A shade workhorse, hostas, according to the Perennial Plant Association are the most widely planted perennial in the world. Easily tucked into small places in the garden, and a perfect accent in trough and other miniature garden containers, these diminutive hostas are becoming a crowd favorite.
On the pricey side, these adorable plants are being snatched up everywhere. They can run from $18 too $30 a piece.
Usually less than 6 inches high, miniature hostas should be placed carefully in a garden bed so you don’t lose sight of them when other plants encroach. That is why I like to use them in trough gardens. You are placing this little gem in a highly visible location for maximum impact in a container. But try planting a rainbow of them in a garden bed for a great little ground cover in the shade. Recently I made a trip to Carolyn’s Shade Gardens in Media, Pennsylvania and was impressed with the variety available.
And the names!! Mini Skirt, Lemon Lime, Blue Mouse Ears, Neutrino, Cracker Crumbs, Dew Drop, Shiny Penny, Appletini, Baby Blue Eyes, Little Red Rooster, Tears of Joy, Sunlight Child, Curley, Sun Mouse, Church Mouse, Kiwi Golden Thimble- the list goes on and on. Marketing a plant is all about finding that perfect name and these minis take the prize for catchy names.
Irresistible with sculptural leaves and charming textures make it difficult to stop at one, and you’ll be tempted to fill a garden with them. Taking up less space in a space challenged property, and ideally suited to container growing, these little minis are perfect on their own or as a companion plant.
Easily grown like all the larger widely known large hostas, they are pretty indestructible. For the best care of hostas, plant them in rich organic soil with a slightly acidic pH.
Drainage, like with so many plants, is most important. Dormant season crown rot is one of the few diseases that attack these plants. With this in mind, when newly planted, keep the roots moist, not wet. Once established, hosta plants aren’t fussy and are very tolerant of summer drought and last for years.
One of deer’s favorite food, plant hostas in containers if you have a property overrun with these pests.
Do you want a garden trip to a run of the mill big box store? Or do you want personal attention? And do you have shady areas in your garden that need TLC and need the ideal plant for that perfect spot? Look no further than Happy Hollow nursery in Cockeysville, MD. Specializing in hostas and other shade loving plants, Sue Bloodgood grows the most extensive collection of hostas around and can share excellent advice on plantings in difficult shady areas that you are scratching your head about.
Carrying over 200 hosta varieties, Happy Hollow nursery is tucked away in a suburban neighborhood in Cockeysville, MD, and a great place to see the many varieties of Hostas. These can vary from tiny plants suitable for troughs or rock gardens to massive 4-foot clumps with heart-shape leaves almost 2 feet long that are puckered, wavy-edged, white or green variegated, blue-gray, chartreuse, emerald-edged — the variations are virtually endless. This tough, shade-loving perennial, also known as plaintain lily, blooms with white or purplish lavender funnel-shape or flared flowers in summer which are attractive to pollinators.
Two large greenhouses full to the brim with hostas and other shade companion plants, like Brunnera, Pulmonaria, Tricyrtus, and shade grasses, Sue carries many unusual and hard to find plants, like “Praying Hands” Hosta.
Praying Hands is a 2′ wide clump composed of strangely folded, dark green crinkled leaves, each with a narrow, creamy yellow border which resembles a multitude of hands folded in prayer.
I went to Happy Hollow when I needed some miniature hostas for some clients. My local wholesaler carried about 3 varieties of minis and I needed more. Sue Bloodgood carried at least 2 dozen varieties of minis and it was hard to choose from them all.
I fell in love with one of her hostas, called ‘Striptease’ and had to take one home.
Boutique nurseries are becoming more and more popular when you are looking for something unusual and the selection at the big box stores can be limited. I haven’t seen miniature hostas other than ‘Mouse Ears’ or the one pictured above called ‘Striptease’ anywhere before, and I do a lot of plant shopping. Catering to a small segment of the discerning buying public, boutique nurseries are struggling to stay in business and are competing with larger nurseries that carry a little bit of everything. But Happy Hollow doesn’t sell fertilizer, pots, or bird houses – they simply sell the best hostas anywhere. And for personal attention and advice for gardening in the shade, stop in at Happy Hollow Nursery.
Old houses are so picturesque and have lots of charm inside, but outside can be a different story. I got a call for a job for an early 1800’s house that had been decorated to the nines inside but lacked the same appeal on the outside.
There were several obstacles-one was the imposing curved brick wall around the sun room with the steep drop down to the lower level (lower blue arrow). The other was the very small exit from the brick surround to the grassy area, only 2 1/2 feet wide (upper blue arrow).
The first order of business was to add a mortared blue stone patio behind the mud room (small off-set room), replacing the old brick pavers next to the house. Adding six or seven large four to five feet wide guillotined steps curving down the slope took care of the steep drop from the patio.
We filled in the old narrow opening with new brick and removed old brick to create a wider five foot wide opening making for easier access. At the bottom of the steps, large steppers curved around the imposing brick wall.
A small water feature was installed on the upper patio.
Right outside the mudroom door we built a small entrance patio to the larger patio. A sitting wall encircled the larger patio to give additional seating room. Lighting was installed around the patio and down the steps.
The lighting was partial shade and I didn’t have to worry with deer as the house was surrounded by farm fields that interested the deer more. Between the wall and the steps, I planted Serbian Cypress, Microbiota decussata, an evergreen ground cover that stays low to the ground and is quite beautiful. It looks like juniper but has a softer texture and doesn’t have the disease problems that junipers can get.
On the right side of the steps, I planted pink drift roses which bloom all summer long and stay low and mound like. The gold perennial between the steps is ‘Angelina’ Sedum.
Around the base of the steps, I planted ‘Guacamole’ Hosta, ‘Patriot’ Hosta, variegated ‘Solomans Seal’, Japanese Painted Fern, and ‘Limelight’ Hydrangea for some height.
Down on the existing patio there was a foot wide strip of soil that needed plantings and I chose ‘Frances Williams’ Hosta for its spectacular size and leaf markings.
Additional plantings were added around the house to spruce it up when the rear patio and plantings were completed. A tri-color Beech gives the shady side planting bed a pop of color and and vertical element.
I recently toured a gorgeous private garden that is stunning for it’s beauty and classic garden design. I enjoyed strolling through the woodland gardens that were peaking with spring color and was struck by the innovative use of ground covers. No overly used big three – pachysandra, vinca, or ivy to be seen!
With all these choices available, I can’t understand anyone who sticks with the common ordinary big three. If you are a fan of the color blue, you will love these. So read on, and pick the best for you!
Who ever thought about using Bluebells as a ground cover? It blooms beautifully and then disappears for another late comer to cover up.
Spanish Bluebells, Hyacinthoides hispanica, is a great mid spring bloomer that spans the gap between the early arrivals of spring bulbs such as snowdrops, to the later arrival of mid summer perennials. Their best feature, other than the beautiful blue color, is that they will bloom in deep shade as well as in full sunlight. You can naturalize them in a shady woodland underneath evergreen or deciduous trees and they will steadily increase over the years to carpet the ground in an azure swath.
Bluebells are a bulb and come in pink and white as well, but the blue is my favorite by far. They are easy to grow in any woodland condition but will thrive where it is well-drained and with ample moisture. I grow them in my perennial borders with no special care and the foliage will disappear by midsummer. Because of this feature, you can underplant it with another creeping ground cover such as ajuga or sweet woodruff that can will take over once the foliage has died down.
Virginia Bluebells – A Native
Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica, is the native version of Spanish Bluebells. Instead of the strap like foliage of Spanish Bluebells, the leaves are very broad and tissue like in texture. The flower color is an intense cornflower blue.
Virginia Bluebells are a spring ephemeral like so many early woodland bloomers, dying back to the ground. So be sure to have something else like the native woodland phlox to take its place.
Woodland Phlox, Phlox divaricata, is a native about 9 inches tall that comes in pastel blue, pink, and white. I love it, but find that it is a very short-lived plant, only two or three seasons. Who knew that there were so many kinds of phloxes? This plant comes in a creeping, woodland, tall garden, and miniature alpine varieties, and some variations in between. Most people are not familiar with the range of varieties available. The Woodland Phlox is a very beautiful member of the family.
Crested Wood Iris
Another underused ground cover is the Crested Wood Iris, or Iris cristata. This diminutive little Iris is only about 6 inches tall and blooms with a miniature azure colored Iris bloom and will spread steadily but not aggressively. It is perfectly adorable! The deer ignore it also. Wood Iris will bloom in very deep shade.
Solomans Seal, Polygonatum variegatum, is a workhorse perennial for me. Plant a small colony of a dozen, and after splitting it up regularly for several years, you will end up with a large swath of nodding white bells! Be warned – Deer do like to browse on them. This perennial will not thrive amongst others as it covers the ground with underground tubers and lasts all season long. Nothing else will grow where Solomans Seal takes over but a large drift is a sight to behold. Yellow fall foliage is a bonus, something that surprises me every year!
Just about everyone knows and grows hostas. A tough plant that is hard to kill, it is a deer magnet for browsing. But if bambi doesn’t roam nearby, try planting large colonies of the same variety for a great looking ground cover. I prefer planting the same variety together, as mixing different ones tends to look busy. Hostas have so many colorations and sizes that when you combine many varieties, it just doesn’t work.
Green and Gold
Another golden ground cover that will brighten a shady area is Green and Gold, Chrysogonum virginianum, or Golden Star. A native also, it is known for its star like flowers and creeping hairy leaves. Green and Gold loves moisture and will thrive in a boggy area. I grow it in ordinary garden conditions and it does just fine. It does need some shade or will burn in full sun.
Hellebores or Lenten Roses
I have been advocating the use of Lenten Roses or Hellebores, as an evergreen, long blooming, deer resistant ground cover for years. The plants are a little pricey but will slowly fill in and throw off seedlings that will cover your ground before you know it. Did I mention that it blooms for three months, sometimes longer? Everyone who has a shady garden should grow these.
Japanese Maples as a Ground Cover?
Who would have thought of using Japanese Maples as a ground cover? Expensive, yes, but it works beautifully! Japanese Maples are an understory tree and the cut leaf weeping ones certainly cover the ground nicely. Also, the fall coloration is fantastic!
I really hate that name! Golden Ragwort, Senecio aurea, is another native which I like to use in shady or semi-shady conditions. Senecio blooms with a cheerful daisy-like flower for weeks in the spring. The rosettes of deep shiny heart-shaped leaves are attractive the rest of the growing season. This ground cover will spread steadily and you might have to restrain it a bit, but it is definitely not a garden thug!
Yellow Wax Bells
Yellow Wax Bells, or Kirengeshoma palmata is a showy shade loving ground cover or accent plant. The yellow bell-like flowers nod on the branches in late summer and the foliage is a maple look-alike. It is a beautiful plant, especially when it blooms.
Forget Me Not
Another deer resistant ground cover which I recommend is Brunnera or Forget-me-not. This is the perennial Forget-me-not, not to be confused with Myosotis which is a biennial. Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ is the perennial plant of the year for 2012 and deservedly so because of it’s beauty and toughness. Deer give it a wide berth because of the fuzzy foliage and it will hide early spring bulb foliage because it emerges right when the bulbs are dying back. ‘Jack Frost’ is a great cultivar with silver to white webbing on the leaf surface that shines in the shade. The plant is topped off with airy panicles of true blue tiny flowers.
The last shade ground cover plant that I want to highlight is Euphorbia amygdaloides or Spurge. Evergreen and deer resistant, spurge is topped with lime green flowers in the spring. I am a sucker for lime green flowers! The color really brightens a dark area. This euphorbia easily grows in shade or sun and sports rosettes of leathery leaves all season long.