March 2013

Shade-loving plants for the Indiana garden

The native, spring-blooming crested iris is an under-used perennial that does well in shady gardens. © S.B. Goodwin/Fotolia

A couple of weeks ago, the Indianapolis Museum of Art held Shade Savvy, a horticulture symposium. Culling some of the best from the speakers, last week we covered epimedium and today, we’ll look at a sampler of other plants for the shade garden.

On Brian Jorg’s list are a mostly native spring ephemerals, including Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica) and shooting star (Dodecatheon maedia).

Overlooked shade plants include wild bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia), American bugbane (Cimicifuga racemosa syn. Actaea racemosa) and dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata), said Jorg, a horticulturist at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, where he specializes in propagating native plants, including illusive Trillium.

Gene Bush, owner of Munchkin Nursery & Garden in Depauw, Ind., not far from the Ohio River, broke out his list of shade-loving plants by the month. Some to consider: yellow blooming merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora) with Virginia bluebells for April. Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliate) has almost stemless white, star-like flowers in June and olive green leaves that turn red in fall.

Dogwoods received good coverage from Paul Cappiello, executive director of Yew Dell Botanical Gardens in Crestwood, Ky., about 25 miles northeast of Louisville.

He’s particular fond of the native pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia), which he says is under used in the landscape. Like a lot of dogwoods, this one has strong horizontal growth. White lace cap flowers in spring are followed by berries in late summer and fall.

Tropical and tender plants were a focus of Dan Benarcik’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark talk. A horticulturist at Chanticleer, a public garden in Wayne, Pa., Benarcik is responsible for incorporating tropical plants in the landscape in the garden, about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

Some of his favorites: gold dust plant (Aucuba japonica), bromeliad (Bromeliaceae) and rex begonia vine (Cissus discolor). The challenge, of course, is wintering them over. Dig and pot plants and them to a basement or a garage that stays about 40 degrees, Benarcik said.