Ajuga, astilbe, Astilbe chinensis 'Visions in Red', Brunnera 'Jack Frost', Bugleweed, Heartleaf Brunnera, Jacob's Ladder, Lamium 'Beacon Silver', Lamium 'Purple Dragon', lasagna garden, Polemonium boreale 'Heavenly Habit', Shade plants for zone 5b
Last summer I started a lasagna garden. You can read all about its creation here. I am pleased to report that it is developing well! Here it is, in the early morning sunlight of mid-July:
April and May brought bright yellow daffodils and pale blue Lebanon squill into bloom. It was a delight to stand at my kitchen window and see the colors while I did my dishes!
In early May, Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ began to bloom, with delicate sprays of tiny sky-blue flowers floating on thin stems six inches above the foliage:Now that it has finished flowering, ‘Jack Frost’ has developed into a mound, and its large heart-shaped, silvery-green leaves are the star:Brunneras thrive in partial to full shade and rich soil full of organic matter, so this lasagna bed is a perfect location for them! I have two in this garden. In the middle of their first year, one measures 18 inches across by 11 inches high, and the other 14″ x 7″ . The flowers lasted about three weeks. The deer nibbled these plants right after I put them in the ground last fall, but have not touched them at all this year (knock on wood!). Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ is alternatively called Heartleaf Brunnera, False Forget-Me-Not, or Siberian Bugloss.
Around the same time the Brunnera bloomed, the Ajuga (Bugleweed) also flowered. I transplanted a dozen naturally occurring Ajuga from my lawn into the lasagna bed last fall. Here is what it looked like in May:Ajuga’s violet-blue flower spikes range from three to four inches in height, and the bloom period lasted from mid-May to early June. No critters bother it.
It has taken well in this half-sun, half-shade section of the garden. Since it stopped blooming, Ajuga has put its energy into spreading like wildfire, forming a carpet of flat, deep green foliage that shows occasional tinges of maroon and purple:Amidst the Ajuga foliage above, you can see the small leaflets forming the pinnate leaves of Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium boreale ‘Heavenly Habit‘). I planted these in early May, so I really did not expect to see them bloom this summer; yet:The main flower stalks range from 14 to 18 inches, and, right now, the bases of the plants are about a foot wide. There are some secondary, smaller flower stalks forming as well. The lavender and white flowers are cup-shaped, about half an inch wide, and sport yellow stamens extending from their centers. As they are not yet well established, my Jacob’s Ladders have required a good deal of water. They wilt quickly on very hot days, but recover well after a good soaking. Through the summer, they receive five to six hours of early morning sun each day, which may be too much. In early fall I’ll evaluate their progress and decide whether to move them to a more shady section. Their plant tag claims hardiness from Zones 3 to 7, so I expect a fine show from them again next spring in my Zone 5b garden.
The section of the lasagna bed to the right of the Ajuga and Jacob’s Ladder is the shadier side, receiving direct sun only from about 7:00 am until 11:00 am. It is home to Astilbe, Lamium, Bleeding Heart, Lamb’s Ear, and Heucheras. Here is how it looked in mid-May:Just look at all the space between the plants!
The summer has treated it kindly. Here is how it stands now, less than two months later:The Lamium maculatum ‘Beacon Silver’ is spreading and filling in well. It’s silvery-white leaves, edged and veined in green, shine from a distance and offer a lovely contrast to all the other green up there. Little purplish-pink flowers began to bloom in June, and should continue through the summer:Farther back in the bed, in heavy shade, sits Lamium maculatum ‘Purple Dragon.’ It has been with me for three years and survived two moves and an accidental trampling! Its leaves are similarly colored to ‘Beacon Silver’s’, but they are larger. Its flowers are a bit larger, and perhaps brighter, as well:Today’s post will end with the Astilbes. There are two in the mostly shaded portion of the garden. The first to bloom was the one I transplanted from the front sidewalk garden, where it was too crowded with another. I don’t know its name, but I do know I was excited to see its first buds forming in late May:By late June it featured creamy-white, feathery blooms. The seed heads that remain are still attractive:Astilbes are often classified as shade plants, but I have found that they do indeed need some sunlight to bloom. These get nearly a full day’s worth of sun in the early spring, before the trees are fully leafed out, and now, in the early summer, they get just a few hours of morning sunshine. Here is Astilbe chinensis ‘Visions in Red’, planted here last fall:I see more pink than red here, and I hope for more plentiful feathery plumage next year. Perhaps it needs more sun, or perhaps it just needs to mature. Nonetheless, this is not bad for its first year, when it is supposed to sleep!