Category Archives: Shade Garden

Surprised by Shade

When summer reaches its zenith, visitors to the gardens at White Flower Farm may enjoy one of the many shady recesses on the property in which to escape the sun and continue their exploration of plants great and small. The stone wall along Esther’s Lane, lined with stately old Sugar Maples, is an example. On the side of the partition facing the lane, multiple plantings of our Emerald Isle Hosta Collection cover the ground, creating a verdant tapestry. On the opposite side of the wall, visitors will discover an even more surprising swath of shade-loving plants. The intricately woven drifts of annuals, perennials, and small shrubs combine diverse colors and textures, ultimately demonstrating the tremendous opportunity for creativity that gardeners have when designing for shade.

Shade Is an Opportunity

Hosta ‘Patriot’ and Heuchera ‘Obsidian’ create a striking contrast of light and dark, while various Astilbes add color and texture to the border by Esther’s Lane.

An opportunity? Yes, shade is hardly a death knell for gardeners. While light is critical to a plant’s ability to thrive, it is heartening to recall that some plants require partial shade, which is 3–4 hours of direct sunlight per day. Still other plants are happy in full shade, which means little or no direct sunlight but some reflected light (not, it is important to note, total darkness). Having limited sun in your yard may catapult you into a wider world of flowers and foliage than you previously knew existed. We will explore some of the many options below.

In the meantime, shady sites have other advantages. During the heat of summer, a shade garden is a veritable oasis. Garden guests can pause in the shadows, while gardeners can work in much greater comfort. In addition, plants in these areas do not dry out as quickly as others that require full sun (defined as 6 or more hours of direct sunlight per day), meaning they are much lower maintenance.

Shade Is Cool

It’s no surprise that it’s cooler in the shade. Shade gardens, however, demonstrate another way in which plants can make you feel cool. Foliage thrives in shady areas, so green in all its various tones comes to the fore, along with occasional shades of blue, purple, silver, and white. All are visually “cool” in temperature. Flowers in these colors have the same effect, too. They are calming and peaceful, thereby contributing to the overall refreshment found in shade. Check out the following cool combinations.

A shady area of the farm beside Route 63 invites visitors with a cooling vista of green-on-green. From left to right: Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bombshell’ with greenish-white flowers; lime green Hosta ‘Final Summation’; and hybrid Painted Fern (Athyrium ‘Ghost’) with silvery green fronds.
The white plumes and dark green foliage of Astilbe x arendsii ‘White Gloria’ beautifully complement the blue-green leaves of Hosta ‘Sagae’ with creamy margins. A pop of yellow-green Smokebush foliage (Cotinus coggygria Winecraft Gold®) makes an effective separation between them and the stone wall along Esther’s Lane.
Top down: In the shade garden along Route 63, a massive lime green Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ steadies sinuous drifts of variegated Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum odoratum Variegatum), Hosta ‘Fire and Ice,’ Impatiens SunPatiens® Compact Orchid Blush, Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus), and Dead Nettle (Lamium maculatum ‘Purple Dragon’), which appear to lap like cool waves at the base of a glowing Cretan urn.

Shade Is Hot

Just when you thought shade gardens were all about keeping it cool, enter another kaleidoscope of plants. While some flowers and foliage in shade can emphasize cooler hues, they can also tend in the opposite direction. Perhaps this is the most surprising aspect of shade gardens: visually speaking, some like it “hot.” With so many selections of plants available that feature colorful foliage, from gold to orange to deep burgundy, in addition to shade-loving blooms in hues such as coral and red, it’s easier than ever to set the shade on fire. Scroll below to experience the exciting, energizing effect of warm colors in shade.

This threesome along Esther’s Lane is a hot number. Golden waves of Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’) add warmth and texture to plantings of Impatiens Beacon Salmon and Coleus Mainstreet Broad Street™.
Back in the shade along Route 63, a pageant of warm colors lights up the middle section of the bed. From left to right: Indian Pinks (Spigelia marilandica ‘Little Redhead’), a trio of Coleus (Mainstreet Broad Street™, Stained Glassworks™ Velvet, and Trusty Rusty), Begonia Big® Red Bronze Leaf, Impatiens Beacon Salmon, and dark-leaved Bugbane (Actaea simplex (Atropurpurea Group)).
Another Cretan pot is a dynamic focal point for a puzzle of hot-colored plants. In addition to the Coleus and Begonia varieties mentioned above, golden Japanese Forest Grass, black-leaved Elderberry (Sambucus nigra f. porphyrophylla Black Lace®), and Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana alata ‘Crimson Bedder’) contribute powerful contrasts and an overall richness to the display.

Shade Is Special

Something special happens when you stop in the garden to look more closely at plants, a habit that shade gardens certainly encourage. There are remarkable details that can be appreciated much more easily when you are leisurely strolling in the shade. Look below to see some unique finds in the shade at White Flower Farm. Hopefully these and all of the above will inspire you to enhance a shady site near you.

The flowers of Indian Pinks (Spigelia marilandica ‘Little Redhead’), with their little yellow stars atop bright red chalices, provide unexpected flares of color. This North American native thrives in part shade to full shade.
Among the cool-toned flowers and foliage in this shady vignette, stems of Dwarf Papyrus (Cyperus Nile Princess™), with their frothy green inflorescences, encircle a ceramic vessel like miniature fountains.
Another stone wall in the dappled shade of Sugar Maples forms a makeshift terrace for a medley of containers. This one features our popular Hummingbird Annual Collection, which intermingles Begonia Dragon Wing® Pink, Fuchsia ‘Billy Green,’ Coleus Campfire, Coleus Lava™ Rose, and vining Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas ‘Margarita’). Linger long enough, and you just may spy an iridescent hummingbird darting among the blooms.

Here Come the Hellebores

In March, when the White Flower Farm display gardens are just waking from their winter sleep, the staff’s work detail is mostly about clearing away debris and making plans. But there is at least one notable exception: The Hellebores are showing plump buds that are ready to pop.

Hellebore buds popping up in the late winter garden.

In cold climates like ours, these rugged, beautiful perennials are one of the earliest signs of spring. Their habit of flowering in late February and March, during the season of Lent, and the Rose-like form of their blossoms, are why they are often called Lenten Roses. Gardeners prize these plants for their flowers and their foliage, and for a robust, cold-hardy disposition that makes them fuss-free, long-lived additions to any shade garden.

One of Spring’s Earliest Bloomers

Winter might not be fully over when Hellebores stoically send up their buds. Unlike other early performers that might get nicked by frosts, Hellebores are just fine in cooler temperatures. Plant them wherever you need a cheering early spring display.

The single, highly ornate flowers of Hellebore Honeymoon® ‘Rio Carnival’ can wake a garden from its winter slumber.

Hellebores come in a disarming array of colors – from pearly white and cream to butter yellow, rose, burgundy and almost black, with blossom forms ranging from single to doubles, all accented by a center of yellow stamens. Single Hellebore flowers are intriguingly complex in their anatomy but always large enough to notice from a distance. Showy doubles offer layers of petals. Many Hellebore blooms feature design details. There are freckles. There are hems and bands of contrasting colors. Breeders are developing varieties that have upward-facing flowers, which some regard as an improvement on the nodding or partially hidden blossoms that are characteristic of most earlier and classic cultivars.

The golden blossoms and buds of Hellebore Honeymoon® ‘California Dreaming’ bring the glow of sunshine to the late winter and spring garden.

The appeal of Hellebores lasts far beyond early spring. The flowers don’t fizzle when warmer weather arrives. The colorful blooms remain over an impressively long period. Months go by, and even as the flowers fade, they remain beautiful. Some would say they get better as time passes and the colors deepen or blanch.

The various colors and forms of Hellebores can be combined with splendid results. The Hellebore Honeymoon® Mix blends tones from ivory and pink to deepest red and near-black.

Ornamental Foliage for All Seasons

While Hellebore flowers often get the most attention, the glossy dark green, palmate foliage is of equal value in any shade garden. In many climates, the leaves are evergreen unless covered by snow. (In winters that are cold but not particularly snowy, Hellebore foliage may get scorched or tattered, but affected leaves can be pruned away, and as spring comes, the plants send up plenty more.)

The dark green, palmate foliage of a Hellebore, lower right, keeps its great looks all season. Here, it’s grouped with Hosta ‘June,’ left, and the golden, variegated blades of Hakonechloa (Japanese forest grass) ‘Aureola,’ top.

In an additional boon for gardeners, the leathery, serrated leaves are unappetizing to deer and voles (as well as other pests), which give Hellebores a wide berth.

It should be noted that Hellebore leaves, stems and roots are toxic and can cause a dermatological reaction in some people so we recommend wearing gloves and long sleeves when handling or cutting them. (Additionally, no parts of the plant should be eaten by humans.)

Hellebore Wedding Party® ‘Shotgun Wedding’ is a spectacular double with beautiful design detail on the multi-layered petals.

Caring for Hellebores

Hellebores prefer dappled shade and a compost-rich, well-drained soil. Under these conditions, they are trouble-free, but patience is imperative. These are not fast-paced perennials. Hellebores slowly but reliably gain size and bud count every year. When planting them, remember to give them sufficient space to expand. The winning formula is dappled shade and generous spacing.

In circumstances when Hellebore foliage gets beaten down by snow or tattered by the cold, some gardeners question whether to snip the foliage in autumn or wait until spring. In colder climates, you might as well snip it off in autumn and let the buds swell leafless. In warmer parts of the country, Hellebores may remain evergreen without suffering any damage. In that case, prune off leaves in late winter before the buds swell to make room for new growth. New leaves initiate rapidly no matter which way you play it.

Dividing Hellebores is not recommended. Although these plants may be slow to settle in, once they do, they rarely need division and may resent it.

Hellebore Honeymoon® ‘Paris in Pink’ pots up beautifully in a container.

Garden & Landscape Uses

Hellebores are at their best when planted in groups. Mass them in woodland areas where they will naturalize, or plant in 3’s and 5’s under trees and shrubs, along a pathway, or at the edge of a shady border. Create a dynamic display of contrasting colors, forms and blossom times by planting Hellebores with companionable shade-dwellers including Hostas, Astilbes, Hakonechloa (Japanese Forest Grass), Ferns, Heucheras, and Tiarella.

Hellebores also perform well in containers, and they make an impressive window box display with lasting appeal. Due to their thick, plentiful roots, you’ll want to afford them sufficient space for root growth and provide regular water. If winter seems too long, consider hosting a Hellebore or two indoors during the coldest months. On a windowsill, these beautiful plants blossom in the dead of winter. You’ll have flowers to carry you through the dullest days.


There’s a Whole Lot Happening at the White Flower Farm Store!

The store's Visual Merchandizer Mary Valente installing Sedum Tile(R) Color Splash on the roof of the display%2
The store’s Visual Merchandizer Mary Valente installing Sedum Tile(R) Color Splash on the roof of the display.

Sedum Tiles for the Roof (& Lots of Other Places)

One of the displays that’s attracted the most attention from customers is the growth of a “green roof” atop a garden shed. Early this spring, Matt Scace, grower for the store (and all around handy guy), created a wooden border around the shed roof. (He did this by nailing 2” x 4” wooden boards around the perimeter, creating what is essentially an aerial raised bed.) Because the roof of the shed is sloped, the store’s Visual Merchandiser Mary Valente nailed a row of rubber grower’s trays across the center to keep the tiles from slipping as they rooted in. The trays have holes in the bottom that allow for drainage. (On a flat surface, the trays would not be necessary.)

sedum tile signage_store_6.27.16

Each Sedum Tile® Color Splash tile is a 10″ x 20″ coconut mat embedded with a beautiful selection of sedum varieties chosen for their harmonious colors and contrasting forms. They require only an additional 2” of soil wherever they’re planted so Mary spread the extra soil on the shed roof then placed the tiles. While the manufacturer recommends placing the tiles 1’ apart and letting the sedum grow and fill in over several seasons, Mary wanted a finished look faster so she placed them considerably closer.  Since the roof is not square, Mary cut the tiles to fit the tapered edges by flipping them over and cutting through the mesh with garden shears. About a month later, with just an occasional bit of watering, the Sedum Tiles have had a chance to settle in, and they’ve created a green roof that’s a marvel to see. In addition to using the tiles to “shingle” a roof, they can be used as edging for patio spaces, stone steps, rock gardens, and sunny borders. The tiles also can be cut to fit container pots, and wrapped around wreath forms. (Sedum Tile wreaths should be used on outdoor doors only.)

New residents of the sunny bed at the store include purple-flowering calibrachoa, Ostrich Fern, herbaceous peonie
New residents of the sunny bed at the store include purple-flowering calibrachoa, Ostrich Fern, herbaceous peonies and tradescantia.

 A Shady Bed Gets Blasted With Sun

Changes brought about by the renovation of the store earlier this year have inspired other displays. As part of the renovation, we demolished the Lathe House, an aged wooden structure that had for decades served as a display space for shade plants. A long garden bed bordering the Lathe House had once been largely shaded by the structure, but with demolition complete, the bed was suddenly blasted with sun. Established stands of hosta, astilbe, and ferns were baking and had to be removed and replaced with sun-loving plants. Under the direction of Store Manager Tom Bodnar, store staff members got to work. They removed the mature shade plants (relocating many to other parts of the display gardens), and in their place, they created colorful combinations of annuals and perennials. Where once astilbe grew, the purple groundcover Tradescantia ‘Purple Queen’ plays beautifully with silvery Artemisia ‘Parfum d’Ethiopia’ and the felted, cascading, lime-colored leaves of Helichrysum ‘Lemon Licorice.’ In another spot, a purple-flowering Calibrachoa, Rudbeckia ‘Prairie Sun,’ and Tradescantia ‘Purple Queen’ combine to make a lovely trio. The lush, towering Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) got to stay because, although it’s typically considered a perennial for part shade, it will tolerate full sun if the soil stays moist. The herbaceous peonies also stayed in place, acting as bookends for the new arrivals.

Dahlia 'Fascination' at the Store_6.27.16
Dahlia ‘Fascination’ at the Store.

Potted Dahlias for Summer Color

This being the start of July, the store is loaded with potted dahlias, a glorious array that’s adding brilliant color to store displays and will do the same on your patio or in your gardens. These stars of the late summer and autumn garden send up abundant blossoms from now until hard frost. As welcome as they are in sunny gardens, they also make outstanding cut flowers.

hydrangea annabelle_at store_6.27.16
Hydrangea ‘Annabelle.’

Long-Blooming Hydrangeas

All around the store, the hydrangeas have exploded into bloom. Our broad selection includes macrophyllas, lacecaps, climbers, and mountain, arborescens and oakleaf varieties in colors ranging from pistachio to pink to white, and seaside blue to rich purple. In recent years, the development of compact hydrangea selections means there are plenty of options for every landscape and garden with sizes ranging from compact container-scaled shrubs to 8’ plants that make glorious privacy hedges. Hydrangeas bloom over a long period that starts in summer and carries the garden through to fall, and this makes them a tremendous asset in any border or yard.

For those wishing to know more about these long-blooming shrubs, Store Manager Tom Bodnar will give his 2nd Annual Hydrangea Garden Talk & Tour on July 2nd at 10 a.m. New this year, the event includes a Flower Arrangement Demonstration by one of our staff members.

 Splash Some Summer Color Around the Garden

If your garden is flagging a bit in the summer heat, visit the store to see a range of ideas for adding color to your beds and borders. Helenium, Heliopsis, Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Summer Phlox, Sedum, Ornamental Grasses, Dahlias, Daylilies, and Hibiscus all add color, texture and vitality to gardens from high summer to fall.

how would you use this basket
How would you use this basket?

How Would You Use This Basket?

Sometimes when we’re considering adding new products to our list of offerings, we ask customers for a bit of help. The basket shown here is one such item. It’s on offer now at the store where we’re conducting a raffle. Drop by, tell us how you would use the basket, and we’ll enter your name to win a $25 gift certificate to White Flower Farm. While you’re visiting, you can see how the staff at the farm uses any number of the products we sell – from garden tools and watering cans to sun-shielding hats and gloves, and, of course, in our display gardens, you can see how we use a broad selection of plants, shrubs and trees.

We hope you’ll visit soon.

All visitors are welcome
All visitors are welcome!