Archive for evergreen groundcovers for shade

Fall-blooming Hardy Cyclamen

Posted in bulbs for shade, evergreen, Fall, Fall Color, groundcover, Shade Gardening, Shade Perennials, winter interest with tags , , , , on October 17, 2012 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

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.

Fall-blooming hardy cyclamen, C. hederifolium,  used as a groundcover under Hosta ‘Blue Angel’ 11/13/10.

My last post on hardy begonias sparked such interest and comments that I thought I would profile another unusual star performer for fall.  Like the begonia, I learned about hardy cyclamen at a course I took at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, this one on bulbs in 1995.   And just like the begonia, I couldn’t believe that there was a plant that looked like my florist cyclamen house plant but grew outside and came back every year.  I talked about hardy cyclamen in my post on More Flowering Wintergreen Groundcovers for Shade, but I want to profile it in more detail here and include more photos.

Fall-blooming hardy cyclamen

There are several species of hardy cyclamen, but the two that are usually available are fall-blooming Cyclamen hederifolium and spring-blooming Cyclamen coum.  I have them both and love them, but if you are just starting out, the fall-blooming variety is much easier to grow.  Cyclamen coum requires the kind of excellent drainage rarely found in mid-Atlantic gardens.  I grow mine most successfully in my rock garden and also less abundantly between tree roots.

Hardy cyclamen begins to bloom in the fall before its leaves re-emerge from summer dormancy.

The life cycle of hardy cyclamen is unusual.  I guess you could say it begins in September when dozens of small pink flowers begin to bloom before the leaves emerge.  Each flower is on a separate 4 ” stem and looks just like a miniature florist cyclamen flower with gorgeous reflexed petals.  The flowers continue to be produced abundantly in succession through out the months of September and October and sometimes for parts of August and November too.  They are said to be fragrant, but I have never noticed a scent.

I would grow hardy cyclamen just for the flowers, but the leaves are spectacular.  They emerge slowly as the flowers are blooming in late September and take several weeks to reach their full size.  “Variable” is an understatement to describe their wonderful shapes, patterns, and colors.  They can be round to lance-shaped, lobed or entire, serrated or smooth edged, dark green to silver.  And the patterns on the leaves are indescribable, I will just have to show you….


Now that you have seen how gorgeous the leaves are, you will be able to truly appreciate another of their wonderful qualities: they stay green and fresh all winter!  The photos above were taken in November but I could just as easily have captured their glory in March.  Instead of going dormant in the winter like most of our plants, hardy cyclamen goes dormant for a few months during the summer.

White hardy cyclamen, C. hederifolium ‘Album’

There is a lovely white cultivar of fall-blooming hardy cyclamen called ‘Album’.  Some of mine have pure white flowers and others have white with a pink blotch.  It is just as hardy as the parent species and seeds around my garden readily.

Hardy cyclamen growing between roots at the base of  tree.

Hardy cyclamen is native to western Turkey, eastern Europe, including Albania, Bulgaria, and the Balkans, and southern Europe, including France, Italy, and Greece.  It is  a woodland plant that requires good drainage and shade.  In fact it thrives on summer drought in dry shade.  Although it likes to grow between tree roots and rocks, I have success with it in any shaded eastern facing, dry location.  As you can see from the photo below, my plants seed prolifically and eventually fill in to make a solid mat of groundcover.

Seedlings emerging in a new location across from an established patch with no help from me.  I have a feeling that ants move the seeds around.

Hardy cyclamen grows from a corm, which reportedly can reach the size of a dinner plate when old.  There are growing points all over the top of the corm.  If you try starting the plant this way, plant the corms with no more than 1″ of soil on top plus a very light mulch of leaf litter.  I have never done this because I have read many times that dried corms do not establish well and are often collected from the wild.  I started all my patches from established potted plants and that is how I sell hardy cyclamen at my nursery.  Look for it in my 2013 Snowdrop Catalogue.

The top of corms (about 2 1/2″ wide) of hardy cyclamen with the leaves starting to emerge.  The corms are spherical when younger.

The bottom of the corms—this side down.

The hardiness zone information for hardy cyclamen is inconsistent.  Some sources say USDA zones 7 to 9.  The Missouri Botanical Garden plant finder lists it for zones 5 to 9, while other sources say it grows successfully in upstate NY in zone 4.  You will just have to try it.  For all my UK readers, hardy cyclamen received an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Carolyn

P.S.  When I pushed the Publish button, I found out that this is my hundredth post—kind of exciting!!!

Nursery Happenings:  Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is done for the fall.  Thanks for a great year.  See you in spring 2013.

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More Flowering Wintergreen Ground Covers for Shade

Posted in evergreen, Fall, groundcover, Shade Perennials, winter interest with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2011 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

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.

‘Album’ fall blooming hardy cyclamen, C. hederifolium ‘Album’, has white flowers, shown here blooming before the leaves on September 28, 2011, and spreads to form a ground cover that stays green through the winter.

In my article Flowering Wintergreen Ground Covers for Shade, I explained that I treasure evergreen ground covers that are presentable through winter because, here in the mid-Atlantic (US), we go through long periods of winter weather that are just plain cold without the compensation or covering of snow when any patch of green is prized.  Ground covers, especially those that maintain a presence through winter, make a garden look mature and cut down on the labor of weeding and the expense of mulch. Yes, you can plant the evergreen  triumvirate of vinca, ivy, and pachysandra.  But I want more: beautiful flowers and foliage too.  Just like the four in my original article, all four of the shady ground covers described below have prominent places at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.

‘Shell Pink’ spotted dead nettle (I prefer to call it lamium), Lamium maculatum ‘Shell Pink’, still blooming at the end of November 2010.

Lamium ‘Shell Pink’ is a versatile wintergreen ground cover with gorgeous flowers from April to November.  It is the only lamium cultivar that blooms this long–all the others have a season of bloom in the spring.  I grow mine under the shade of a white pine (photo above and below) and also in a sunny area in front of my peonies.  ‘Shell Pink’s’ leaves stay neat and tidy all winter.

The first flush of blooms on ‘Shell Pink’ lamium in early April 2011.

Lamium maculatum is native to Europe and temperate Asia.  It quickly creeps to form 4 to 8″ tall patches of wintergreen leaves even in open full shade in zones 3 to 8.  It doesn’t seem to care if the soil is moist or dry but likes to be well-drained.  On ‘Shell Pink’, the first flush of flower buds emerges in early April to be followed by successive waves of blooms into November.  It fills in around surrounding plants without overwhelming them.  My deer have never touched it.  Lamium also makes a great container plant and overwinters outside in pots.  The only other cultivar I recommend is ‘Purple Dragon’ with bright purple flowers and solid silver leaves (photo below).

Although ‘Purple Dragon’ lamium only blooms in the spring, it’s silver leaves are quite ornamental in their own right.  Photo December 2010.

In anticipation of comments telling me that lamium is “invasive”, let me say three things.  First, it is a ground cover so it is supposed to spread and cover large areas.  A plant isn’t invasive because it spreads too much—the gardener has just planted it in the wrong place.  To me, it’s invasive if you can’t remove it when you want to either because you can never get it all (goutweed, lesser celandine) or it seeds so prolifically that you can’t remove all the seedlings (garlic mustard).  Second, the straight species, Lamium maculatum, may be invasive so don’t plant it.  Third, many times when gardeners say this they are talking about yellow archangel, Lamiastrum galeobdolon, a plant with yellow flowers and silver leaves that is invasive.  Lamiums don’t have yellow flowers.  Thanks for listening!

Fall-blooming hardy cyclamen, C. hederifolium, in full bloom in late October 2010.

Although spring-blooming hardy cyclamen, C. coum, is finicky and hard to grow, fall-blooming hardy cyclamen will thrive in most shady locations as long as it is well-drained.  The flowers start to bloom in September and October before the leaves break dormancy.  Then its gorgeous, intricately patterned wintergreen leaves emerge and remain pristine all winter until they go dormant in early summer.  Mine happily naturalize in east-facing shady locations.

Cyclamen hederifoliumImagine large patches of this fall-blooming hardy cyclamen foliage all through winter–absolutely stunning!  Photo in late November 2010.

Hardy cyclamen is native to wooded areas and rocky hillsides of southern Europe and Turkey.  It forms 4 to 6″ tall mats of leaves, which remain highly ornamental through winter in zones 5 to 9.  It is very tolerant of soil conditions as long as it is well-drained and, once established,  grows well in full dry shade.  My deer leave it alone.


‘Pictum’ Italian arum, Arum italicum ‘Pictum’, used as a ground cover around hellebores and hostas along my front walk so I can admire it all winter.  Photo October 20, 2011.


This is what happens to Italian arum during really cold weather.  No matter how many times I have witnessed it, I am always amazed when it stands back up and looks as if nothing has happened.  Photo December 2010.

I have featured Italian arum photos on my blog many times but that’s because I think it is such a great plant.  The leaves emerge in September and remain immaculate through the winter.  If the weather is really cold, it wilts to the ground (see photo above), only to perk up again as soon as temperatures recover.  I have it planted by my front walk so I can enjoy its spotless, highly ornamental leaves all winter.  I also use it to cover areas where I cut back ratty hostas in the fall (see my article Hostas for Fall).  In May and June, it blooms with a pale green hood-like spathe covering a yellow spadix like our native jack-in-the-pulpit.  Bright orange berries appear in summer.  Several wonderful cultivars are available, including ‘Gold Rush’, which emerges in the spring with golden venation, and ‘Tiny Tot’, a miniature.

‘Gold Rush’ Italian arum in November 2010.  Italian arum cultivars have superior markings.

Arum italicum 'Tiny Tot'/'Tiny Tot' Italian Arum‘Tiny Tot’ Italian arum in February of 2009.

Italian arum is native to Europe.  It grows 12 to 18″ tall in zones 6 to 9.  It thrives in any soil in almost full sun to full shade and is tolerant of drought.  Deer do not bother it.  In the 20 years that I have been growing it, it has spread politely to other areas of my garden, but occasionally I have heard that it can become an aggressive spreader.  Lyn from The Amateur Weeder reports that it is invasive in Australia.  Please consult local experts to see if there is a problem where you garden.


‘Sulphureum’ epimedium, E. x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’, used as a ground cover in front of hardy begonia, B. grandis.  Photo October 20, 2011.

I love epimediums.  In fact, I love them so much that they are one of the few plants I allow myself to collect with 30 varieties in my garden.  Their small but copious spring flowers are beautiful and unusual coming in white, pink, yellow, orange, red,  purple, and bicolors.  I also prize their leaves which are often shiny and wing-shaped, sporting spiky edges or colored splotches or lovely venation.  Many epimediums are deciduous and clump-forming.  In this article, I want to profile a few that have wintergreen leaves and spread to make a ground cover.

The fastest growing epimedium by far is ‘Sulphureum’.  It spreads at a medium rate to form a large patch (see photo above).  Its two-tone yellow flowers  look like miniature daffodils in early April.

E. x rubrum is the second fastest spreader.  It’s leaves are similar to ‘Sulphureum’.  If you can find the cultivar ‘Sweetheart’, pictured above, it has gorgeous flowers.  I sell a good selection of epimediums at my nursery, but I get my unusual epimediums from the Massachusetts nursery, Garden Vision Epimediums (email epimediums@earthlink.net).  They have hundreds of varieties.

‘Frohnleiten’ epimedium, E. x perralchicum ‘Frohnleiten’, is also a fairly quick spreader .  It has gorgeous shiny leaves with an intricate vein pattern and produces bright, sulfur yellow flowers in the spring.

‘Shrimp Girl’ epimedium, E. alpinum ‘Shrimp Girl’, is also a good spreader in my garden, here used as a ground cover in front of ferns and hostas.

The lovely two-tone flowers of ‘Shrimp Girl’ in spring.


I am including ‘Kaguyahime’ epimedium even though it spreads fairly slowly so that you can see how beautiful and unusual the leaves of wintergreen epimediums can be.

Epimediums are native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa.  They reach 6 to 12″ tall, depending on the cultivar, and flower in April.  They grow in part to full shade and can take dry soil once established.  Their creeping roots are impenetrable to weeds.  I cut back all the remaining old foliage in March once I see the new flowers and leaves starting to emerge.  When choosing an epimedium for ground cover, select spreading varieties that have evergreen or semi-evergreen leaves.


Next spring when you are looking for ground covers, I hope you will consider one of the four described above.  In the meantime, leave a comment with the name of your favorite wintergreen ground cover for shade.  In my first article, I profiled golden groundsel, creeping phlox, dwarf sweetbox, and hybrid hellebores as ground covers.  If you want to read about them, click here.

Carolyn

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.) or to subscribe to my blog, just click here.


Nursery Happenings: The nursery is closed for the year.  Look for the snowdrop catalogue (snowdrops are available mail order) in January 2012 and an exciting new hellebore offering in February 2012.  If you are within visiting distance and would like to receive catalogues and information about customer events, please send your full name and phone number to carolynsshadegardens@verizon.net.  Subscribing to my blog does not sign you up to receive this information.

Flowering Wintergreen Ground Covers for Shade

Posted in evergreen, groundcover, Shade Perennials with tags , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2011 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

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.

golden groundsel as groundcover in my woodland in spring

Here in the mid-Atlantic (US), we go through long periods of winter weather that are just plain cold without the compensation or covering of snow.  Any patches of exposed ground look barren and downright ugly.  That is why, during this time of year, I treasure any little patch of green, any ground cover that is presentable through the winter.  Yes, I have the usual evergreen  triumvirate of vinca, ivy, and pachysandra.  I can even find good things to say about each of them.  But I want more: native plants, deer resistance, tolerance of dry shade, fragrance, abundant flowers, drought tolerance, and beautiful foliage.  All four of the shady ground covers described below have a majority of these desirable characteristics.

fragrant flowers of native golden groundsel

Our native golden groundsel, Senecio aureus, has to be my favorite all time ground cover.  It spreads as fast and aggressively as any of the reigning three.  It is not a plant to be mingled into your perennial beds: it is a plant for the bare patch—wet, dry, sunny, shady, infertile, clay—where nothing else grows.  Put it behind the garage, around the base of a tree with surface roots, along the bottom of a fence, or in your “hell strip” by the road.  You will be rewarded with evergreen leaves through winter and an abundance of  fragrant flowers suitable for arrangements.

winter foliage of golden groundsel

Golden groundsel is native to meadows and woods of the eastern half of the US.  It quickly creeps to form large, 6″ tall patches of wintergreen leaves even in full dry shade.  In spring, buds emerge bright maroon-purple opening to cheery yellow, 2′ tall fragrant flowers in May.  The new leaves, which appear after the flowers, are large and round, providing a bold texture (see photo at top).  My deer have never touched it.

creeping phlox ‘Bruce’s White’ in my woodland in spring

The other native I highly recommend for wintergreen shady ground cover is creeping phlox, Phlox stolonifera.  Not as aggressive as golden groundsel, creeping phlox can be mingled in your perennial beds or used alone under shrubs and trees.  It moves at a medium rate to fill in around surrounding plants without overwhelming them.  Then, from March into May, it is covered with blue, pink, white, or purple flowers.

creeping phlox with foamflower (Longwood Gardens)

winter foliage of creeping phlox

Creeping phlox is native to wooded areas of the eastern US.  The 2 to 3″ tall mat-forming leaves are completely covered by 8″ tall flowers in spring.  It is very tolerant of soil conditions and, once established,  grows well in full dry shade.  My deer leave it alone.  As an added benefit, it comes in white, ‘Bruce’s White’ (photo above), pink, ‘Home Fires’ or ‘Pink Ridge’, pale lavender-blue, ‘Blue Ridge’, or purple, ‘Sherwood Purple’ or ‘Fran’s Purple’.  The purple cultivars are the most vigorous, and I think the most beautiful.

beautiful colors of creeping phlox

For a refined and elegant, truly evergreen ground cover, I recommend dwarf sweetbox, Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis.  Technically a small shrub, dwarf sweetbox slowly creeps by means of underground stolons to form a 4′ patch over 10 years.  But it is well worth the wait—or if you are impatient, planting it close together—because in February its tiny white flowers produce the most heavenly fragrance for your winter enjoyment.  My patch perfumes my whole garden.

dwarf sweetbox in winter as ground cover under a dogwood

Dwarf sweetbox is native to the western Himalayas in China.  Its stems grow to 18″ with narrow, glossy evergreen leaves and creamy white, extremely fragrant flowers in February in the mid-Atlantic.  It thrives in average soil and part to full shade and, once established, is tolerant of drought.  Deer do not bother it.  It tends to be pricey so I planted very small plants which periodically needed to be poked back into the ground as it roots right below the soil surface.

dwarf sweetbox flowers getting ready to bloom

The final plant that has the characteristics I want in shady wintergreen ground covers is hybrid hellebore, Helleborus x hybridus.  My customers are always asking me what to do with the multitude of seedlings produced by their hybrid hellebores, and here is the answer: move them to a place where you need ground cover.  In three years, you will have 2′ wide plants covered with huge, beautiful flowers from February to May and pristine foliage that remains green all winter—for free!  I have done this under my Kousa dogwood and throughout my woodland, and the result is spectacular.

hybrid hellebores in winter as ground cover under Kousa dogwood

Hybrid hellebores have many different parents mainly native to eastern Europe.  Their wintergreen leaves are 2′ tall and remain ornamental until new leaves appear in spring.  Each plant produces a multitude of large, cup-shaped nodding flowers in many colors ranging from dark purple to pink to white to green with doubles, spots, and picotee edges quite common.  They grow anywhere in any soil and light conditions as long as they are well-drained.  If you want to spoil them, give them organic matter, but no supplemental water is required after they are established even in the worst drought.  They are slightly poisonous so deer do not eat them.

some of the flowers on my ground cover hybrid hellebores

Next spring when you are looking for ground covers, I hope you will consider one of the fantastic four described above.  In the meantime, leave a comment with the name of your favorite wintergreen ground cover for shade.

Carolyn

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.) or to subscribe to my blog, just click here.

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