by Candy Venning

I recently gave a ‘Shade Garden’ talk via Zoom to a garden club. As a part of the talk I agreed to provide a list of some of my favourite plants – primarily native. I thought it might be helpful if you’re working on establishing a woodland garden. The first steps are to create good soil – easiest way is use leaves, allow them to break down as they wood in a forest setting. Don’t turn or till the soil as that essentially sterilizes/ solarizes it, breaks up useful processes that support plants. If you really want to boost the soil before planting you can add sterile manure right on top, allowing worms and rain to get the nutrients to the roots.

The next step is to provide some consistent moisture, especially if we get an early spring or prolonged summer drought. The best defense is good soil with that fantastic leaf mulch, the next defense is a dripline irrigation system.

Native ‘woodland’ Groundcovers

Asarum / Wild Ginger, Bunchberry/ cornus racemose, Bloodroot / Sanguinaria canadensis

Tiarella cordifolia / Foamflower (halfway between a perennial and a groundcover)

**Vinca, Ivy, Goutweed & Lily-of-theValley are all non-natives on the invasive species list, please consider removal

Native Shrubs

Oakleaf Hydrangea / Hydrangea quercifolia Not a true native to Ontario but close, in USA, further south, big flowers

Pagoda Dogwood / Cornus alternifolia – so pretty in the way it grows with horizontal branches and small white flowers

Grey Dogwood / Cornus racemosa – buy in a mature clump – the most shade tolerant

Buttonbush (needs wet feet) Cephalanthus occidentalis & Red Twig dogwood can both be useful for absorbing excess water

Native Perennials for Shade & woodland / woodland edge

Actea racemosa / Snakeroot – the native plant is a bit more hardy than the types that garden centres typically carry – also fragrant!

Aquilegia canadensis / Native columbine – attracts hummingbirds as well as plenty of pollinators – easy to grow from seed

Arisamea / Jack-in-the-Pulpit (ephemeral) – Pitcher plants eat insects and have an exotic look to them

Dicentra canadensis / Dutchman’s breeches, Squirrel corn

Erythronium / Trout lily (ephemeral) – will form colonies of adorable spotted leaves and tiny yellow trumpets

Ferns, Ostrich fern, Sensitive Fern – both easy to source and easy to grow

Hepatica acutiloba (ephemeral)

Hydrophyllum / Waterleaf

Iris virginica

Mainthemum – canadense, stellatum, or racemosum /Mayflower, Starflower, False solomons seal etc)

Mertensia virginica / Virginia Bluebells (ephemeral)

Phlox divaricata / Woodland phlox (not to be confused with ‘Dame’s Rocket’ a very pretty non-native seen in spring)

Podophyllum peltatum / Mayapple

Solidago flexicaulis / Zig Zag Goldenrod

Trillium (ephemeral)

Uvularia grandiflora (keeps foliage) Bellwort

Non-Native plants, not invasive, Interesting & can work well in shade gardens

Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’

Bleeding Hearts / Dicentra – cut foliage back when stems turn yellow

Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ – leaves resist all slugs and pretty blue flowers in late spring

Hakonochlea – Golden Japanese Forest Grass

Kirengeshoma palmata / Yellow Waxbells

Ligularia – needs some wet soil but interesting foliage w yellow flowers

Polygonatum / Solomons seal – regular garden centre variety or variegated

Snakeroot – cultivars of Actea with burgundy leaves are not considered native but still beautiful plants

Annuals for filling shady spots and shady pots

Coleus – especially the huge varieties and lime green types

Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’ – easy enough to overwinter a few cuttings inside as it can be hard to find at garden centres

Begonia – so many varieties, but if you’re looking to make them fit in to your perennial beds, use white ‘Wax’ begonias, they have multiple small flowers, & don’t need deadheading

Tradescantia / Inch Plant – can be the striped variety (T. zebrina) or straight purple species – nice trailing or filling habit

Sweet Potato Vine – very common and extremely useful

Calocasia / Elephant ears – available online or at some garden centres as a large corm, dramatic and tropical

Bulbs – these work best when the shade is cast by deciduous trees – they bloom before the leaves have filled in

Eranthis / Winter aconite – little yellow buttercups and they do create seed so you can spread them

Snowdrops / Galanthus – amongst the very earliest flowers , delicate white flowers dangling on short stems

Early crocus, early small daffs, fritillaria meleagris – we no longer plant Scilla siberica as it’s highly invasive

** = Invasive plants are a problem, they have no natural predators to keep them in check and they escape from residential gardens – they push out native plants that should be found in an area. For example, a woodland hillside may look healthy covered in glossy green Vinca/Periwinkle leaves, but ecologically it becomes a dead zone. These plants can’t support local caterpillars and insects, without insects birds have no food for themselves or their young.