Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Winter containers that shine in the shade.

When asked to replant shady container gardens for fall and winter the most common request is for COLOR! Having enjoyed tropical bromeliads, begonias and sweet potato vines all summer, the options for winter seem very dull in comparison. The solution is to get creative!

Aucuba with autumn fern and branches of bittersweet (berries) just stuck into the soil!

Shady containers are definitely challenging, yet with forethought you can still have colorful flowers, fragrance, hummingbird favorites and even a few spring bulbs. Admittedly in very deep shade things do get a little trickier but here are a few of my favorites for partial shade; typically dappled or filtered light in the morning followed by shade in the afternoon.

Orange hair sedge in shade container

Camellia ‘Yuletide’  is smothered with single red blooms each having a large central boss of yellow stamens. Hummingbirds love to investigate this one! Underplant with the glossy evergreen Leucothoe ‘Rainbow’ to repeat the red, yellow and green with its wonderful color-splashed leaves and maybe the box honeysuckle ‘Baggesens Gold’ (Lonicera nitida) for a finer texture. Mahonia ‘Charity’ is another great shrub for the main feature plant of winter containers. Bright yellow, shuttlecock flowers exude a scent for us to enjoy and nectar that hummingbirds fight over. A low carpet of the coral bells ‘Tiramisu’ (Heuchera) adds a new leaf shape  with its bright leaves decorated with an intricate network of red veins. I have found this to be one of the most bullet proof varieties for clients who tend to forget the ‘small detail’ of watering! Another tough, evergreen shrub that will tolerate forgetfulness and extreme shade is Aucuba. Several green and yellow variegated varieties are available including ‘Gold Dust’, sure to brighten up the darkest spots. I like to add wispy grasses under this such as orange hair sedge (Carex testacea) which adds warmth with its olive green and orange toned foliage. Although it is happier in sunnier spots it will cope for the winter in shade.
Coral bells 'Tiramisu'

Most spring bulbs such as tulips and daffodils need sun but crocus and snowdrops will take some shade. A great way to ‘cheat’ though is to purchase pots of already blooming bulbs such as Hyacinths or Tete a Tete daffodils when they become available in February and nestle them in the foliage of the existing planting. Don’t even bother to take them out of the pot. Then they can easily be replaced when the blooms are finished.

So head to the nurseries and add some sparkle to that shady corner! (Tell then Karen sent you…………)


  1. I love that first picture! The depth of color is amazing!

  2. Thanks Katie! The brick pillar was the inspiration for the color scheme of this north facing design. The autumn fern will continue to get more and more coppery tints as the temperatures drop too.


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