of 18”-24”, prefers part shade and moist soil but quite adaptable, blooms late spring into summer, can be invasive in preferred conditions if allowed to self-seed. Alpine lady’s mantle/Alchemilla alpina only grows 6”-8” tall and is a beauty for rock gardens.