Gazette Gardener: Made for the shade

Plants that do well in the shade is a topic that comes up time and time again. We all know hostas ar

Plants that do well in the shade is a topic that comes up time and time again.

We all know hostas are a top contender but which ones are best? And what are the other options?

I visited Glenbrook Farm, a nursery in Glen, Montgomery County, that specializes in shade plants and asked owner Viktoria Serafin to talk about her favorite plants for the shade.

Serafin should know. She grows 1,300 different varieties of hostas and has hybridized a handful herself.

Here are her top picks of hostas and other plants that don’t cost a lot of money. (Some hostas in Serafin’s garden have sold for more than over $300 a plant). All of these plants are easy to grow even for a beginner gardener.

— If she could grow only one hosta, it would be “Sagae,” she said. This is a large, vase-shaped specimen that can grow more than 3 feet across. The leaves are a wavy blue-green edged in yellow. The flowers, which grow on spikes (called scapes), are lavender.

— Next on the list is a big blue hosta. There are several and even within the blues there are options such as puckered or deeply veined leaves, mounding or vase-shaped.

“You could choose “Lakeport blue,” “Bressingham blue,” “Blue angel,’” Sarafin said. These are all hostas with a bluish cast to the leaves.

— One exciting and easy-to-grow hosta is “Patriot,” with dark green foliage and a broad margin of white. Gardeners appreciate a spot of white because it draws the eye deeper into the shade garden.

“Patriot” grows 15-20 inches tall and about 3 feet wide. The flowers are lavender and bloom in August.

— “June” is one of the most colorful of the hostas. It has ovate, pointed leaves with blue-green margins surrounding a yellow center. This is a medium-size, slug-resistant hosta that won the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit and was named Hosta of the Year in 2001. It has lavender flowers.

— “Hosta montana Aureomarginata” is a “sight to behold,” Serafin said, with shiny green leaves with an irregular gold margin. This hosta grows to be a large mound between 4 and 5 feet across at maturity. “But it is low growing, Only about 2 feet tall,” she said. Lavender flowers.

— The “Niagara Falls” hosta has an upright habit and large dark green, deeply veined foliage with curved tips and ruffled margins that become more distinct with age. At maturity, it will be 30 inches wide by about 20 inches high. It has near-white flowers.

— “Pandora’s box” is a minature hosta with white-centered blue-green leaves. It has lavender flowers.

— The hosta “Blue Mouse Ears” has small, cupped and nearly round blue-green leaves. It grows to be about 6 inches tall with lavender flowers reaching up to 9 inches.

Plants other than hostas that grow well in the shade that Serafin recommended:

— Yellow fumewort (Corydalis lutea) has spurred, golden-yellow flowers from late spring to early fall. The ferny leaves are a soft, pale green and glaucous. It prefers to be planted in well-drained soils in partial shade.

— Climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris) is slow to get started, but once established grows quickly, producing a white flower on an attractive vine that can climb trees or cover fences.

— Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum). Serafin’s favorite is P. falcatum Variegatum. This variegated form grows to about 15 to 20 inches tall with an arching form. The cream-colored flowers hang in pairs under the arching stems at each leaf axil and are shaped like small dangling bells.

— Ferns. Serafin’s favorite is “Adiantum pedatum,” the maidenhair fern. This fern produces delicate, 8- to 20-inch fronds that spread their pinnae to form a nearly perfect circle. The stems are dark.

— Brunnera macrophylla “Jack Frost” has a number of good traits. First are its frosty silver leaves with green veins. The foliage is heart-shaped and grows into a mound shape. The second attribute is the light-blue flowers reminiscent of forget-me-nots.

— Hellebore (Helleborus sp. Christmas Rose, Lenten Rose) are probably best known for blooming early in the spring in colors that range from pinks and purples to whites.

— Epimediums or barrenwort are gaining a reputation as interesting, hardy plants for the shade. The flowers and the foliage are both worthy of note. In some species it is the long-spurred flower that catch the eye and in other plants it is the bronze-pink color of the emerging leaves that creates the show.

— Monkshood (Aconitum) is a poisonous, and therefore deer-resistant, plant that grows as much as 5-feet tall with deep purple/blue flowers shaped like a hood, hence the name.

— Foxglove (Digitalis mertonensis) is another poisonous, deer-resistant plant. And it is showy with a spike of color-rich flowers.

Glenbrook Farm is open by appointment only. Plants can be ordered through the mail and you can visit the website anytime at

Happy Gardening.

Natalie Walsh is a horticulturist, speaker and garden consultant. She can be reached at [email protected]

Categories: Life and Arts

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