Archive for Heuchera villosa ‘Autumn Bride’

Groundcovers, Thinking Outside the Box

Posted in garden to visit, groundcover, How to, landscape design, native plants, Shade Gardening, Shade Perennials, Shade Shrubs with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 11, 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  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

Part of the Idea Garden at Longwood Gardens

I recently visited Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.  I have no hesitancy in saying that Longwood is one of the premier gardens in the world and should be on everyone’s life list.  However, there is so much there that it is difficult to post about it.  Also, “familiarity breeds contempt.”  I hold two Certificates in Ornamental Horticulture from Longwood and have taken a total of 18 courses to earn them.  Each course involved a minimum of 8 visits to the gardens so you can see that I have spent a lot of time there.  If you are local, these courses are the absolute best plant education available.

Italian Water Garden, viewed while resting in the shade.

Because I have spent so much time at Longwood, I didn’t photograph the usual sights or even visit the fabulous four acre indoor conservatory (with one exception mentioned below).  As a shade gardener I headed straight for Peirce’s Woods, which is seven acres devoted to shady plants native to the eastern U.S. deciduous forest.  I hoped to augment my library of photographs and get some ideas of plants to sell at the nursery and add to my own gardens.  I wasn’t disappointed.

The straight species of smooth hydrangea, H. arborescens, lined the very shady paths by the lake.  I think it is more appropriate to a woodland garden than the cultivated forms like ‘Annabelle’.

Smooth hydrangea has a lovely flower whose size is in keeping with other native woodland plants.

While walking through Peirce’s Woods, I returned to the thoughts I have been having lately about groundcovers.  This time of year, with the weeds running rampant, my customers are more interested in groundcovers.  But it is clear from their questions that they mean plants that form runners to creep and cover the ground.  The classic examples are vinca, ivy, and pachysandra.  However, my definition of groundcover is much broader than this and includes any plant massed to effectively choke out weeds.

Native maidenhair fern, Adiantum pedatum

When you look at the masses of native maidenhair fern above, you are probably thinking that’s all very nice that Longwood uses masses of these fairly pricey, non-creeping plants as groundcover, but I could never afford that quantity of plants.  However, think of the alternative: weeds and the hours if not days it takes to remove them, not to mention how their presence detracts from the look of your garden as well as your satisfaction with it.  Your time is valuable, and you wouldn’t be reading my blog if the look of your garden wasn’t important to you.

Native semi-evergreen coralbells, Heuchera villosa, often sold as the cultivar ‘Autumn Bride’, has gorgeous white flowers in the fall.

Yes, you can use mulch to keep down the weeds.  However, commercial shredded hardwood mulch is not attractive, is generally not produced sustainably, and requires a significant time investment to apply it.  Most importantly, it requires a monetary outlay every year because it must be re-applied every spring.  Perennial plants are initially more expensive to buy and plant but once they are there, you never have to do anything again.  It is kind of like buying a compact fluorescent light bulb versus the bulbs we grew up with.

Here are some more plants that Longwood uses in masses to make effective groundcovers:

Mexican feather grass, Nassella tenuissima

Native evergreen Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides

Native semi-evergreen coralbells, Heuchera villosa purple form.

Shredded umbrella-plant, Syneilesis aconitifolia: I can only dream of achieving this in my garden, and, yes, it is very expensive.

Native hay-scented fern, Dennstaedtia punctiloba, creeps to fill in large areas.

This bellflower, Campanula takesimana, was growing and apparently self-sowing in dense shade on the hillside near the Chimes Tower.

Fall-blooming yellow waxbells, Kirengoshoma palmata, is more like a shrub than a perennial but it dies to the ground ever year.

Native coralbells, Heuchera villosa ‘Caramel’, is my favorite heuchera and retains its lovely color 365 days a year.

Giant butterbur, Petasites japonicus, grows in dense shade and covers a lot of ground.

Lavender mist meadow-rue, Thalictrum rochebrunianum

Native sensitive fern, Onoclea sensibilis, does creep.

Shrubs can be used as groundcover also, two examples from Longwood:

The straight species of oakleaf hydrangea, H. quecifolia, gets quite large and spreading.

Native southern bush honeysuckle, Diervilla sessifolia, suckers to form a colony.

Lastly, I want to show you why I briefly visited the conservatories:  groundcover for walls, the new fern wall at Longwood.  It is worth a visit just to see it:

This is a beautiful hallway containing individual restrooms, and the walls are totally covered in ferns.

Some of the ferns are quite large, and all are healthy and beautiful.

I hope I have convinced you to think outside the box and mass all kinds of unusual plants as groundcovers.  You will have more time to enjoy a better looking garden and save money in the long run.


Nursery Happenings:  This coming weekend we will have our final open hours at the nursery on Saturday, June 16, from 9 am to 2 pm, and Sunday, June 17, from 11 am to 1 pm.  We close on June 17 until September.  Customers on my email list will receive an email with details.

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  Subscribing to my blog does not sign you up to receive this information.

Facebook:  Carolyn’s Shade Gardens has a Facebook page where I post single photos, garden tips, and other information that doesn’t fit into a blog post.  You can look at my Facebook page here or click the Like button on my right sidebar here.

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.

October GBBD: A Few Fall Favorites for Flowers

Posted in Fall, Fall Color, Garden Blogger's Bloom Day, landscape design, native plants, Shade Gardening, Shade Perennials with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 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  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

The subtle coloring of ‘White Towers’ toad-lily, Tricyrtis latifolia ‘White Towers’, is magical in the fall.  Every photo was taken at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens this fall.

I am linking this post to Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day for October when gardeners around the world show photos of what’s blooming in their gardens (follow the link to see  photographs from other garden bloggers assembled by Carol at May Dreams Gardens).  I am also linking to Gesine’s Bloom Day at Seepferds Garten.  I am located in Bryn Mawr (outside Philadelphia), Pennsylvania, U.S., and zone 6b.

In my last post, A Few Fall Favorites for Foliage and Fruit,  I explained that, inspired by an article about dressing up your fall garden with mums because everything else is finished, I grabbed my camera and headed outside to prove them wrong.  There was so much going on that I divided the plants into three posts: foliage and fruit, flowers, and hostas for fall.  This is part two highlighting flowers.  So here are some of the flowers dressing up my shady gardens right now:

Japanese anemones, Anemone x hybrida, are one of the undisputed stars of my fall garden, growing anywhere from full sun to almost full shade and thriving no matter what the weather.  Clockwise from upper left: ‘Honorine Joubert’, ‘Margarete’, ‘Whirlwind’, ‘Bodnant Burgundy’, ‘September Charm’.

The black plumes of ‘Moudry’ fountain grass, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Moudry’, glow in the low-angled fall light.  ‘Moudry’ does well in the shade, flowering later and remaining more compact.

I grow about five different varieties of native golden rod, Solidago,  with my current favorite ‘Little Lemon’, growing only 12 to 18″ high.  Contrary to popular belief, goldenrod does not cause allergies as it is pollinated by insects.  Wind pollinated ragweed, which blooms at the same time, is the culprit.

Toad-lilies, Tricyrtis, bloom throughout the fall in full shade with ‘Sinonome’ just getting started now and continuing into November.  Clockwise from upper left: ‘Sinonome’, ‘White Towers’, ‘Miyazaki’, ‘Empress’.

Another plant that is just warming up is Pennsylvania native northern sea oats, Chasmanthium latifolium.  Its foliage will turn orange later in the fall and then dry to a beautiful khaki for the winter.  Be forewarned, however, when this plant reaches critical mass, it starts spreading, and its wiry roots are very difficult to remove.  Give it room and then triple the space you think you need.

Autumn leadwort, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, is one of my favorite groundcovers.  Its true blue flowers start blooming in June and continue through October when its leaves turn bright red.

Pennsylvania native ‘Bluebird’ smooth aster, A. laevis ‘Bluebird’, seeds all around my garden in full sun to part shade.  Butterflies and bees love it.  Please click here to find out why most native cultivars are just as friendly to native fauna as the species.

‘Zebrina’ hollyhock mallow, Malva sylvestris ‘Zebrina’, seems to move around my garden at will, but it never fails to steal the show with its 3 to 4′ stalks loaded with showy flowers.  It grows best in full to part sun.

Fall-blooming hardy cyclamen, Cyclamen hederifolium, is one of the plants I would take to my shady “desert island”.  Right now its pink or white flowers are floating all around my shady gardens.  Later its evergreen leaves will emerge from summer dormancy and look like the photo on the left all winter long.

I am always raving about the foliage of the coral bell cultivars derived from our Pennsylvania native Heuchera villosa.  Well this is the plant that started it all, Heuchera villosa ‘Autumn Bride’.  It has very large and attractive fuzzy green leaves and beautiful flowers that bloom right now–this is the only cultivar I would grow for its flowers (the rest I grow for the leaves).

The cultivar ‘Cory’ of Pennsylvania native hardy ageratum, Eupatorium coelestinum, is far superior to the straight species.  It has more abundant and showier flowers, ornamental purple stems, interesting crinkled leaves, and a much better upright habit.  ‘Cory’ is also a good spreader in sun to part shade so give it room.  Pictured above with another of my favorite Pennsylvania natives, wrinkleleaf goldenrod, Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’.

Hardy begonias, Begonia grandis, have spread all over my garden in full shade, and I have yet to find a place that I don’t want them.  Because they come up very late in May and really just get going in the fall, I use them to fill in between my hostas on my back hill.  

Pennsylvania native Joe Pye weed, Eupatorium dubium, reaches 10′ tall in my garden and flops over in our torrential rains.  The “dwarf” version called ‘Little Joe’ grows to a diminutive 5′ tall and has remained erect through the 30″ of rain we had in August and September to bloom now with its large purple flowers–a magnet for butterflies and bees.

In the spring, a gardener I very much admire brought over this plant, telling me it was a salvia with yellow flowers that grows in full shade and blooms in the fall.  I duly planted it in my shady “yellow garden” and it thrived through heat, drought, and rain with no attention.  It is called woodland sage, Salvia koyamae.

I am just beginning to learn about hydrangeas because until last year there was no point in planting them because of the deer.  One of my first acquisitions after the netting went up was ‘Limelight’, Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’.  The large white flowers aging to pink have been blooming all summer in part shade, and there are still buds coming—very impressive.

If you want a multitude of fall flowers in dry, full shade, you can’t find a better plant than Pennsylvania native blue wood aster, Aster cordifolius.  It fills in all the difficult sites in my woodland and produces a glorious blue haze in the fall.

It is fitting that I should end with my favorite Pennsylvania native perennial for fall, garden phlox, Phlox paniculata.  I love everything about garden phlox: its heavenly fragrance, its long bloom time from early summer through fall, the wealth of colors available, its polite self-sowing, and its attraction to butterflies.  I dream of installing a meadow area and collecting dozens of plants of every phlox cultivar out there!

Of the 17 photos above, 8 picture plants that are native to Pennsylvania and eastern North America.  I believe that planting native plants is crucial to our survival.  Please take the time to read this short essay explaining why.  And Pennsylvania’s native plants really come into their own in the fall eliminating the need for dressing with mums!

Click to enlarge


To read Part 1, A Few Fall Favorites for Foliage and Fruit, click here.  Stay tuned for Part 3, Hostas for Fall.  In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that sadistic botanists have recently changed the botanical names of many of the native plants that I highlighted to completely unpronounceable and unspellable but “botanically proper” names.  At this point, I refuse to follow.

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.), just click here.

Nursery Happenings: The nursery closes for the year on October 16.

Supporting Sustainable Living: Part One

Posted in garden essay, green gardening, native plants, organic gardening with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 7, 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  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

PA native bloody butcher (attractive common name!), Trillium recurvatum, is just forming its buds now and will produce its beautiful flower shortly (photo on right Arrowhead Alpines).

All photos in this article are of plants native to Pennsylvania (PA) available at “Bulb and Native Wildflower Day” on April 9 at my nursery.  Single photos and the left photo in collages show the plants in my garden today.

Jan who writes the garden blog Thanks for Today is doing something wonderful, and  I want all my readers, subscribers, and customers to participate in Jan’s project.  Jan has started the Gardeners’ Sustainable Living Project, which celebrates Earth Day  by encouraging gardeners to get together and share the big and small things that they are doing anywhere in their lives to support sustainable living.  If you read my blog, you know that this is an important topic for me.

PA native rue-anemone, Anemonella thalictroides, is a dainty woodlander in full bloom right now.

To participate in the project, all you have to do is click on the Gardeners’ Sustainable Living Project link below and leave a comment describing a few of your own sustainable living practices.  If you are a garden blogger, you can write a post about your efforts, but Jan only requires a comment.  If you participate by April 15, you become eligible to receive all kinds of fun prizes.  I got so excited about the project, I decided to contribute a prize of my own: a snowdrop collection.  For prize details, click here.

The buds of PA native Celandine poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum, are just starting to show color, and the flowers will cover the plant for at least six weeks (photo on right Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder).

While you are leaving your comment, you can read all the posts written by garden bloggers telling you what they are doing to promote sustainability.  Donna at Gardens Eye View in her article  on “Trust” points out that we have been entrusted with the earth and we should leave it the way we found it.  She tells us about her efforts to do that.  Jean at Jean’s Garden explains how she has “come to understand how my plant choices can affect ecological systems and environmental balance.”

PA native twinleaf, Jeffersonia diphylla, is just pushing out of the ground in my garden (photo on right Missouri Botanical Gardens PlantFinder).

Pam at Pam’s English Cottage Garden was inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life to “be more mindful of my carbon footprint by eating locally grown foods that are in season, and by supporting local farmers.”  Allan at allanbecker.gardenguru describes a wide range of “respectful grass roots initiatives that influence both consumer behavior and the agendas of local officials” while  promoting sustainability.  You can get a lot of great ideas by reading these thoughtful articles and all the others linked there.

I love the early spring colors of emerging PA native coral-bell leaves.  Clockwise from upper left: Heuchera villosa ‘Caramel’, ‘Frosted Violet’, ‘Autumn Bride’, ‘Blackout’.

So what am I doing to promote sustainability?  For my whole gardening life, I have been organic, not using any herbicides, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers.  I don’t water except to establish new plants and, by following gardening practices like grinding my leaves (seeFall Clean-up and Leaves on the Lawn) and composting, I have restored the soil to its former pristine state.  I have gotten rid of almost an acre of lawn and replaced it with large areas of plants native to Pennsylvania.  In Maine, I founded and continue to run a community based invasive plant removal program whose goal is to eliminate all invasive plants from the small island where we vacation.

PA native Virginia bluebells, Mertensia virginica, is just about to come into full bloom in my garden.

Several years ago, though, I realized that I am uniquely placed to have an even larger impact in this area through my nursery.  As my customers ask me for advice and as I talk to the horticultural groups touring my display gardens, I emphasize sustainable practices and demonstrate how they work in my own gardens.  Instead of being lectured to in a darkened room, these gardeners are seeing  living proof that the sustainable methods I advocate have worked to create beautiful gardens.

PA native bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, is in full bloom right now.  The rare double form ‘Multiplex’, pictured on the right, is much longer blooming.

Reading Doug Tallamy’s book Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants was a turning point for me.  I finally understood why planting native plants is not just a “good thing”, but absolutely crucial to our survival.  I wrote about this in My Thanksgiving Oak Forest,  and I hope you will read my article.  Now I give out a synopsis of the book to the hundreds of customers who attend events at my nursery each year in hopes that they too will be inspired.

My new yellow signs boldly demonstrate which plants are native in my woodland garden.

As a result of my new understanding, I increased my emphasis on native plants at the nursery.  Native plants appear in green print in my catalogue.  I purchased new signage for the garden and the nursery so natives could have their own special yellow signs (see photo above) while non-natives have white.  I am about to have my sixth annual native wildflower day on April 9 during which customers can shop for a wide assortment of almost 40 native perennials, not including the native ferns that will be offered at my fern sale.

The foliage of PA native dwarf Jacob’s ladder, Polemonium reptans ‘Blue Pearl’, is evergreen, and the plants are covered with buds right now.

My two acres of display gardens demonstrate how desirable non-native plants can be incorporated into the sweeps of native plants that dominate my landscape.  And I have used my blog with its 450 customer-subscribers and 26,000 views since November to promote the planting of natives (see, for example, My Thanksgiving Oak Forest, New Native Shade Perennials for 2011, and Woody Plants for Shade).

The early leaves of PA native wild columbine, Aquilegia canadensis, are a beautiful deep blue-green and are followed by lovely flowers in April and May.

So now, what do I want you to do?  Please go to and leave a comment describing a few of your own sustainable practices.  I know many of my customers are reading my blog because almost everyone who has visited this year has said “I love your blog”.  Now you can thank me by supporting Jan’s project and mentioning in your comment that you came from Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.


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 9 am to 3 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.

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