Gardens - Shade Gardens

Brunnera: A star plant for shade

This fabulous foliage plant produces a mound of bold, heart-shaped leaves

Handsome and undemanding, Brunnera macrophylla (syn. Anchusa myosotidiflora) bears sprays of azure blue or white flowers from early spring to late May. This well-behaved, versatile perennial thrives in moist, humusy soils and under and around shrubs.

The silver- or white-accented heart-shaped leaves of many new cultivars brighten woodland shadows. Unlike older varieties, which are prone to leaf scorching, newer ones, such as 'Jack Frost', can tolerate direct sun in the morning or late afternoon.

Originally classified as Anchusa, perennial brunnera - also known as false, perennial or great forget-me-not-is also unflatteringly called Siberian bugloss, a name that comes from the Greek words for ox's tongue, referring to its oval-shaped, rough-textured leaf. The plant was first collected during the Caucasian Expedition of Russian Count Apollos Mussin-Pushkin in 1800. Zones 2 to 3.

Care checklist
- Brunnera is happiest in a shady, cool, consistently moist woodland setting; avoid hot, dry conditions

- Prefers well-drained, rich, humusy soil; tolerates other soils if it's kept cool and moist

- Generally well behaved but may self-seed; propagate mature plants every five to 10 years by root division in the fall; newer cultivars with fancy silver foliage are challenging to propagate

Perfect partners
Versatile brunnera complements a host of shade-loving perennials.

Brunnera has many uses and combines well with other shade-loving plants. Its shimmery silver foliage looks attractive reflected in a still pond and brightens any gloomy spot, even beneath a hemlock. Along the edge of a border or woodland stream, brunnera is a good accent plant; used en masse it makes an ideal groundcover. It's also spectacular when placed in front of larger perennials such as 'Krossa Regal' hosta, as it retains its colourful foliage, even after the first frosts have turned the hosta leaves to mush. In the mildest Canadian climates, some brunneras keep their evergreen or semi-evergreen foliage throughout the winter

Hart's tongue fern
(Asplenium scolopendrium syn. Phyllitis scolopendrium)
HEIGHT 30 to 40 cm
SPREAD 30 to 45 cm
DESCRIPTION wide, leathery green, strap-shaped fronds; clump-forming, slow-growing
DESIGN ADVANTAGE its sturdy, luxuriant, shiny, dark green fronds contrast well with the softer heart-shaped leaves of brunnera Zone 4

'Merlin' purple barrenwort
(Epimedium x youngianum ‘Merlin')
HEIGHT 20 to 30 cm
SPREAD 30 to 45 cm
DESCRIPTION semi-evergreen; new foliage flushed with bronze; bushy, clump-forming, slow-growing, long-lived
DESIGN ADVANTAGE delicate sprays of dusky mauve flowers bloom at the same time as brunnera in mid- to late spring; excellent edger or groundcover Zone 4

'Iron Butterfly' foam flower
(Tiarella 'Iron Butterfly')
HEIGHT 20 to 40 cm
SPREAD 25 to 30 cm
DESCRIPTION clump-forming hybrid with deeply cut, dark green leaves with attractive black markings; small, bottle-brush, white flowers held atop wiry stems
DESIGN ADVANTAGE its darkly accented cut-leaf foliage makes a handsome counterpoint to the silvery markings of many brunnera cultivars Zone 4

'Miyazaki' Japanese toad lily
(Tricyrtis hirta 'Miyazaki')
HEIGHT & SPREAD 45 to 60 cm DESCRIPTION small, unusual, orchid-like, purple-blotched white flowers in late summer and early fall; clump-forming
DESIGN ADVANTAGE this upright late-bloomer complements low-mounding, spring-flowering brunnera; plant where its flowers can be seen up close Zone 4

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