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Shade gardens

February 16, 2012
By Stephanie Bethke-DeJaeghere , Marshall Independent

This past year I started moving plants out of a garden that had become too shady. I had developed a new full sun garden, and most of the plants that were in the old garden were moved to the new garden. This year I am planning on putting in a new shade garden which would be considered moderate to heavy shade.

The shade garden I have in mind may not be the shade garden most people would choose from. Even though it will already be dark, just from the fact of how shady the spot has become, the plants that I am considering for the garden have a dark, mysterious aura too. A mix of varying colors from hosta, a few coral bells and the occasional yellow or white perennial or annual mixed in with black plants.

This was all inspired by the book, Black Plants: 75 Striking Choices for the Garden by Paul Bonine.

According to Bonine, the black or very dark purple coloring is due to anthocyanin which may or may not be a genetic trait. As I have perused through the book, the first fact to mention is that many of the plants listed are not for our zone which is 4b.

There are a number of zone 5 plants which could work well if you have a microclimate in your yard. I think that many of us would agree that black or near black flowers may only appeal to a few gardeners who really enjoy the unusual coloring that some of these flowers and plants have.

The first one that caught my eye was the Hillside Black Beauty bugbane. I already have another bugbane that has yellow flowers on one side of my new shade garden that this would be a great foil for the other side of the garden.

The flowers that it offers are not black but white while the foliage is the dark beauty of the plant. It has the blessing of being a zone 3 plant as well. The next plant that caught my eye is Black Scallop bugleweed. This plant has dark purple leaves and will produce dark purple flowers as well about mid summer. This will look great growing among the hosta plants and a few white dwarf asters.

Another good plant that will work with the hostas and mix in wonderfully along with the other dark plants is Samobor mourning widow. This is a hardy (zone 4) geranium that has the typical green leaves as most geraniums do except that in the middle of each leaf, it has a 'dark brown chevron' decorating each leaf. There is yet, one more plant that will add both a splash of color as well as keeping with the dark coloring of the garden. This plant is called Night Wings daylily. The flowers are a dark mahogany surrounding a yellow throat for contrast. It is truly spectacular. You can add Black Iris to the list as well of easy keepers and plants that work well with our zone 4b growing conditions. There is another plant that is very interesting with its yellow eye surrounded by while then black and then gray once again. The Auricula (Primular auricula) which is a primrose plant is a lovely plant.

They will do better in the springtime and in the fall weather when it is cooler outside. Another plant that can be used as anchor plant for your garden is the Black pussy willow. This plant will have to be maintained to keep it within your growing parameters otherwise it will grow upwards of 7 feet tall. Black Lace elderberry is another plant that has true black leaves with eight inch wide creamy white flowers which bloom in the summer months. There is also Black Jack stonecrop which both flowers and leaves of the plant are jet black.

The book also discusses many, many other plants that we can grow here as annuals or as plants that can be brought into the house for overwintering purposes. These plants are truly unique in their black coloring and characteristics.



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