Shady characters in the garden

April 17, 2013
Ligularias are a favorite of butterflies and hummingbirds.

A wonderful person is said to be a good egg, but not everyone is a good egg. Since 1796 or so, in polite company you might not call someone a witch but rather say she was “fly-by-night.” Then about 1823, “fly-by-night” came to mean what it does today, a person who runs away in the middle of the night to avoid customers and creditors. Shady business.

A gardener’s shady business is even tougher. Few plants grow well in shade, and even fewer flower in shade.

A great plant that isn’t grown for its flowers but its leaves is the perennial hosta Sum and Substance. This easy-care giant grows into impressive clumps of huge, showy yellow-green leaves. Sum and Substance hosta lives up to its name and can reach 30 inches tall and five feet across when grown in rich, well-draining soil.

But shady folks and shady gardens both need some colorful surroundings, so the shade-loving Ligularia Britt-Marie Crawford brightens any dark garden.

It really and truly looks like a tropical plant with its huge, leathery leaves that are dark green on top with a dark, nearly black or purple underside. The midsummer treat is when they burst into bloom with bright yellow blossoms hanging in dense racemes. These flower spikes are 18 to 24 inches long on plants that grow three to five feet tall.

The Rocket is another widely available variety. Ligularias (Ligularia stenocephala) prefer partial to full shade and are perfectly hardy in USDA Zones 4-8

Plant them so the crown of the plant is just an inch beneath the soil. Tamp down the soil to remove any air pockets and water thoroughly.

Ligularias are a favorite of butterflies and hummingbirds. Because both the foliage and flowers are attractive, this easy-to-grow perennial is perfect for foundation plantings, woodsy gardens, shady spots and wherever you need a low-maintenance dramatic planting. They also do well along streams, and the edges of ponds and woods. Be sure to keep them well watered and never let them dry out, especially during the heat of summer. You can grow them in full sun, but they tend to wilt no matter how well watered; they can recover at the end of the day.

Plant them in well-draining soil with lots of compost. Mulch with a layer of organic mulch such as leaves or straw to keep the soil moist. Ligularias really have no serious pests or diseases, though you may see some damage from slugs and snails. If your clumps of either Sum and Substance hosta or Ligularia grow too big, divide them in the spring.

You can get Ligularia from garden centers or by mail from nurseries such as White Flower Farm (P.O. Box 50, Route 63, Litchfield, Connecticut 06759, 1-800-420-2852) or Jung Seed (by phone at 800-297-3123).

Match Ligularias up with Sum and Substance hosta for a bright spot in any dark place. They seem to just go together well. Shady characters tend to hang out together.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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