A rainbow for your garden

April 3, 2013 

Spring and summer color in the Pacific Northwest is as easy as picking the right plant for the right place. If nature sings with flowers you can create an entire symphony of blooms just by placing plants in the perfect location.

These plants will add color to your most challenging locations:


White flowers stand out best in dark spots and Japanese anemone is a dependable fall bloomer with tall, elegant blooms on thin stems. The variety of Japanese anemone called “Honorine Jobert” has pristine white blooms. Be warned that this perennial can spread rapidly in moist or rich soil. Don’t let Honorine Jobert drink too much or she will turn into a garden tramp and hop into other beds.

All of the lamiums thrive in dry shade and there are some well-behaved varieties such as lamium maculatum “White Nancy” with pure white blooms and silver leaves and her blonde cousin with golden foliage called Lamium “Golden Anniversary.” Avoid the more aggressive lamiums with larger leaves called Lamium galeibdolon “Arch Angel” which are sometimes sold as trailers for hanging baskets. I had a single vine of this plant that touched the ground, took off for the shaded woods and has now taken over a large part of my woodland garden. This “Arch Angel” lamium is a devil.

Vinca minor is an evergreen ground cover that blooms in dry shade with purple or white bell-shaped flowers each spring. Just like most lusty plants that tolerate dry shade, vinca minor can become an invasive pest if planted in rich or given too much water.


Yews are evergreen shrubs that will provide structure and backdrop in deep shade and will thrive on the dark, north side of the house. There are Japanese yews, English yews and dwarf yew shrubs and they are tough, long-lived and shade- and deer-resistant. If you’re a gardener who likes to change your mind, yews can be considered plants on wheels because they are easy to move and transplant even when large.


Color in full sun is easy if you have a window box or container garden. Ivy geraniums, upright geraniums, zinnias and marigolds thrive in the heat and bloom from May until first frost.

Shrubs that bloom year after year in a hot and sunny bed are spiraeas, potentilla and rock roses. Ground covers that bloom in the spring and keep weeds down in the summer include creeping phlox, candytuft and sedums and succulents.


In general, plants with gray foliage are going to be drought-and sun-tolerant. This is because their foliage is covered with fine hairs that trap moisture from the air. At the garden center or nursery, seek out shades of gray from artemesias, Dusty Miller, Lamb’s Ear and Blue Fescue. Use the silver sheen from the steely foliage to highlight blooming plants or draw attention to deep purple or red foliage plants.


Evergreens with small, needle-like leaves that can still add drama without the drinking include Blue star junipers and golden cypress. Junipers don’t have to be evergreen and everboring when you choose blue varieties that stay low and compact. Drought-resistant cypress come in shapes that range from compact balls to tall pillars of green but local nurseries also offer cypress with golden highlights..

Plants for partial shade: Rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, and hydrangeas

The east side of the house that gets morning sun and afternoon shade is the perfect spot for growing the colorful blooming evergreens above. All of these plants also love our naturally acid soil and extra water during times of late summer drought. Work some peat moss or compost into the soil before you plant and mulch with bark chips to keep the soil cool in the summer. You’ll have maximum blooms with minimum work just by placing these blooming shrubs where they enjoy the morning sun.

Woodland jewels such as hellebores, pulmonaria, heucheras and primroses are the perfect companions for these spring-blooming shrubs.


Treat this location like one that gets full sun or you’ll risk growing shade-loving plants that are scorched with sun burn or wilting every afternoon. Spiky yuccas, phormiums and cordyline adjust to temperature extremes and these now come in striped yellow, deep red and rich, gold color shades. Nandinas or heavenly bamboo will thrive in morning shade and afternoon sun as well as the dramatic purple, gold or green foliage of Ninebark or Physocarpus. Ninebark is a native plant that has been bred to display a range of leaf colors, plus clusters of spring blooms and edible fruit in the fall. You can even prune Ninebark right to ground level each spring and it will sprout back looking lovely. The best thing about Ninebark is its adaptable attitude. Sun, shade or a mix of all of the above, this is one bloomer that won’t complain no matter where you locate its bed.

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