Shade Monthly
Shade Monthly 2015

Author: Joe Sime

Shade Monthly: June 2015

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Firstly another appeal for items. Please don’t be shy. Have you visited an interesting garden or nursery, seen a new-to-you plant or do you have any questions or advice about growing shade plants? Just write it down and send it to, preferably with a couple of pictures.

Plant of the Month: Podophyllum versipelle

This species is now reasonably well known to gardeners through the variety ‘Spotty Dotty’ which is grown for the large, mottled leaves more than for the bunches of red flowers that hang beneath the leaves. (In the photo, the plant in front of it with white flowers is P. auranticaule just unfurling its leaves). However, I would like to sing the praises of the basic form, even though it is somewhat harder to obtain (3 suppliers compared to 29 for ‘Spotty Dotty’). Left undisturbed in good woodland soil that does not dry out in summer or get soggy in winter it will form a large clump. Stems grow from the base to about 60 cms before splitting into two (occasionally 3) stems each growing a further 10 to 20 cms, before bearing rounded green leaves each with 6-8 lobes. These stems are much more upright than those of ‘Spotty Dotty’ and hold the leaves well. The flowers sprout close to the underside of the leaf. In this it differs from the closely related species P. pleianthum which bears the flowers from the fork between the two leaves. In the wild there are hybrids between these two species. Individual clones are not self-fertile, but there are accounts in ‘The Scottish Rock Gardening Club’ website of fertile seed being produced from crosses between versipelle and pleianthum (and also with delavayi). I have tried this and certainly fruit has set and started to swell, but the resultant seed did not germinate. I have planted a piece of the basic form close to ‘Spotty Dotty’ in the hope that the beetles are better at pollination than I am.

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Podophyllum versipelle
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Podophyllum versipelle ‘Spotty Dotty’

Vegetative propagation is very easy. As the plants come into leaf, dig away very carefully at the base and cut off an emerging bud, preferably with some root. This can be potted up, but I have been successful simply planting this directly into its site. Once the plants are very well established (perhaps 5 years) they will start to send out longer rhizomes and form plantlets at some distance from the clump. Once these have two or three leaves they can be removed and planted out.

Cluny House Garden.

David Davies describes this Scottish treasure.

Everyone knows the great woodland gardens of Scotland with their vast trees and shrubs, but they seldom have a great deal to offer on the woodland floor. The extraordinary woodland gardens at Cluny House are the great exception and are highly recommended. They were created by the Masterton family in the 1950s, and now cared for by their daughter Wendy and her husband John Mattingley. The gardens are known in particular for their extensive plantings and great drifts of Himalayan and other woodland plants grown from collected seed -, meconopsis, Asiatic primula (90 species), trilliums (18 varieties), lilies, hellebore, erythronium, arisaema, and many other woodlanders, as well as trees and shrubs. It also has a with the widest girth (1130 cms) of any conifer in the UK, and is particularly well known for its sizeable resident population of red squirrels.

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Erythroniums and Trilliums

The greater part of the wild garden is 2.4 hectares of woodland, informally managed, with varying degrees of shade. It slopes steeply down to the River Tay with a complex network of well-constructed but steep, way-marked paths. Soils are light, sandy and slightly acid and the naturally free draining soil is enhanced by the applications of large quantities of leaf mould and home produced compost helping the soils to retain moisture.

A selection of plants grown in the garden is generally available for sale.

Climbers for Shade part 1: Hydrangea anomala

This is the first in a series of short notes about climbers suitable for shady conditions. I would welcome parts for this series from any of you. In particular there should be at least one part on Clematis in shade… a subject that I know nothing about. Some one please help.

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Hydrangea anomala

We will start with Hydrangea anomala. This is quite a variable species of deciduous climbers native to east Asia from the Himalaya to Japan. There are three subspecies. By far the most commonly grown is subsp. petiolaris. In its standard form this is an excellent self-clinging climber for a north or east facing wall where it will grow strongly and flower well with large, white lace-caps. But this is not the only way to use it. It will grow as low ground cover across good woodland soil, but in my experience it does not flower. It can be used to smother a fallen log or other feature. We sank an upright fallen branch (about 2 ft across and 6 ft high) into the centre of a shade border and planted H. a. petiolaris close to it. The log is now smothered and the hydrangea flowers well. If there is no support it can be encouraged to climb on itself. We planted one close to a path and continually pruned any growth extending more than a couple of feet from the centre. It has gradually formed a tangled mass to about 2 ft high and flowers well along the top. Finally, of course you can grow it as it is often found in nature, clothing the bole of a large, mature tree.

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Hydrangea anomala petiolaris as a hedge

There are several varieties of H.a. petiolaris, all differing in the size, shape or colour of the leaves. I grow many of these and enjoy the variation, but in all honesty none flower as well as the basic form. Var. cordifolia has much smaller leaves; var. tillifolia rounder leaves; I assume that var megaphylla has big leaves, but have never seen it and var. ovalifolia (often sold as ‘quelpartensis’) has smallish oval leaves and pointed resting buds. There are also a few variegated varieties. I only grow ‘Mirranda’. It is not as vigorous as the type. The variegation is not gaudy.

The other two subspecies are anomala and glabra. These are said to be not as hardy as subspecies petiolaris, however subsp. anomala ‘Winter Glow’ grows well on the north side of our house. The flowers are insignificant, but the large bronzed leaves in winter and spring more than make up for this. There is also a named variety of subsp. glabra, ‘Crug Coral’ which apparently has pinkish sterile florets. I may break down and buy one eventually.

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Hydrangea anomala ‘Winter Glow’

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 seed to donate, please send it to the same address.

Cardiocrinum giganteum var. yunnanense

Clethra delavayi

Clethra monostachya

Disporopsis aspersa

subsp. sargentiana


Rhododendron macrophyllum

Sarcococca hookeriana var humilis

Schefflera alpina

Lonicera setifera

Six Things I Learned at the AGM

It was the group's first AGM this weekend. Jan will write a full account in the paper newsletter; here I will give a very personal view of six things (amongst many others) that I now know and did not know before the meeting.

Firstly a comment by Bob Brown in the plant sales area. He says that Crinum x powellii does very well in dry shade. I have always tried to give it a moist spot in the sun. I will try a chunk in a drier, shadier spot.

The next four are from Keith Ferguson's excellent talk on trilliums and other North American woodlanders.

Firstly, he removed my confusion over the correct name for ‘spotty leaved, big, red-flowered trilliums’ by saying that they are all very closely related and probably should just be considered ‘Chloropetalum Complex’. I no longer have to struggle to spell “kurabashyii”!

Secondly he described how to vegetatively propagate trilliums. The lateral buds on the trillium rhizome are strongly inhibited by the apical dominance of the terminal bud. If this bud is removed, lateral buds will develop into shoots that can eventually be divided. I will dig up one next spring, as they are coming into growth and give it a try.

Thirdly, there are apparently two forms of Erythronium americanum. One is a spreader that does not flower well. This seems to be the one I always end up buying. The second is a clump-former that flowers well. I now know to look for plants that form clumps.

Fourthly, Anemonella thalictoides needs a shallow, gritty soil and no competition. This explains why most of the ones that I have bought and planted into standard woodland conditions have gradually faded away!

Finally there are at least two forms of Maianthemum racemosum in cultivation. The common one is hexaploid, and produces little seed. The other is probably diploid, much more refined in the way the leaves are arranged on the stem, and freely produces seed. I think this is the plant that we grew from seed as ‘Smilacina sessilifolia’. References on the net seem to identify this as a variety of Maianthemum stellatum, but our plant is much bigger (4 ft tall), and more like a refined form of M. racemosum. It also produces quite a lot of red berries.

I will finish with two pictures from Keith's garden (I have resisted the temptation to simply show pictures of all the veratrums!). Firstly a very clever way to make a look like a small flowering tree by training it up a wooden pole and pruning it to the right shape. Secondly a North American rarity (only 5 suppliers in the Plant Finder), Saxifraga pensylvanica. The rough lanceolate leaves look most un-saxifrage like, although the flower spike does look slightly like that of Rodgersia podophyllum. In the US it is said that the leaves are eaten, raw when young, cooked when old. It grows in swamps and wet lands, so is happy here close to a stream.

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Lonicera caprifolium as a tree
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Saxifraga pensylvanica

Shade Charades

What is the species? Two words.

First word, five syllables:

  • First three syllables: sounds like the tsar's surname is snoring in the middle
  • Last two syllables: auditory organ

Second word, 3 syllables:

  • First two syllables: perhaps Dick or perhaps Sharon's friend
  • Last syllable: where the thread goes through the needle

Last month's solution was Hydrangea scandens. This is a large, variable and complex species of smallish shrubs found throughout China, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines. It is uncommon in cultivation. I am quite fond of H scandens subsp. chinensis BSWJ 3423 which is a small shrub to 3 ft with narrowly ovate, evergreen leaves and yellowish lacecap flowers. It is a most ‘unhydrangea’ looking hydrangea! It was cut down to the ground by the winter of 2010/11 but has grown again from the base.

Joe Sime

The HPS Shade and Woodland Plant Group is open to all members of the Hardy Plant Society. Please follow this link for more information.

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