One of the most challenging tasks for any homeowner is finding
those perfect plants for the shade garden or north side of the house.
Whenever teaching home landscape design classes I am always bombarded
with requests to suggest a few plants that are not only attractive
but will flourish in shady areas and woodland sites.
Here come those fabulous Brunnera to the rescue. They tend to form
12 inch to 18 inch high mounds that are 18 inches 24 inches wide
with baby blue to lavender forget-me-not type flowers occurring
in late spring to early summer and lasting up to four weeks. They
typically have heart shaped shaped leaves, some with yellow margins, some
with silver spots and still others with silverfish overlays. They
all have one thing in common, they are attractive not only when
blooming but all season long. They are capable of making a statement
as an accent plant or as a solid groundcover, and best of all they
handle a lot of shade. I have grown them under our Jack Pines and
along the north side of our foundation with equal success. Best
of all the leaves hold well into the late fall. We have a Jack Frost
Brunnera against our foundation that still exhibited gorgeous foliage
two weeks after the leaves from the adjacent hostas had frozen back
for the year.
Brunnera tend to be very forgiving and are generally rated for
zones 3 - 8. They will not tolerate too much sun or heat, however,
so protect them. These plants prefer soils that have good drainage.
One of the things that I always recommend with most plantings is
what I refer to as "a $100 hole for a $10 plant". By this
I mean that the best time to influence the health and long term
vigor of a plant is at the time of planting. A good rule of thumb
is to dig your planting hole at least twice as wide as the plant
rootball itself, and preferably three times as wide. I always then
backfill around the plant with a mix of 1/3 native soil, 1/3 good
quality screened topsoil, and 1/3 organic matter such as sphagnum
peat moss. I employ this same procedure with the Brunnera I plant.
Following are four of my favorite Brunnera varieities:
1. Brunnera macrophylla 'Hadspen Cream' has heart shaped shaped leaves with
green centers flanked by irregular yellow margins. It is absolutely
beautiful and brightens the foggiest, shadiest day.
2. .Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' is one that I have specified
for several years as a groundcover par excellence. It has strong
green leaf veins and a wonderful silverfish overlay. Get ready for
the compliments from your guests.
3. Brunnera macrophylla 'Langtrees' has numerous irregular white
to silver spots between the veins on the outer half of the leaves.
4. Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass' has heart shaped leaves that
cup downward and are a rather solid silver in color. I have ordered
25 for my own gardens for this coming spring.
All of the Brunnera mix well with other shade tolerant plants.
I always like to see them planted in clusters of 3, 5, 7 and so
forth. Many times I will specify the Jack Frost massed in front
of Krossa Regal or Blue Angel Hostas. The size and color contrast
makes for a striking bed. Dress the bed up with some Lamium maculatum
'Purple Dragon' or 'Pink Pewter' creeping in front for an added
Brunnera are also terrific for setting off a bed of Taunton Yew
used as a backdrop. I also like to mix in an occasional Fanal or
Etna Astilbe for a splash of red for contrast and to accentuate
the unusual foliage of the Brunnera.
Finally, the most breathtaking shade bed I have ever seen was the
simplest. It was a mass planting of Jack Frost Brunnera acting as
the groundcover beneath three wonderful five stem clump Whitespire
birches. There were a few very large character boulders imbedded
for additional accent.
Whatever you choose for your shade bed, just don't overlook those
incredible Brunnera. Those challenges and frustrations created by
the shade will simply melt away as your success rate soars. Happy