Combination for Part Shade Using Plants for Pacific Northwest

The mild climate of the Pacific Northwest supports a wonderful variety of plants we can use to create plant combinations for our landscapes. This plant combo draws upon some of the best plants for Northwest gardens. The result is a woodland garden planting scheme with a distinctive sense of place.

Because it relies heavily on evergreen trees and shrubs, this plant combination is a good solution for solving one of the most typical landscape design dilemmas we encounter: creating privacy and screening. The weeping Alaskan yellow cedar, a dwarf variety of our Northwest native conifer, is a perfect plant choice for creating a narrow curtain of foliage to divide space and provide screening. The Green Arrow Chamaecyparis are especially effective when planted in strategically-situated, small groups. In the mid-level, two other conifers serve as foundational plants: Moon Frost Canadian hemlock and Little Diamond dwarf Japanese cedar. The fine textures of these three conifers are the perfect compliment to the big and bold foliage of the variegated Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica 'Variegata'). Two other broadleaf evergreens contribute flowers as well as structure. From late fall, spilling into winter, the Apple Blossom camellia is decorated with soft pink blooms.

In terms of Camellia, the Camellia sasanqua are particular favorites of mine for a number of reasons. I prefer the simple flower shapes and appreciate how cleanly they are shed from plant as they open over a long-ish period of time. Consequently, they're not as likely to make a slippery, slimy mess beneath their canopy the was most of the bulky, extremely showy flowers of the spring blooming Japanese Camellia (Camellia japonica) types. They also run a bit smaller and you can be easily keep them contained by regular pruning. You can also train them against a wall or a fence for an even more compact display.

Rhododendrons are a natural plant choice for Northwest gardens. This particular selection, Rhododendron 'Laramie', is an especially good choice thanks to its superior foliage, generous flowering, and a relatively compact growth habit. In particular, the fuzzy indumentum on its leaves are an effective defense against the lace bug plaguing so many our PNW rhododendrons.

Rounding out the scene, a medley of carefully selected plants are used to cover the ground plane. Silver and blue heart-shaped foliage figures prominently in both the Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass' and a medium-sized blue hosta (H. 'Halcyon'). The Heuchera 'Berry Smoothie' is a relatively strong-growing/reliable coral bell offering mounds of pink foliage that provide a nice color echo to the blushed edges of the camellia blossoms. The best feature of these perennials is their foliage, but the Brunnera contributes sweet sprays of delicate blue flowers in spring as a bonus. The Heuchera and Hosta bloom, but their flowers are usually quite subtle—enjoy them for a bit, then dead head the plants for a tidier appearance.

The Astelia has strap-shaped foliage and a handsome form. The reddish-pink tones it takes on during cooler weather and/or in exposed situations are a further asset in this plant combination—enhancing the pink to red aspect of the scheme.

And finally, the creeping growth habit of the two groundcovers (the alpine water fern and Erodium) are perfect for carpeting the ground and filling in the edges.

In general, this plant combination is moderate to low-maintenance. A nip here, a tuck there, deadhead a couple times a year—that sort of thing will keep it looking good. I would characterize its water requirements as moderate. The large, structure-making plants for the background (the Alaskan cedar, Fatsia, Camellia) are drought-tolerant plants for Northwest gardens once established. The plants for the mid-plane and along the front of the border will ask for a bit more water. The alpine water fern, as its name implies, appreciates regular water and will look it best if provided with supplemental water during the hot summer months.

Growing Conditions

Zone: 7, 8
Exposure: Part Sun, Part Shade, Filtered Sun, Morning Sun, Open Shade
Water Needs: Regular / Even

Design Considerations

Style: Naturalistic, Northwest Eclectic, Woodland
Features: Fabulous Foliage, Four Season Appeal, Low Maintenance, Romantic Cool Colors, Varied Foliage, Texture, and Form, Winter Interest
Focus: Curb Appeal, Efficient Use of Space, Mixed Border, Privacy and Screening, Year-round Interest
Seasons of Interest: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, Year-round Interest, Pleasing Seasonal Changes, Three Seasons of Interest

Care and Maintenance

Maintenance Level: low
Maintenance Tasks: Deadheading

Plants In this Combo