Fall Colors in the Shade Garden

by Dina Lehmann-Kim, Master Gardener

Shade Garden EntranceFall on the East Coast usually conjures up the colors associated with the incredible display of the season’s changing leaves— brilliant oranges, fiery reds, and bright yellows. The Shade Garden has some of these, but also boasts unexpected bursts of color more typically associated with spring.
Take, for example, the autumn crocus (Crocus speciosus). Its color palette is reminiscent of one of spring’s harbingers—the spring crocus. However, the flower of the autumn crocus is larger than its spring counterpart. It sends up leaves in the summer, which eventually die back before the flower blooms, leaving the flower to showcase its beauty without its own leafy backdrop (the leaves shown in the background of the photos below are of Sedum kamtschaticum). Its colors are striking – alternating stripes of faint lavender and darker lavender which in turn are accented by a bright orange center. These colors are similar to those of the Garden’s spring-flowering crocus (C. tommasinianus) which is one of the first bulbs (technically a corm) to bloom in the spring. Both plants naturalize, meaning that they divide and multiply by themselves. For optimal performance, they should be planted in full-sun to part-shade and in well-drained soil.

The Garden’s Japanese anemone (Anemone hupehensis var. japonica “Prinz Heinrich’) is another fall-bloomer. The pink blossoms beckon visitors from foot-long stems and due to their central placement in the Garden, provide a cheery welcome. These plants, like the crocus, are deer resistant, and thrive in well-drained soil and full-sun or part shade.

Iris Foetidissima BerriesBright red clusters of berries against a backdrop of dark green glossy foliage belong to the Garden’s Iris foetidissima (Gladwin iris). This plant is sometimes referred to as “Stinking iris” or “Stinking Gladwin” because of the odor released when the leaves are crushed. It does well in full sun to very shady conditions. It prefers wet to moist soil, but can tolerate drought conditions. Its scarlet berries and dark green foliage do provide the colors we most associate with fall—perhaps another seasonal harbinger—but also a hint of the approaching holiday season.



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