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Between the Rows

Between the Rows: Variegated plants to brighten the shade

I always think shade in the garden is cooling and restful. Some people think that the palette of plants that grow in deep shade provides little visual diversity in color and texture but this is not true. Variegated plants can alter that perception.

First, I have to say that there are all kinds of shade, from the deepest shade that you would find in a coniferous woodland, to the gay, dappled shade or high shade beneath deciduous trees. It is important to remember that if you want flowers in your shade, it will usually have to be a light shade. This can be achieved by limbing up tall deciduous trees so that more sun can penetrate to the ground.

This year and last, the Perennial Plant Association named two variegated spring bloomers as the Plant of the Year. Last year it chose Brunnera macrophylla Jack Frost with its silvery leaves veined with green and small blue spring flowers that dance above the foliage. Many people, me included, often confuse brunneras with forget-me-nots. They both bloom in the spring and have little blue flowers, but the brunneras have larger leaves and the flowers can be as much as 18 inches tall. It tolerates some sun, but is perfectly happy in full shade.

This year the association has chosen Polygonatum odoratum Variegatum as its plant of the year. This variety of the delicately fragrant Solomon’s Seal grows gracefully between 18 to 24 inches tall and the slim 3- to 4-inch-long leaves have cool white margins. In the spring, there are creamy bell-like flowers at each leaf axil. Like the brunneras, Solomon’s Seal needs full to partial shade. If the location is moist, so much the better. It will tolerate a drier site if it is kept well watered during the first year.

Another spring bloomer I love is the variegated pulmonaria with its green foliage splattered with white. High Contrast is a new variety that produces purple buds that open to pink and mature to blue flowers. It is that pink and blue combination that has always intrigued and pleased me.

Last year, I grew caladiums in pots in the shade. I chose the richly shaded Florida Sunrise. The large green leaves have a red heart and veins. I seem incapable of resisting any shade of red. The potted caladiums did very well, but as the summer progressed, I wished I had chosen Candidum Sr., which has large white leaves and sharp green veins, or Moonlight, which has smaller leaves but is almost pure white. The white foliage would have been more dramatic from a distance. Or, I could have compromised and chosen Cranberry Star with its white leaves, green veining and reddish splotches.

Hostas are a wonderful large family that provide many shades of variegation. The low and wide growing June was the Hosta of the Year in 2001 and I can understand why it remains popular. It has a bright golden center with two shades of green at the edges. For the color to develop to the fullest, it needs some dappled sun, but it will tolerate a deeper shade as well.

Minuteman hosta has very white margins that would brighten a shady corner. It produces lavender flowers and will do well in a container or in the garden.

I love garden phlox and I saw that Bluestone Perennials has a new phlox named Shockwave that has deep green foliage with yellow margins. The flowers are a lavender pink with white centers. Phlox paniculata love the sun, but I think the effect of this variegation would really make for a glowing planting.

Shrubs can also have interesting variegated foliage. Beautyberry is a shrub that always attracts a lot of attention when the pink flowers of summer become stunning purple berries in the fall. Callicarpa japonica Snow Storm also has foliage that is almost white when it first unfurls, then begins to develop a green spatter and is finally a dark green. That’s a lot of excitement for a single shrub that will not grow much more than 3 feet tall and spread gracefully.

One word of warning: I know that bishops weed, Aegopodium, beautiful and variegated as it is, is an invasive plant. It is sometimes still sold and we should all be wary at nurseries as well as plant swaps and sales.

Variegated foliage is one way to add color and texture to our gardens, and the hybridizers are providing us with more opportunities to add this element to our gardens.

Bluestone Perennials, , Brent and Becky’s Bulbs,, and Wayside Gardens, are three of the nurseries that carry many of these plants, but I am sure they will also be found in our own local garden centers come spring.

Shelburne survey

All of us are paying more and more attention to our beautiful rural landscape, to the ways it is used for farming and forestry and for our own recreation. A committee in Shelburne has just sent a survey to every household to collect information that will be used to create an Open Space Recreation Action Plan. The town has so many assets and so many possibilities in different areas, from farming to recreation, that the committee needs thoughtful responses from everyone, especially young people who will be affected by the changes in town for many years. While each household has received a survey, every individual can fill out the survey online at . This is an important opportunity for people to make their concerns and desires known.

Readers can leave comments at Pat Leuchtman’s Web site: Leuchtman has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980.

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