Shade Monthly
Shade Monthly 2015

Author: Joe Sime

Shade Monthly: December 2015

All Bursary Reports


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Firstly a hearty thanks to the several of you who have sent in articles this month. I have been able to hold some in reserve, and have decided to postpone the second instalment of ‘dry shade'. However, as we move into the winter months it may be difficult to find fresh material. Please tell us about good gardens or nurseries you visited this year, or fine plants you have seen. This month we have our first book review. Why not tell us about other books on shade plants that you have found useful. Send items to

Plant of the Month…..Euonymus fortunei ‘Wolong Ghost'

Euonymus fortunei Wolong Ghost 1

Euonymus fortunei ‘Wolong Ghost'

This useful spindle variety was found in a narrow river valley near the town of Wolong (famous for pandas) by Dan Hinkley in 1996. It has pointed, lanceolate, dark green leaves with a white ‘stripe' along the central vein. I grow it as ground cover. It spreads easily in woodland conditions and does not object to having other seasonal plants pushing through its mat. Thus for me it provides early and later interest in an area that in summer is taken over by a small arisaema species. It roots freely from nodes along its stem and I am quite sure that, given some initial support it would make a good scrambling climber for a stump or small wall. In the 20 years since its introduction it has become quite popular, spreading here from the USA, and is now available in several UK nurseries. It even has an RHS award of merit.

Here is our first book review by Jan Vaughan

The Plant Lover's Guide to Epimediums by Sally Gregson (2015 Timber Press £17.99)

This is one in a series of guides published in association with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and came to my attention when Sally Gregson came to talk about epimediums at my local horticultural society. The following month, I met Sally again at the first AGM of the new Hardy Plant Society Shade and Woodland Plants Group and, having volunteered to produce a newsletter for the group, asked if I could review her book.

I have always grown epimediums in my garden; they are part of the spring parade with dainty flowers in yellow, orange or red and good foliage. An old favourite, Epimedium pinnatum subsp. colchicum lines a path along one side of my herb garden and the new, bronze-marbled leaves and sprays of dainty yellow flowers are eye-catching in the spring sunshine. These traditional epimediums are tough, performing even in those difficult places in dry shade, and I wouldn't be without them. But I had not realised that I was missing some of the most exquisite members of this genus and it was these ‘showgirls' that Sally had come to talk about. Her book opens with her story of how she stumbled across a collection of unfamiliar epimediums on a nursery visit one day and beginning with Epimedium ‘Enchantress', resulted in a quest to collect these plants and trial them in the garden with her other favourites, hydrangeas.

Here is the story of introductions from Japan and China that are new to most gardeners and describes the conditions they need to grow well, suggesting planting combinations that complement their delicate colours and leaf shapes. How could you not be intrigued by a chapter titled ‘Designing with Bishop's Hats, Barrenworts, and Fairy Wings'? In this section Sally divides epimediums into groups according to flower size, habit and soil requirements and it's not long before you are planning more shady areas in the garden to accommodate your growing wish list. The helpful little lists of epimediums for different situations are ideal for quick reference.

There are detailed descriptions of 123 epimediums, taking us on a journey of exploration with the plant hunters and hybridists, each illustrated with beautiful photographs. This is followed by a section on growing and propagating epimediums, which starts by reassuring the reader that ‘Epimediums are essentially amenable plants with a great willingness to grow'. I had never considered the option of growing epimediums in containers and yet it makes perfect sense to make a feature of the exquisite flowers and allows some manipulation of soil pH to extend the range of plants you can grow.

There is always something to mar one's enjoyment and epimediums are prone to attack by vine weevils, and rabbits apparently find them delicious. I hate to tempt fate, but so far my local rabbits don't seem to have developed a taste for them.

I'm not sure epimedium flowers are blowsy enough to be ‘showgirls', but I absolutely love the idea of ‘hang-gliding spiders'! There is something for everyone here, from the new gardener to those with experience of shade planting, and I am sure this book will be a popular addition to many gardener's bookshelves and would make a perfect Christmas present for a shady gardener!

Black fruited Actaeas

A note from Eleanor Fisher who suspects that the plant I and others have been growing as may be A. spicata. Regardless of this, the red pedicelled version would make a striking garden plant.

Actaea spicata RBG Edin 1996 33

RBG Edinburgh 1996

Actaea asiatica RBG Edin 1996 67

Actaea asiatica RBG Edinburgh 1996

Actaea spicata Colt Park Wood reserve 1992 60

Actaea spicata
Colt Park Wood reserve – 1992

On a visit to RBG Edinburgh in 1996, I had photographed a black fruited plant labelled Actaea asiatica. Living in north west Yorkshire, I was familiar with the native black fruited baneberry, Actaea spicata, growing in limestone grykes, but this Edinburgh plant was dramatically different. The black berries were held on thickened red stems, along the lines of the brilliant contrast of the white fruit and red stems of A pachypoda. In hope of getting such a desirable plant, I have ordered specimens from two different nurseries, and grown it from HPS seed, but plants always sadly turned out to be green stemmed, at about 30cm, indistinguishable to a non-botanist from A. spicata.

So, the photo of Actaea asiatica in September's newsletter signalled after twenty years it was time for further research to try to resolve the conundrum! Actaea asiatica has wide distribution through E Russia, China, Korea and Japan. “Flora of China” on the net talks of variation in height from 30-80cm but makes no mention of red pedicels, although it does say pedicels are thickened on fruiting. Ohwi's “Flora of Japan” clearly cites red pedicels, but makes no mention of thickening, and limits variation in height from 40-70cm. Recent collections by Dan Hinckley and Bleddyn Wynn-Jones in China and Korea, advertised commercially on the net, are all red-stalked from the available illustrations. So, next stop was Dan Hinckley's “Explorer's Garden” which describes ‘dimunitive' plants of Actaea asiatica growing in ravines in South Korea and Japan with black fruit held on thick pinkish red pedicels. However he had collected taller black fruited plants in Yunnan and Sichuan, both in full sun and shady ravines, with small pinkish pedicels, which he surmised, at the time of writing in 1999, might prove to be A. spicata.

Actaea asiatica RBG Edin 2015 3 55

Actaea asiatica RBG Edinburgh 2015

Actaea asiatica RBG Edin 2015 5 78

Actaea asiatica RBG Edinburgh 2015

In September, I returned to Edinburgh to re-visit their specimens. The plants had moved site but were happily flourishing in the peat beds. But, close to the original site near the entrance gate, there was a tall, black, green-stemmed form (80-90cm) labelled Actaea asiatica. No provenance data was visible. To add to the mix, there was yet another tall, black, green-stemmed plant in the peat beds labelled as Actaea dahurica. In the past I had grown a Cimicifuga under this name with the typical long wand of seed capsules as opposed to fruit, a description which concurs with up to date flora information

The only directly comparative botanical descriptions found are in Cambridge University Press's “European Garden Flora”. This clearly describes Actaea asiatica as having thickened red stalks, with no hint of variation in this across the range, despite citing its full geographical extent. The leaves have an acuminate tip, hinted at in its old name of A. acuminata, with the plant growing up to 70cm. Actaea spicata is confirmed as having slender green stalks and a variation in height to 80cm, with a range given as Europe to W. Asia.

Can members add any information to this? Does anyone know if Hinckley's Chinese plants were confirmed as A spicata, and does spicata extend so far east? Is green-stemmed Actaea asiatica in gardens and nurseries wrongly labelled?

Irises in Shade

Tim Longville describes two irises that will grow well in part shade.


Irises aren't perhaps thought of instinctively as plants for semi-shaded woodland conditions but in fact those are precisely the conditions which in the wild provide the perfect Des. Res. for a surprising number of species: species which also flourish in similar conditions in suitable British gardens. I'll discuss just a few to whet your appetite: in the first part, an often-overlooked tough beauty from North America; in the second, a couple of exotic Asian oddities often rejected as too tender.

1. Iris tenax

Iris tenax is one of the most common of the Pacific Coast beardless irises. Its epithet tenax, which means tough, testifies both to the nature of its foliage and of its constitution. Indeed, in 1825 David Douglas saw members of the Northern Californian Tolowa tribe using mussel shells to scrape clean the strong fibres of the leaves of the subspecies Iris tenax subsp. klamenthensis. From those cleaned and then braided fibres the Tolowa made ropes, nets, snares and bags. The snares were strong enough to hold game as large as elk and the buoyant fibres were ideal for making virtually unsinkable fishing nets.

Iris tenax also makes a fine garden plant, coping uncomplainingly with quite demanding conditions. Ideally, it prefers moist, humus-rich soil, given which specimens live happily in dappled or partial shade, such as on the edges of a woodland garden or at the feet of shrubs in a mixed border. Give them what they need and patches will increase in size unspectacularly but with surprising speed.

The narrow arching leaves are no more than a foot long and when the plants are out of flower are easily mistaken for those of a grass. (Or for the leaves of those other grass-imitators, the green-leaved members of the ophiopogon genus.) Iris tenax's flowers (variable in colour but most often a handsome lilac blue, delicately marked with white and yellow in the throat) are produced profusely in late spring to early summer (which means from late May to late June here in my garden on the Cumbrian coast), the subsequent fat seed capsules are produced equally profusely and seed-germination is also, unsurprisingly, both profuse and rapid. (But only as it were ‘in captivity.' I. tenax has never self-seeded here of its own accord.)

Those tough leaves have the added virtue of being largely mollusc-proof (though I've known the occasional gourmet gastropod gnaw through one of the softer flowering stems) and are also reportedly deer and rabbit resistant (virtues I've never been in a position to test). Finally, I. tenax is a very low-maintenance plant. If you're a relaxed gardener, you can simply leave it alone for years, in which case it will quietly but effectively continue to do its own thing. If you're more tidy-minded, you may want periodically to remove its outer skirt of old dead leaves. Like most clump-forming plants, over time a clump will tend to develop a dead patch in its centre, at which point it makes sense to dig it up and divide it, throwing away the central section. Here, in a rare burst of tidy-mindedness, I tend to give each clump a military hair-cut every two or three years, both because the new foliage looks fresher and because it tends to be shorter so that the flowers are more effectively displayed.

One final note: one of its subspecies, Iris tenax ssp gormanii, which is only found in South-western Washington, apparently has pale yellow flowers, which sound as though they might create a different but equally charming effect. Sadly, though, it doesn't seem to be in cultivation in the U.K. I wonder why… I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, since even Iris tenax itself is only available from a handful of nurseries, while Chilterns Seeds seems to be its only commercial UK seed-supplier.

2. Iris confusa and Iris wattii

Iris confusa and Iris wattii have the same ‘common' name (one of those – many – common names you never actually hear anyone use). And that's not the end of their ‘commonness'. I. confusa is so-called because for years there was confusion as to whether it really was a species or simply a form of I. wattii. Now, it's been discovered that not only are they indeed separate species but not even closely related ones. (I. wattii is quite close to I. japonica, which I. confusa isn't.)

At least, their ‘common' name, unlike many others, has the virtue of being illuminatingly accurate. These two crested irises share the name of ‘the bamboo iris': and indeed both of these plants from Asia (I. confusa from Western China, I. wattii from China, India and Burma) do, when out of flower, look remarkably like small, broad-leaved bamboos, since they produce cane-like stems up to a metre or more tall, adorned with broad, glossy fans of more or less horizontal, gently drooping leaves, deep-green in the case of I. confusa, yellow-green in the case of I. wattii. (The resemblance to a bamboo is even more striking if you go to the trouble of removing dead leaves, so leaving the lower stages of the stems bare.) Both are rhizomatous and spread by stolons which root as they go. Even stems which lean and touch the ground will often develop roots and turn into new plants or at least into extensions of the original clump. So a sizeable clump can form remarkably quickly.

The frilled or crested (and of course beardless) flowers appear – here in Cumbria at least – from late spring to early summer. Individual flowers don't last long but each flowering stem produces so many flowers the display goes on for several weeks. The flowers of I. confusa are usually a pale lavender blue with yellow markings but there are also forms with white flowers similarly marked. Those of I. wattii (larger than I. confusa's, though those, too, are substantial and showy) vary from pale to dark blue and have similar markings to those of I. confusa. Both set seed readily and the seed readily germinates. Here, indeed, I. confusa self-seeds generously into a gravel path.

In the wild, both are species of woodland fringes, open glades and damp ditches. In my experience, they thrive in similar conditions here, preferring a damp, rich, slightly acid soil and shelter from winds (which easily spoil the beauty of those broad, soft leaves), whether provided by neighbouring shrubs or a suitable wall.

So why aren't these exotic beauties grown more frequently? The answer is that both are reputedly semi-tender. Many books claim that even I. confusa is only hardy to -5C. However, in the two really hard winters a few years ago, even this seaside walled garden had temperatures down to -16C (not, admittedly, for lengthy periods but certainly for several nights), yet I. confusa suffered minimal damage. It is true that I. wattii, which is indeed certainly more tender and has never been as flourishing here, almost died: but eventually it recovered. I also have a cross between the two species, grown from seed from The Species Iris Group of the American Iris Society, and that too was largely untroubled, presumably owing to the I. confusa element in its parentage.

My advice: unless you're in a really cold and exposed situation, it's well worth giving I. confusa a try. If you succeed with that, try I. wattii. Both species are eye-catchingly different enough to be worth the gamble. And if you can't succeed with them in the ground, why not try them in pots (which could be plunged into beds for spring, summer and autumn)? All they would need in most (current) British winters is a little greenhouse protection.

Three commonsense cultivation suggestions to end. First, mulch well in winter. Second, cut down the old foliage after flowering. Third, keep an eye open for slugs and snails, which find those soft broad leaves a culinary delight – particularly of course, as Sod's Law would dictate, the freshly emerging ones after you've cut down the old ones…

Beesia – calthifolia or deltophylla?

Peter Reagan has sent a reprint of an article that he wrote for the Ranunculaceae group newsletter in Spring 2014.

The plant normally described as Beesia calthifolia was found by plant hunters of the Victorian era. It does not seem to have been introduced into cultivation then, presumably as it was not thought attractive at the time. The plant was given several names, initially Cimicifuga calthifolia, and also Beesia cordata and B.elongata, finally being named formally as Beesia calthifolia in 1929. It is widespread in China, being recorded in eight provinces, and also in the adjacent country Myanmar. Another Beesia species, B.deltophylla, was not described until relatively recently, and is recorded from only one province.

Beesia photo 2 43
Photo 2
Beesia photo 1 87
Photo 1

The nurseryman and plant explorer Dan Hinkley introduced a Beesia into cultivation. He notes in his book ‘The Explorer's Garden' that he saw, and collected seed from, a plant at Tianchi lake on the Zhongdian plateau in 1996. He referred to this as Beesia calthaefolia, which is linguistically correct, but botanical rules require the earlier spelling to stand. I have learned from him that the seedlings he raised died out. He also collected seed in 1998 of a plant from lower altitude in Sichuan and successfully raised it. Because it was obviously different, he assumed that it was B. deltophylla; the main difference is that it is evergreen and more ‘garden-worthy'.

My wife Gill and I saw a plant (photo 1) at Tianchi lake in 2009, which she recognised as a Beesia from the flower spike. It seemed to be different from the plant in our garden (photo 2), as it had paler green leaves and was clearly deciduous. There is a photograph of a similar plant in “Plants of Tibet”, taken by a Chinese botanist in the same year in Shangri-La (the new official Chinese name for Zhongdian), described as Beesia calthifolia. As the plant in our garden has very different leaves, and is evergreen, it seemed to us that it must be B. deltophylla rather than B. calthifolia. We showed our picture of the plant we had seen in China to two well-known nurserymen, specialising in woodland plants, who sell Beesia. Both acknowledged that the plant they were selling as B. calthifolia was in fact B. deltophylla, and one said that Dan Hinckley had told him of the error.

The term ‘calthifolia' suggests that its leaves resemble those of a Caltha species, but one of the key recognition features of this genus is that the species have rounded leaves. Roy Lancaster thought that the leaves of the plant in the trade are more like an Asarum than a Caltha. In the “Flora of China”, the distinction between the two species of Beesia is ‘Leaves reniform, cordate, or orbicular-ovate' for B. calthifolia, and ‘Leaves cordate-triangular' for B. deltophylla. This does not allow a clear distinction as both species can have cordate (heart-shaped) leaves. However, using another differentiating character, namely the teeth on each side of the leaf margins (40-50 for B.calthifolia, 7-16 for B. deltophylla), suggests that our plant is closer to B. calthifolia as its leaves have 30-40 teeth on each side. The picture in “Plants of Tibet” shows leaves with approximately 30 teeth per side.

In the horticultural trade in the UK, there are many more nurseries offering B.calthifolia than B. deltophylla (19 vs. 2). There is a reference in ‘The Hardy Plant' to the latter plant being purchased from Pan-Global plants for its black stems, but this character is not mentioned in the flora, and the firm now lists only B.calthifolia. Our plant has dark, but not black, leaf petioles, and green flower stems. So we have a mystery – the plant in the trade seems to be the same from all firms, regardless of the name they attach, but it does not exactly fit the official description of either species. Did Dan Hinckley actually collect seed of B. deltophylla, as it is recorded as occurring only in S.E. Xizang (Tibet), and he collected from a plant in Sichuan? (They are adjacent regions.) It may be that there is only one species with variable characteristics. One must also consider whether or not the ‘type specimen' (the plant in the botanical archive) is truly representative of the species, as at times specimens were chosen because they had some striking feature. Whatever the correct name might be, the plant is well worth its place in the garden for its leaves alone.

Available Seed

If you are a paid up member of the Shade and Woodland Plant group and would like any of the seeds listed below, please send a SAE to S.J.Sime, Park Cottage, Penley, Wrexham LL13 0LS.

If you have late ripening woodland seed to donate, please send it to the same address.


Akebia quinata

Arisaema candidissimum

Arisaema cilliatum

Arisaema consanguineum

Gentian asclepiadea

Geranium psilostemon

Kirengeshoma palmata

An Appeal for Photos

The seed list is supported each year by an on-line database of descriptions of the plants to help members choose their seed. Eleanor Fisher, who produces the database is trying to link the descriptions to photos. She has had quite a lot of success but is still looking for more. Below is a list of the shade lovers for which pictures are still required. If you can help supply one or more ( they must be digital ) please send them to Brian Hackett at

Actaea pachypoda ‘Misty Blue'

Anemone crinita

Aralia continentalis

Aralia racemosa

Arisaema flavum

Arisaema heterophyllum

Arisaema jacquemontii

Arisaema ovale

Boykinia major

Boykinia occidentalis

Boykinia rotundifolia

Campanula pendula syn. Symphyandra p.

Cardamine kitaibelii

Cortusa altaica

Cortusa turkestanica

Deinanthe bifida

Digitalis ciliata

Digitalis viridiflora

Diphylleia sinensis

Disporum uniflorum

Dodecatheon hendersonii

Gentiana triflora ‘Alba'

var. lividum

Helleborus dumetorum

Helleborus foetidus ‘Gold Bullion'

Helleborus foetidus ‘Miss Jekyll's Scented'

Helleborus multifidus subsp. hercegovinus

Heloniopsis orientalis

Hydrangea aspera subsp. sargentiana

Hylomecon japonica

Ligularia dentata ‘Othello'

Ligularia sibirica

Ligularia wilsoniana

Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow'

Mahonia ducloxiana

Maianthemum racemosum subsp. amplexicaule

Meconopsis x beamishii

Mitella breweri

Mitella makinoi

Nomocharis farreri

Nomocharis pardanthina

Notholirion bulbiferum

Ourisia macrophylla

Primula concholoba

Primula cortusoides

Primula heucherifolia

Primula kisoana

Primula polyneura

Prosartes smithii

Ramonda myconi

Romanzoffia californica

Roscoea cautleyoides ‘Vanilla'

Roscoea cautleyoides ‘Yeti'

Roscoea scillifolia

Roscoea scillifolia f. scillifolia

Salvia omeiana ‘Crug Thundercloud'

Sarcococca hookeriana

Saxifraga cuneifolia

Saxifraga x urbium ‘Clarence Elliot'

Streptopus amplexifolius

Stylophorum diphyllum

Symphytum orientale

subsp. stellata

‘Forest Frost'

Tellima grandiflora odorata group

aff glandulosa ‘Blu-Shing Toad' BSWJ 052

Tricyrtis formosana BSWJ 306

Trillium cernuum

Triosteum himalayanum

Shade Charades

Guess the species

Two words.

First word: Four syllables
 ●   sounds like diminutive head jewellery
Second word: Four syllables
 ●   first two syllables:spanish nobleman
 ●   last two syllables:useful for plant identification.

The solution to last month's charade was Ainsliaea aptera. Ainsliaea is a genus of herbaceous woodlanders in the aster family. They have pleasant, mostly white flowers often with interestingly twisted petals. I have tried three times to grow one, but failed each time. If anyone knows any tricks , please tell me.

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