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Archive for best groundcovers for shade

Ferns for Portland Landscape Designers

NW Portland Hillside Garden design by Landscape Design in a Day

Himalayan Maidenhair Fern – Adiantum venustum creeps through rockery. Photo is from one of my Willamette Heights Landscape Designs in Portland, Oregon.

Ferns for Portland Landscape Designers

I’ve been following Judith Jones and her career as a fern expert extraordinary before social media existed.  She’s been my fern guru for 20 years and I’ve tried to catch her lectures when she comes to Portland at Joy Creek Nursery, HPSO plant sales and garden shows.  My favorite Judith sighting was at the Seattle Flower and Garden Show when her show garden as the set for the Flintstones.  She was dressed as Wilma complete with a bone in her hair.  There was a dozen or more 8’ tall tree ferns and a 20’ tall volcano.  It looked like a real tropical fern forest.  It’s still my favorite show garden of all times.  She and her nursery Fancy Fronds have been my source for ferns in my designs.

She gave a special program for ANLD Portland Landscape Designers the other evening. She has continued to evolve and had new plants for me to consider as well as highlighting my old favorites.   It was such a pleasure to see her and learn more about ferns for landscape designers.

Client Charmer – Tracys Hybrid Maidenhair – Adiantum x tracyi

photo by Fancy Fronds

Tracys Hybrid Maidenhair – Adiantum x Tracyi

Is it possible to have a new fern?  This maidenhair was discovered in the 1900’s instead of 2000 bc which makes it new in my book.  Tracyi is a natural cross between two California native deciduous Maidenhair ferns and oddly enough it is evergreen.  Clients like a plant with long seasonal interest. The leaf or pinnae is cute, it has little dimples in the edge of each leaf.  The plant is a foot tall and like many Maidenhair ferns, the texture of the plant is what people notice most.  The best place to buy it is Judith herself at www.fancyfrondsnursery.com   I will list it in the shade category but many maidenhair fern can take some sun and become low water plants over time.  Typically, they are listed for moist shade.

Peacock Moss Modern Landscape Style

Kraus’ Spikemoss – Selaginella Kraussiana is a low ground cover fern that is underused. Some think it isn’t cold hardy for Portland, Oregon. Not true! I have it growing outdoors in a container where it’s handled many winters. It’s thriving in boulder crevices up in Willamette Heights. Plant it where it will have good drainage and light shade.

Kraus’ Spikemoss – Selaginella kraussiana ‘Gold Tips’ 

My descriptive words for Spikemoss are baby chick fluffy, with evergreen piles of adorable pettable  texture.  Judith feels it is underused and recommends it for Portland designers.  Don’t get confused and purchase Peacock moss, Selaginella uncinata because they are devoured by slugs.  I’ve been using Spikemoss for years at garden shows to dress up my pottery which is how I know that the millennial generation loves it.  They come running into my booth to pet the moss and ask if it is real. Spikemosses are not true mosses and are classed with ferns because they have a vascular system and moss doesn’t.   I’ve used Spikemoss in between boulders and I love the effect. My advice for boulder plantings is plant twice as much as you need, use a mix of compost, clay and sphagnum moss in the crevices. Don’t plant them at the base of boulders; they won’t get enough light.  Where it succeeds, it is eye catching with chartreuse fluffy fans against gray boulders. It has succeeded planted under my  (containerized) Dwarf  Vine Maple for 6 years so cold isn’t an issue.

Narrow Planting Beds

Photo credit Fancy Fronds, Judith Jones Narrow fern fits urban gardens (Scaled Male Fern Dryopteris 'Stableri Crisped')

Scaled Male Fern – Dryopteris ‘Stableri Crisped’ – Grow this fern in front of a long fence to make the fence subordinate to the landscape instead of the most prominent feature.

Ferns for Narrow Planting Beds – Narrow Golden Scaled Male Fern-Dryopteris affinis ‘Stableri’ which has no crests and ‘Stableri Crisped’ which has curled and crimped pinnule margins.  Think amazing texture!   Judith suggests these for narrow planting strips in general and in front of tall fences in particular.  My experience is that builders and concrete contractors often create front walks that only leave a skinny strip for plants.

Imagine a  6′ tall fence with, you guessed it,  about 15” to plant in.   It’s a problem for homeowners and even designers struggle finding plants that fit this situation.  Jack hammering out the front walk and starting over with a new one is the best thing if there is space for other options and budget.  The rest of the time we find the right plant that will fit that location for years without our clients needing to do much.  Can you imagine a fern trimmed into a lollypop?  We are trying to avoid that sort of business!!  Sigh…….. These handsome ferns could live for decades in that narrow area as long as the soil drains reasonably well.  These ferns are also my favorite for visually making the fence subordinate instead of prominent. The narrow vase shape also makes them perfect contrast partners to plants with large leaves like Hosta or Fatsia in larger planting beds.

Foundation Plants

Sword Leaf Holly Fern – Polystichum xiphophylum  and Makinoi’s Holly Fern – Polystichum ‘Makinoi’  

These two ferns could become your new regular use plants in designs.  They are evergreen, not as tall as many ferns and look good in foundation plantings.  Place them in partly shaded and shady areas.

Olive colored foliage makes this fern unique for Portland Landscapes

Makinoi’s Holly Fern – Polystichum ‘Makinoi’

Sword Leafed Holly Fern – Polystichum xiphophylum is neat and small at 15″ tall.

Makinoi’s Holly Fern – Polystichum  ‘Makinoi’ –  Olive, straw gold and russet fern with lustrous fronds is beautifully different than other ferns. Judith says it like this: “There is a reptilian sheen to the olive-green linear-lanceolate fronds which blends subtly into the varied straw to chestnut colored scales cloaking the supporting framework.”   It’s typically a 2-footer and evergreen or ever olive.  Some filtered morning light is okay but this fern is not for sunny areas.

Shade Garden Combination of fern and hosta

ANLD Member Rick Hansen design Arachniodes Standishii – Upside Down Fern in 2015 Designers Garden Tour. Note the color echo achieved by matching the mid green of the fern with the mid green leaf edge of the hosta.  See the contrast from the ruffled texture of the fern with the smooth hosta leaf.

 

 

Big Drama Fern

Upside Down Fern – Arachniodes Standishii  –  It’s not an upside down plant but the way the little pinnae are organized is opposite of all the other Arachniodes ferns in the world.  What I  care about is that it is cold hardy here (native to Korea and Japan), has an over the top lacy pattern and is easy to grow.  It’s semi evergreen.  It can take a little direct morning sun, typically place it in filtered shade with some deeper afternoon shade.  Plant it in front of other plants for a peek through the lace curtain effect.  It can eventually get large (4′ tall and wide) and I am trying mine on the north side where it will get sun until noon in mid June.  I’m pushing my luck a bit so we will see if it scorches and if so how long it takes to recover.

After the lecture, I bought plants. Even in my near senior status I felt that good old plant lust rise to the surface.  I usually don’t indulge in buying plants at lectures.  Managing all aspects of my landscape design business doesn’t leave me a lot of time for my former hobby of gardener and plant enthusiast.  I must be careful that I don’t kill plant material purchased in a state of amnesia about the reality of my life.  I bought these 5 ferns:  Tracys Hybrid Maidenhair – Adiantum x traceyi, Narrow Golden Scaled Male Fern  Dryopteris x complexa ‘Stableri Crisped’, Arachniodes Standishii, Upside Down Fern, Makinoi’s Holly Fern – Polystichum  ‘Makinoi’, and have lost the tag on the last one.  It’s clearly a Holly fern of some kind.

Buy ferns from Judith

My clients and I buy ferns directly from Judith off her web site or via an email. I like buying from her and get loads of advice and information when I need it. They arrive in great shape and are mostly sized between a 4” plant and a quart.  If you want bigger sizes, contact her before the spring or fall HPSO plant sale and she can bring them down for you.  Your clients can buy directly from her too.

Deep Shade Plants Tried and True

Deep Shade Plants Tried and True

Garden Design Northwest Portland Fatsia Japonica, 'Spiders Web'

Large leaves of Fatsia Japonica capture the available sunlight efficiently.

How to Select Plants for Shade

Let’s look at a handful of plants.  Most of these plants can take a little sun but my point is, they  can thrive in deep shade which is a difficult  area for many homeowners to select plants for.

Selecting Shade Plants

Tip:  Think about it…big leaves are like big hands. The more surface area the more light the plants can access. Having said that……this is a perfect example of the rule about how there are no steadfast rules. Our native huckleberry, Vaccinium Ovatum has tiny but highly reflective leaves, (such a rule breaker!) and yet it grows very well in a lot of shade.  Sigh…plants are tricky.

Tip:  If you have the luxury of planting your mostly shade tolerant plants where they get good dapples of sun of even morning sun they will often tolerant the shade deepening over the years.  If your shade is very dark now there are some plants that will eventually thrive but they may take many years to fatten up and fill in.  Add one or two very active dogs to this mix and these plants will not survive long enough to do you proud.

Small Trees for Shade

Plant this beautiful Snake Bark Maple under your fir trees….Acer Tegmentosum “Joe Witt”  Manchurian Snake Bark Maple

I have great success with a small tiny leafed evergreen tree called Azara microphylla in deep shade and also partial shade under big fir trees. I saw a tree at an abandoned property in Raleigh Hills where it was providing privacy between neighbors.  It had not been irrigated in at least 3 years and was competing with a Douglas fir tree as it was planted about 8′ off the large trunked tree.  I’ve been a fan every since and use this small tree large shrub in my city landscapes in N. Portland and N.E. Portland often because it provides privacy but doesn’t get too big.  My lousy photo does show the general shape so you can see what a great screen tree it could be.

Shrubs for Shade

Fatsia Japonica  (also called Japanese Aralia)  This is beautiful planted as under story to larger trees. It is also my 3 Labrador dog yard plant so very tough and can take a fair amount of morning sun.   It can grow to be a 15′ tall tree although it is rare to see it this way.  It is easy to prune so can be kept as an evergreen shrubs 3 to 6′ tall or can tolerate deep shade, morning sun or even afternoon dapples of strong light.  Tip:  Some shade plants can take quite a bit of sun.  Many will tip burn the first year or two but go on to tolerate a lot more sun than you might think.  Careful watering will make the difference between a guess and a plan.

Aucuba, also called Cast Iron Plant is typically used in deep shade.  It has toxic berries so is not a favorite for back yards with dogs although I have seen many old plants grow into small trees and no ones dog has ever bothered to eat the berries.  Still who wants to take a chance with their little bundle of joy and I do not trust Labradors among other breeds who seem to think everything should go in their mouth.

Native Plants for Shrubbery

Mahonia Nervosa and Vaccinium Ovatum are both shrubs native to the Northwest.  The Mahonia, (also called Oregon Grape) a favorite of hummingbirds, can get a little ratty looking at the end of winter, wait until the hummingbirds have gotten their fill of the flowers and then cut the plant back to about 12″ tall every year.  There won’t be berries for birds if you do this but you can keep the plant front yard attractive.  You won’t get a lot of flowers in deep shade.  I like growing this plant in enough sun to increase flowering for both pollinators and food for birds via the berries.  http://www.greatplantpicks.org/plantlists/view/980

Shade Plant Huckleberry in NW Portland garden with red cushioned stump chairsOur evergreen native Vaccinium, a huckleberry plant will be more shade tolerant if you buy it from Boskey Dell Natives and ask for one that was dug out of deep shade.  I have  self seeded native huckleberry at my home on the Puget Sound in a lot of sun. The truth is the offspring of my plant (little rule breakers) will prefer a sunnier location than if planted in full shade. This is all about natural selection and where your plants seed came from.  When I put it on my plant list I don’t require it come from a shade area and it has worked out quite well for my gardens.  Please note you won’t get much fruit growing this evergreen in deep shade.  My photo is from a tour of the home of Joy Creek Co founder Maurice Horn and his family.  He used the huckleberry shrub as a back drop for a casual sitting area.

Here is a highly textural native fern called Adiantum Aleuticum, Northern Maidenhair Fern. This one has previously escaped my radar. I use a lot of different ferns so nice to have another native one to use.

Ground Cover Plants for Shade

Evergreen plants for shade  – Perennials and Groundcovers

These first two are a little more unusual (unless you are a total plant nerd).  Beesia Deltophylla, I first met this plant at the famous Heronswood Garden in Kingston, Washington. It is slow to bulk up but is such a low maintenance plant. It would be great to have more access to this plant. When I first wrote this blog in 2012 it was hard to find but now I see it regularly at many retail garden stores. It won’t flower well in deep shade but the glossy leaves reflect light and are a huge asset in a deep shade setting.  It will flower in dappled shade and rather nicely.

Begonia grandis flowering in September

Selecting Shade Plants Begonia grandis is very attractive

Begonia Grandis leaves in late spring

Begonia grandis – ok this won’t survive the big rowdy dogs but wow it is a cold hardy evergreen perennial with fabulous leaves.  The flowers are also attractive.  I’m very fond of this plant and have it coming back every year in many gardens.  It rooted into a log just under my floating home and lived for several years until a certain someone thought it was a weed and yanked it.

Geranium macrorrhizum is a groundcover shade plant that may take a while to bulk up in deep shade but it will get there.  The strong smell of cedar in the leaves tends to keep rowdy dogs out of it so the survival rate is strong but it is not a thug and will slowly clump to cover a lot of soil.  It is semi evergreen so you will have some leaves in the winter too.

Shade plant in Irvington neighborhood handles shade and big tree roots too.The best fern for deep shade is our native Sword fern, Polystichum munitum but another option for shade is this non native often called Shield fern.  It will take a lot longer to establish than our good old Sword.   Sword fern can also handle a lot of doggie rowdiness , (even in shade)  if you start with a nice big plant.  I’m feeling unfair to other ferns because I always talk about Sword Fern and how fabulous it is.

We would love to help you with your shady landscape.  Contact us if you are ready for help with your difficult shady and probably muddy back yard.