The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Award winning plants for shade

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

January is known for a perpetual preponderance of prize parades. People just love to hand out awards or maybe we just love to party. The plant world is no different. Each year the Perennial Plant Association (PPA) announces its Perennial Plant of the Year™. The winners don't get a ceremony or statue, but a place in our hearts and gardens.

Award winners are chosen by the members of the Perennial Plant Association for the plant's beauty, but also for its durability, suitability to a wide range of climate types, low maintenance, multiple seasonal interest, and easy growing nature.

This year's winner is a shady character that deserves all the accolades. The 2012 Perennial Plant of the Year™ is perennial forget-me-not, Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost'. We are always interviewing plants to fill the position of a hard-working, good-looking receptionist in a shady garden setting and 'Jack Frost' wins the casting call.

'Jack Frost' is ready for close-ups with its delicate and dainty azure blue flowers reminiscent of true forget-me-nots. The yellow centered blue flowers bloom for several weeks in the spring.

Jack's flowers are a cheery sight, but 'Jack Frost's' silvery heart-shaped leaves are the real stars. The 4 to 6-inch wide leaves appear dipped in silver with the veins and margins etched out to reveal the green beneath. The bright leaves light up any dreary corner of a shade garden from spring well into fall. Another perk to adding 'Jack Frost' to your garden is that the rough-textured and slightly hairy leaves are not attractive to deer.

As moderately sized mounds 'Jack Frost' is an easy plant to use in most shady gardens. The silvery clumps of leaves reach about 12 inches tall as stalks of many tiny flowers hover 4 to 6 inches above the foliage in spring. 'Jack Frost' spreads to become a 20-inch wide clump that can easily be used as a specimen plant or in multiples as a border or ground cover.

'Jack Frost' is definitely a shade lover as it prefers a shady spot with moist soil. It will do fine if it receives morning sun, but does best if shaded from late afternoon sun. Winter cold is not a problem for perennial forget-me-nots such as 'Jack Frost' as it grows well in winter hardiness zones 3 to 8.

'Jack Frost' is in good company with other Perennial Plant of the Year™ winners. The silvery rough textured leaves of 'Jack Frost' are an excellent complement to the 2004 Perennial Plant of the Year™ Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum 'Pictum') for the textural contrast and the complementing color. Japanese Painted Fern fronds reach 12 to 18 inches long. Their soft delicate textured leaves colored silver-gray with hints of red and blue are perfect companions for 'Jack Frost'.

As the 1994 Perennial Plant of the Year™ Astilbe 'Sprite' makes for another great cast member in a shade garden. 'Sprite's' tiny, pink flowers appear in mid-summer on graceful, arching plumes. Its rich green foliage is finely dissected and slightly crinkled for a knockout combination with 'Jack Frost'.

On the other end of the textural spectrum the dark green leathery leaves of the 2005 Perennial Plant of the Year™ Lenten Rose (Helleborus x hybridus) are a dramatic contrast to the silver leaves of 'Jack Frost'. Lenten Rose is one of the first perennials to bloom in spring with buttercup-shaped flowers ranging in colors from pure white to dark plum.

Other good companions for 'Jack Frost' include spring wildflowers of trillium or spring beauties and spring bulbs. The leaves make a nice counterpoint to ferns, hostas and bleeding hearts. 'Jack Frost' is sure to become one of your favorite shady characters.

For more information about perennial flowers check out or Perennial Plant Association

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