Woody Plants for Shade Part 1

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

Calycanthus raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’ (Native Hybrid Sweetshrub) at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens

For years, my customers have been asking for woody plants for shade—trees, shrubs, and vines—in addition to the perennials I sell.  Last year I found a wholesale woody plant nursery with the quality and selection I needed to be able to offer woody plants at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.   I put together two offerings in 2010 and have just sent out my first 2011 list.  To view the catalogue, click here.   However, I thought my blog readers who are not customers might be interested in learning about the woody plants that I would recommend they add to their shade gardens.  And doing an article allows me to add more information and explain why I chose the plants I included so customers might be interested also.

Included in my offering are one tree, three camellias, four other shrubs, and one vine.  Of the nine plants I have chosen, five are native.  Please read my article My Thanksgiving Oak Forest to see why I think planting native plants is crucial to our environment.  My article New Native Shade Perennials for 2011 explains why I think native cultivars and hybrids are valuable native plants.

Six of the plants I have chosen are evergreen or semi-evergreen, and four bloom in the off season: fall, winter, or very early spring.   This reflects  my desire to see gardeners expand their gardens’ season beyond spring and summer to become a year round paradise for them to enjoy.  With that introduction, here are the plants I am highlighting:

Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ (Native Southern Magnolia)

‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ is an extremely cold hardy southern magnolia tree perfect for our area (southeastern Pennsylvania, U.S.).  It is said to be even hardier than ‘Edith Bogue’, which I have in my garden and came through our difficult winter in pristine condition.  It grows to 35’ tall at maturity and thrives in sun to partial shade.  The huge fragrant white flowers are beautifully displayed against the glossy dark evergreen leaves in June and July.  The rusty undersides of the leaves are particularly ornamental in this cultivar: I couldn’t take my eyes off it when I saw it on a local garden tour.

The flower of ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ native southern magnolia

Southern magnolia is native from Maryland south.  ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ is a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Gold Medal Plant, click  here to see why, and a Missouri Botanical Garden Plant of Merit (photos courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder), click here for details.

Camellia x ‘April Blush’ (Spring-blooming Hardy Camellia)

I choose three hardy camellias, all with different characteristics, for their off season flowers and evergreen leaves.  Camellia x ‘April Blush’ is a spring-blooming hardy camellia with gorgeous plump buds opening to semi-double blush-pink flowers in April and May.  It has glossy dark evergreen leaves, which come through the winter unscathed.  It is 5’ tall and grows in part to full shade.  This is the cultivar that I have in my garden, and it is fully cold hardy in our area.

‘April Blush’ spring-blooming hardy camellia coming into bloom in my garden

Camellia x ‘Spring’s Promise’ (Spring-blooming Hardy Camellia)

Camellia x ‘Spring’s Promise’ is a very early spring-blooming hardy camellia that also flowers in the fall for two seasons of interest.  Its single coral-red flowers appear in  March and April displayed beautifully by its glossy dark evergreen leaves.  It was in full bloom in Charles Cresson’s garden during our March 3 winter interest seminar, see Winter Interest Seminars for an additional photo, and Charles highly recommends it.  It is 5’ tall, grows in part to full shade, and is fully hardy in our area.

Camellia x ‘Winter’s Snowman’ (Fall-blooming Hardy Camellia)

Camellia x ‘Winter’s Snowman’ is a fall-blooming hardy camellia.  Its semi-double, anemone form white flowers glow when displayed against its glossy evergreen leaves in November and December.  ‘Winter’s Snowman’ is a vigorous plant with a narrow upright habit.  It grows to 6’ tall, in part to full shade and is fully hardy in our area.  This is another of Charles Cresson’s favorites.

‘Winter’s Snowman’ in the Cresson garden last fall

For more information on fall-blooming hardy camellias, click here to read my article Fall-blooming Camellias Part 1, and here to read Fall-blooming Camellias Part 2.

Calycanthus raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’ (Native Hybrid Sweetshrub)

I have chosen four other shrubs for their outstanding ornamental qualities.  Calycanthus raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’ is a hybrid between our eastern U.S. native and an Asian sweetshrub and was introduced by the J.C. Raulston Arboretum in North Carolina.  It has breathtaking large wine-red flowers (see photos at the top and above) set off beautifully by the smooth bright green leaves with yellow fall color.   I placed this shrub at the entrance to my woodland garden and my customers are entranced by it as am I.   It grows to 8’ tall and 5’ wide in part to full shade.

‘Hartlage Wine’ native hybrid sweetshrub at the entrance to my woodland garden with pulmonaria, epimedium, and blue hosta

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ (Variegated Winter Daphne)

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’, variegated winter daphne, has rose-pink buds opening to extremely fragrant clusters of pale pink flowers in early spring.  Its fine-textured, evergreen leaves are delicately edged in cream.  It grows to 4’ tall and wide in part to full shade.  It should be protected from winter sun and wind by planting it in a sheltered southeastern-facing location.  This is the daphne in my terrace garden that my customers have been asking about for almost 20 years because it perfumes that whole nursery when it blooms!  I am re-planting this year because my very large specimens were killed by falling white pine branches last winter.  Daphnes do not like to be disturbed once planted.

Winter daphne in my garden before the pine branches fell

Fothergilla gardenii (Native Dwarf Fothergilla)

Fothergilla gardenii, native dwarf fothergilla, has fragrant white bottlebrush flowers in April and May.  Its blue-green leaves turn lovely shades of yellow, orange, and red in the fall (see photo below).  It grows to 3’ tall and wide, making it an excellent shrub for small gardens and spaces.  It will grow in any light conditions from full sun to full shade and is wet site tolerant.  It is native to the southeastern US.  Missouri Botanical Garden has chosen dwarf fothergilla as a Plant of Merit (photos courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder), for details click here.

Fall color of native dwarf fothergilla

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Pee Wee’ (Native Dwarf Oakleaf Hydrangea) photo courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Pee Wee’ produces large, long-lasting, upright pyramids of white flowers in June and July, changing to pink as they age and remaining ornamental into winter.  It is prized for its bold-textured leaves with burgundy-red fall color and cinnamon-colored exfoliating bark.  Walnut tolerant and native to the southeastern US, at 3′ tall it is the perfect native shrub for smaller spaces and smaller gardens.  It grows in any light from full sun to full shade.  If I could have only one shrub for shade, oakleaf hydrangea would be it.

Native dwarf oakleaf hydrangea with native ginger in the woodland at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens

The full size oakleaf hydrangea is a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Gold Medal Plant, for details click here.

Gelsemium sempervirens ‘Margarita’ (Native Carolina Jessamine) photos above and below courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder

Gelsemium sempervirens ‘Margarita’ blooms with copious fragrant, bright yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers in April and May.  The lustrous, dark green leaves are semi-evergreen and provide winter interest.  It is native to the southeastern U.S. and reaches 15’ at maturity in full sun to part shade.  I grow this vine on a lattice trellis along my fence line in part shade and its beauty never fails to provoke comments.  It is a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Gold Medal Plant, for details click here.

Native Carolina jessamine showing off its abundance of fragrant yellow flowers

I hope I have convinced you that these plants would be excellent additions to your shade garden.  If you are a customer, you have until April 7 to place an order by clicking here.  If not, now you have some plants to ask for at your local independent nursery.

Please leave a comment/reply telling me what other woody plants for shade I might want to offer in the future and describing your experience with them.


Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.), click here.

Nursery Happenings: My next nursery event is Bulb and Native Wildflower Day on Saturday, April 9, from 10 am to 2 pm.  My next open house sale features early spring-blooming shade plants and is Saturday, April 16, from 10 am to 3 pm.  For details and directions, click here.

46 Responses to “Woody Plants for Shade Part 1”

  1. You convinced me. I have the hyudrangea already, and had fothergilla in my last garden, an amazing plant. I will certainly look for the rest of the plants, great recomendations.

  2. You have a wonderful selection of shade lovers in your post. I am unfamiliar with Gelsemium though. It looks like a really nice plant. You woodland looks like a peaceful place to be.

    • Donna, Gelsemium appeared on the market around here about five years ago, and I have been growing it since. It is fully hardy and glorious in the mid-Atlantic, not sure about Niagara Falls. When are you coming to see my woodland? Carolyn

  3. Stunning photos and beautiful choices, Carolyn. Happy April gardening 🙂

  4. Fabulous post! I love all your choices. I am in the process of adding more woody plants to my woodland garden and you highlight some very good choices. My sweet shrub is just about to bloom. I can’t wait until its heavenly aroma lingers in the garden.

    • Karin, Unfortunately, ‘Hartlage Wine’, though much showier than the native sweetshrub, is scentless like its Asian parent. Don’t forget to check the zone for any plants I recommended. I decided not to include that information in the post because my readers are from such different parts of the country. All the plants are excellent in the mid-Atlantic; however, several originate from you neck of the woods. Carolyn

  5. I have the fothergilla and hydrangea and have always wanted the sweetshrub…not had much luck with it but I a not beaten… I hope to get some in the garden yet…

    • Donna, This sweetshrub is not the totally native variety so maybe you would have better luck if you have not been successful with the native. I am planting the native this spring, but have this native hybrid and the Asian variety, both of which thrive in full shade. Carolyn

  6. Sweet Bay Says:

    This is an outstanding collection.

  7. You’ve got some beautiful color for brightening up shady areas. The pee wee hydrangea especially caught my eye. I added one to the shadiest part of my garden and I’m so curious to see how well it does. Have a great weekend!

  8. Great post. Thanks so much for writing such informative posts about the shade too. They are so important for so many of us and they are SO informative.

  9. I didn’t know carolina jessamine grew that far north! It’s one of my favorite plants from my South Carolina garden. I also thought sweetshrub needed moist soil but I see your growing it with epimediums, those warriors of drought.

    • I have had Carolina jessamine in my garden for about five years and it thrives–covered with flowers. This hybrid sweetshrub is planted at the very dry base of a huge London plane tree and also thrives. Maybe the native needs moist soil, but not this hybrid or the Asian sweetshrub. Carolyn

  10. Carolyn, as a former shade gardener I loved this post. So often it’s difficult to find shade perennials, let alone taller trees and shrubs that will do well as typically it’s the trees that are creating the shade so no one seems overly concerned with finding shade tolerant trees. I’m sure your customers will be thrilled.

    • Marguerite, Even though the mid-Atlantic is kind of a gardening mecca, it is difficult to find quality woody plants for shade that are a reasonable price and a size that the home gardener can manage. I am thrilled to be able to help my customers with this aspect of their shade garden. Carolyn

  11. OOh I love the sweetshrub, I’ll have to check its zone. Some nice choices Carolyn, most would not do well in my zone but I do have the fothergilla and a hydrangea. I have found that quite a lot of natives do well near walnut trees and I can prove it. My garden has three walnuts and the natives are doing quite well in their presence (not the mayapples tho’ dead).

  12. Carolyn, All your choices are lovely. I am a great fan of hydrangea quercifolia and would grow it just for the leaves. One of my favourite shrubs for shade is Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ – pale pink flowers in very early Spring on an elegant upright evergreen plant, with a scent that lifts the spirits and fills the garden. If it’s hardy for you, I’d highly recommend it.

    • Jill, The leaves on oakleaf hydrangea are spectacular not just for their fall color but also for their shape and texture. I goggled your daphne, but I don’t think it’s hardy here. It looks a lot like D. odora, which also has an amazing fragrance. Carolyn

  13. gardeningasylum Says:

    Very jealous you can grow those winter hardy camellias and the daphne. Here in CT I grow c. sasanquas in pots that shelter inside for the winter, dreaming of the day they can be planted in ground farther south…

  14. Carolyn, I have been on a quest to find a Magnolia that will flower in our garden, I love the Bracken’s Brown Beauty which you have shown us today. Our Winter which is seldom below minus 10c would probably be ok, I think it is the Summer that is the problem where the temps can be rather cool, even Stellata wont flower, although it does a couple of miles into the city centre. Loved all of your plants today.

    • Alistair, I didn’t realize there was a problem with camellias not blooming where it was cool in the summer. I love camellias and have about as many as my garden will hold. Unfortunately it is the tree-size varieties that I especially like. Carolyn

  15. Looking at this list, one would think you to be a Southern girl at heart.

  16. I miss many of these shrubs. Used to have Fothergilla and Oak Leaf Hydrangea when we lived in Maryland. Fothergilla is sold here in MN but does not do well. Can’t beat the three seasons of interest it provides (in the right location).

  17. My favorite M. grandiflora, it’s so elegant! Good luck with next event on Saturday! Would you post abiout it?

    • Lula, I have a post ready to go with photos of some of the native plants I am offering on Saturday. I am just waiting for my woody plant offer to expire tomorrow at noon. Magnolia grandiflora is a wonderful plant. I am buying two for my own garden. Carolyn

  18. I did not know that jasmine could grow in full shade. That inspires me to get some for a problem area in my yard.

    I have always loved oakleaf hydrangeas. I wonder if they would thrive under a pine thicket?

    • Cheri, I said full sun to part shade on the jessamine. I grow it in part shade but the area is very open. As for the hydrangea, I am growing that in full shade, but it is under a grove of trees that are extremely tall so it gets dappled light. I really don’t have many beds under evergreens so it is difficult to advise on those conditions. I do know that the daphne works, in fact prefers, those conditions. Carolyn

  19. Boy I’d love to see your garden and all the natives. My garden is mostly shade too so I’m always interested in what you have to share. I have that Ralstonii sweetshrub in my garden. I’ve had it two years now and while it leafs out it has never bloomed. Any tips? Maybe it just needs a settle in time.

    • Tina, Mine was pretty big when I bought it and flowered the first year so I am not sure what to say. It is planted very close to the base of a very old and tall London plane tree so it gets a lot of dappled light. Its Asian parent is planted in deep shade and is covered with flowers every year. Carolyn

  20. Hello Carolyn
    Have just been going through our Camellias and have dug up one which has never flowered in 5 years with a view to ditching it.Then F checked up and found it was Winter’s Snowman. It was planted under mature Larch, so some shade, but is quite leggy, with poor leaf colour – others nearby are fine and flowering. So I wondered whether yours has continued to flower well, and if you think it would cope with the deep/dense shade of conifers. Or is yours just in deep shade beneath mature big deciduous trees? Hope that the Feb 2014 snow has/is/melted,

  21. […] those who share my questions, here are two sites that provided some information and advice: Carolyn’s Shade Gardens, and Growing a Greener […]

  22. Elaine Perry Says:

    I have a winter daphne which I guess adapted to half a day in the sun and facing northwest but is near the house. Almost lost the flowers as the temps dipped but alas it fought and won and the aromatic perfume is well worth every effort; it was beautiful this spring. New leaves emerging and this is HARD to find – love to have another one.

  23. I am reading conyradicting info about Gelsemium Margarita s fragrance. Some say some Gelsemiums like Rankin s are not scented, others say Margarita though cold hardier is only slightly fragrant while others state Margarita is intensely fragrant, what I am looking for. I got one Gelsemium from England but it dies to the ground in winter in my 7B (usual lowest 10F) garden in South East Bulgaria near Turkey and it regrows but cannot get to flowering. IF I AM CINVINCED THE SCENT OF MARGARITA IS INTENSE (WAFTING?) I WILLTRY GETTING IT FROM AMERICA. What about Japanese Mahonia scent? What is it like? Is it wafting? Caroline, do you offer it for sale? Thank you

    • I have never noticed a scent from ‘Margarita’, but then I haven’t gone up close and smelled it. All sources say it is fragrant. I am afraid that I do not focus on fragrance as much as you do. I sometimes sell woody plants to my local customers, but I don’t ship them even in the US.

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