March 2003
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Garden design using shade plants and shade trees   

Gardening Newsletter - March 2003, Issue 7

Spring is finally here. In a few weeks the soil will be warm enough in just about all the states for planting. Don’t be caught unprepared. Order your Mycorrhizal Fungi now. Unlike chemical fertilizers that kill off beneficial life in the soil, mycorrhizal fungi enhance the soil with beneficial organisms that naturally deliver the nutrients your plant needs. You don’t have to worry about harming your plants by applying too much or about potentially harmful chemicals leaching from your soil. It is the perfect way to fertilize if you have well water.

In most locations April and May are the best times to plant. So Order your Garden Plan now.  We’ll create a garden design to your specifications, satisfaction guaranteed.

Happy spring and happy gardening!

Rebecca Green

Gardening with Colorful Foliage

In any garden foliage is a serious consideration. Flowers come and go, but the leaves persist long after the flowers have faded away. This is especially true in shady gardens, where flowers are subtler.

Foliage has a lot to offer. Leaves can be large and bold, such as those of Ligularia dentata (big leaf ligularia), or small and delicate, such as those of Lamium maculatum (dead nettle). They can visually be dense, like a sugar maple leaf, or fine and airy, like a cut leaf Japanese maple leaf. Whatever its size and texture, foliage should never just be considered greenery.

Foliage comes in so many different colors one could create a colorful garden just using plants with dramatically different foliage. True, most leaves are green, but there are so many different shades of green, from steely blue-green to acidic chartreuse to golden yellow-greens, not to mention good old-fashioned forest green. Then there are burgundy colored leaves, some of which create a warm red glow and others verging on black. Some leaves, like those of Phalaris arundinaceaea (ribbon grass) and those of some Japanese maples, are highlighted with pink. Others have white spots, stripes, and blotches. Leaves are anything but just plain old green.

Here are descriptions of some shade loving plants with interesting colored foliage.

CarexCarex or sedges

Plants in the genus Carex, commonly called sedges, resemble decorative grasses, but they aren’t grasses. These shade lovers enjoy moist to wet soil. Sedges can be anywhere between about half-dozen inches tall to two feet. They can be bright yellow, like Carex elata ‘Bowles Golden’, or variegated, such as Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’.

HeucheraHeuchera or coral bells

The excitement began about ten years ago with the introduction of Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’, a coral bell with purple foliage. Since then there have been many other introductions with multi-colored exciting foliage in burgundy, purple, silver and, green. The name coral bells refers to the tiny pink or white flowers these plants get, but the reason to buy coral bells is for the foliage not the flowers.

Athyrium niponicumAthyrium niponicum or Japanese painted fern

With its red stems and, green and white variegated foliage Athyrium niponicum, Japanese painted fern, adds light and color to the shady garden. Its delicate foliage looks great with hosta. The colors intensify in partial shade, as opposed to full shade. Place it along a path where its variegation can be appreciated.

Hakonechloa macraHakonechloa macra or hakone grass

This is a mounding grass. The arching green leaves are ten to twenty inches long and turn pinkish-tan in the fall. There is only one species in the genius Hakonechloa and that is Hakonechloa macra. There are several cultivars that are striped yellow-green or have cream variegation. It spreads slowly by rhizomes and, the cultivars grow more slowly than the species.

Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ or variegated Solomon’s seal

This plant makes an interesting architectural statement, with its two- to three-foot tall stems growing straight out of the ground. The edges of variegated Solomon’s seal’s leaves are creamy white, reflecting light in the shady garden. Solomon’s seal looks good with mounding plants.

Ligularia dentataLigularia dentata or big leaf ligularia

Known for its large leaves and bright sunny yellow flowers, big leaf ligularia has a colorful surprise for the shade gardener. The backsides of its leaves are a deep burgundy. Plant it near Japanese painted fern for a bold contrast. Its bright sunny flowers are unusual for shade plants. Ligularia looks wilted on hot summer days, but usually quickly perks-up when the sun sets in the evening.


Lamium maculatumLamium maculatum or spotted dead nettle

This short (8 to 12 " tall) plant spreads rapidly and can become invasive. Consequently, you don’t want to plant spotted dead nettle in your perennial border, but rather under trees and shrubs, as a living mulch. The simplicity of this plant makes it absolutely lovely. It has hairy green leaves with a creamy blotch in their center. It gets tiny pink or white flowers.



Bee Gone

Every year I get several customers who don’t want a lot of bees in their garden. Here are a few tips to keep the number of bees in your garden to a minimum.

Bees are attracted to plants that flower. If you don’t want bees don’t plant flowering plants. Many lovely shade gardens are created using contrasts in foliage rather than flowers. In fact, creating a foliage garden is a lot easier in the shade than in full sun.

What flowers your garden does have should be either white or black. Bees aren’t attracted to these colors.

Use decorative grasses in your garden. Grasses are pollinated by the wind not by insects. Hence they don’t attract bees.

That's all for now. If you have any comments or questions on the newsletter, please email us at


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