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A Shady Groundcover Plant Palette

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I am re-working a planting scheme for a commercial project that I want to share with you.  It is a financially based move designed to accomplish three things.

First, the beds currently get a full treatment of annuals for the summer.  These have historically been mixed with the hostas and astilbe that are established throughout and then in the fall we take out the annuals and replace them with mums.  It is completely typical in New England for property managers to plan for three season plantings (spring summer and fall), but it is expensive….sooooo for this project we are trying to re-think and eliminate the fall planting….
A Shady Groundcover Plant Palette www.pithandvigor.com

1. Blue Hosta, 2. Ajuga reptans, 3. Carex ‘Evergold’, 4. Variegated grass sea, 5. Groundcover #5, 6. Epimedium, after the rain, 7. Hosta ‘Francee’ 01, 8. Astilbe chinensis ‘Vision in Red’, 9. Groundcover

The second goal has to do with snow removal.  The beds that this design is for are adjacent to a parking garage and the property owner would like to save costs by scraping snow off the top and letting it fall to the ground below rather than trucking it down and out of the garage.  So we are removing all the shrubs and plants that can get crushed in lieu of herbaceous perennials only.

And finally — the client asked for simply ground cover — suggesting ivy or pachysandra and even grass.  I simply could not in good faith put these plants in and the grass, where a colorful display once was, is just so sad that none of us could bear it.  Ivy is rat heaven and pachysandra never looks as good as you might hope and both are boring.   So I have come up with this palette to address the need for a ground cover planting on shady snakelike berms in a commercial setting.   My goal to to provide something that is low maintenance, perennial, sophisticated, green and textural.   I would use Hakonechloa macra ‘beni kaze’  so that I get a shot of red color in the fall.  What do you think?  I’m happy to take suggestions for tweaking…..

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  1. Pottering Around says:

    I like your colour combinations a lot. A nice replacement for your annual fall plantings would be the perennial white woods aster (Aster divaricatus). I use this a lot as it blooms when most other things are fading away and tolerates deep shade (you often find it growing in the woods). It has nearly black stems with 3/4″ white star like flowers. I think it would contrast nicely with some of the other plants that you are proposing. It does tend to get a bit leggy and I cut them back to 12″ in early summer.

    • rochelle says:

      Oh — I like the aster Idea…I will have to check and see what it looks like through the season…but white in the shade is always a fav. for me.

  2. private says:

    Those photos look lovely together.
    Epimedium may be a bit sparse; around here zone 7 it doesn’t seem to fill in well.

    You might try heuchera for color in shade – see
    Mine have been indestructible. They came back fine after the huge DC snowstorm, and also after my mother “cleaned” them up one year, leaving little bare stems.

    • rochelle says:

      You know — I think you have a good point with the epimedium….I am thinking that Heuchera marmalade, or caramel, (or one of the really other orangy colored ones) would be a great addition!

  3. Louise says:

    Love your ideas. A good ground cover/ long bloomer with consistent look include any of the hardy geranium (Biokovo, ‘Katherine Adele’, Jolly Bee)
    Also, what about bearberry (arc. uva ursi) as substitution for the clients ivy/pachy interest.
    If conditions allow (moist garden soil) Id go for a sweep of several of the hakone grass varieties (Benekaze’ has reddish coloring).

  4. Here are a few of my favorites for shade – phlox stolinifera which becomes a dense cover, waldstenia ternata which is very reliable, carex morowii ‘Ice dance” which is almost green year round in my next of the woods, ferns, tiarella which is a nice native, heuchera villosa which is a native and very durable….the other cultivars can wimp out in a tough spot like the one you are describing and all kinds of hostas which are the true shade workhorses – June, Sagae…I like the variegated ones.

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