Thursday, April 26, 2012

Spring Beauties - Perennials in bloom

Susan Wheeler, a garden designer in the White Rock/South Surrey area, is back again with a beautiful blog post for us. Susan shares her garden design expertise along with photos from her own gardens. Learn more about Susan and Green Design at


Yes, finally....April showers have brought spring flowers to my garden! And, as promised, I am writing about those warm-toned Rhododendrons, as well as some of the shade-loving plants that I would recommend would go well with them. All love the acid conditions that Rhodies must have, and so are the perfect companions.

The first plant that I want to mention is a most beautiful Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Villa Taranto’. There are many other varieties that you could use, of course, but remember, the finely dissected leaves usually need a bit of shade and they also like some protection from strong winds. The Rhodie that I would suggest you put with this tree is Rhododendron ‘Golden Ruby’. It is so lovely and it blooms after danger of late frosts.

Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum 'Villa Taranto'

Rhododendron ‘Golden Ruby’

To complement this colour of blossom, I would suggest some plants that are bright chartreuse green, such as this Heuchera, ‘Lime Ricky’, and it is paired here, in a large planter with the very tiny leaves of Muehlenbeckia ( Wire Vine ). And, if you like, add some lime Hostas. There are so many pretty ones available now. Just choose one that will be a good size for the space that you may have. Another rather rare shade-lover is this white Trillium. So beautiful! Never dig them from the wild, however. They are rare and they come in yellow, as well. 

            Heuchera 'Lime Ricky' & Muehlenbeckia                                   Lime Hosta


This next Rhodie is one of four in my front gardens. It is R. ‘Odee Wright’ and I have been growing it for about ten years, now. It is most interesting, as it starts out with very deeply coloured buds which gradually open to yellow flowers. It is a very good looking plant all through the year, which is what you want with a Rhododendron. Of course, to keep any Rhodie happy, you must consider giving it some shade from the hottest sun, acidic and moist soil, with excellent drainage.  Because it is mostly in the yellow shades, I suggest pairing it with this bright limey- yellow Hakonechloa, which requires a fair bit of shade, itself. Both of these plants would look great with a large blue planter, if you have the space for it. It can then be planted with annuals for a pretty focal point most of the year.

 Rhododendron 'Odee Wright' 


 As anyone who has followed my articles knows, I am a very big fan of greenery with texture, and so, of course I love the Brunnera with its cheery blue flowers in the early spring. Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’, which I have planted in my Woodland garden, near the stone path, is North America's ‘Perennial of the Year’, and for good reason, with its unique texture, blue flowers and very tidy habit. Another  excellent Brunnera is this one, B. ‘Looking Glass’, which I have paired with some early white tulips. And then, in another part of my Woodland garden I have this Heuchera with its very interesting texture. There are now so many different Heucheras that you can have them almost anywhere in your gardens. Some require more shade than others. H. ‘Lime Ricky’ would be one of those that do well with some dappled shade.


Brunnera 'Jack Frost'

                  Tulip with Brunnera 'Looking Glass'                                       Heuchera

 In another part of my gardens, I have two Rhodies, ‘Hello Dolly’. They are a very soft peachy colour and have grown very well under a large street Maple tree and both of these plants are about 10 years old and are still not outgrowing their space.

Rhodies, ‘Hello Dolly’

And finally, a somewhat rare plant that I am especially fond of, the exotic-looking Arisaema. When I was a kid, back in Ontario, I loved to be outside, in the woods behind our house and would sometimes find this unusual plant. We called it ‘Jack in the Pulpit’ because there is a little ‘preacher’ standing just under the hood of this plant. So cool! If you want something rare, you will find it with this group of plants. Some have beautifully variegated leaves, some have shiny large leaves and others are unique in different ways. I think that West Coast Gardens will have some Arisaema ‘Ringens’ in soon. It is the one with the large, shiny leaves, seen here.


Shiny leaves of the Arisaema 'Ringens'

Well, that is an introduction, of sorts, to some of my favourite Rhododendrons and shade-loving plants. If you would like to learn more about any of my other favourites, you may be interested in my new book, “The Best Trees, Shrubs, and Perennials” – for the gardens of the Pacific Northwest. It can be ordered from my main website, at  where you may see some preview pages, as well.

Several of the plants that I have mentioned here today, can be found at West Coast Gardens this coming week.

My next article will be all about more of the perennials that are blooming right now, in my own gardens, and will include a number of lovely shade plants that have lots of texture to add interest.

Cheers! and Happy Gardening,

Susan Wheeler

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Please note: Photos or articles written by Susan Wheeler of 'Green Design Gardens' are copyrighted material and can not be reproduced without written permission from Susan. You can contact Susan via her website.