Rodgersia That?

So I’m still trying to figure out what to plant in place of the Cranberrybush Viburnum (Viburnum trilobum) that are snuggled up against the hedge on the west side of the Back Garden. Whatever I choose has to be pretty shade tolerant, as this spot is shaded by the hedge itself in the afternoon, in addition to the dappled shade that covers the Back Garden as a whole.

Rodgersia ‘Smaragd’

So my interest was piqued when I saw that Richard Hawke of the Chicago Botanic Garden had done plant trials of various Rodgersias. I was also a little surprised, because I didn’t realize they were cold hardy in the Chicago area. They seemed like the sort of plant that would be at home in southern England or the Pacific Northwest, but not on the shores of Lake Michigan (the genus originated in east Asia).

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Fingerleaf Rodgersia

Anyhow, there were two Rodgersia varieties from the trial that in particular spoke to me: Fingerleaf Rodgersia (R. aesculifolia) and R. podophylla ‘Smaragd’. Both have white flowers, which I tend to favor in shady gardens. I realize that for most people the bold foliage is the primary virtue of Rodgersias, but I cannot give up my floracentric outlook.

Anyway, I am going to put these two Rodgersias on the short list of possible replacements for the Viburnums. Another possibility I’m considering (and I realize this is looking in a totally different direction): Sweet Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum), which I have found to be very shade tolerant. This is a tall plant with dusty-pink summer flowers, greatly loved by pollinators.

2014-08-02 12.05.05 sweet joe pye weed
Sweet Joe Pye Weed blooms.

An advantage of Sweet Joe Pye Weed is that I wouldn’t have to buy any new plants – there are surely more than enough young volunteer plants available for transplant.

Any thoughts?

43 Comments on “Rodgersia That?”

  1. I think I missed the post where you mentioned why you’re replacing the Cranberrybush Viburnums? Too prolific? Some other reason? I’m a big fan of V. trilobum, But it sounds like you’re moving more toward a patch of forbs to replace a hedge of shrubs? I like the idea of the Sweet Joe Pye. Or maybe Blue Mistflower would work? I have it growing in both dappled shade and partial shade, and it does quite well in both. If you want a sprawling shrub that performs well in dappled or deciduous shade, Pagoda Dogwood (shrub version) is a great option. We have a patch in the woods that’s only like 7 feet tall, but quite wide. I’m not sure how big it was when we first moved here, but it’s naturalized and beautiful now.

  2. I volunteered on evening island at cbg for several years and the rodgersias never looked really nice in the heat of summer. I wouldn’t if it twere me—Especially in a smaler garde of choice specimens. So many nicer options Dont you hste a crispy brown edge part of the year?

  3. I just planted Joe Eye weed in my woodland garden this year, and so far I am pleased with it. I am always looking for something new to plant in my shady garden. Now I must research Rodgersia; it is quite beautiful!

  4. I would think of Rodgersia as an experiment if you decide on it. Just going by my own trials. It is not drought tolerant. At least not in my garden. I love the looks of this plant but it sure didn’t like it in my garden.

  5. I have rarely observed Rodgersia looking good in gardens. They are intolerant of drying out. Always fun to try something new though. Perhaps the fingerleaf would require less moisture. If you are looking for something bold how about Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) It flowers quite well in shade. Another one that interests me is Aralia ‘Sun King’.

  6. I grow Rodgersia very successfully and agree with the comments above — it does need consistent moisture and can quickly become very large. If those are virtues in your situation, I recommend it, but it can burn if the sun is too strong. I also have had good luck with Aralia ‘Sun King.’ It doesn’t have the blossoms that you want, though. Joe Pye weed grows here as its name suggests — as a weed, prolifically and everywhere. Even so, it is a good choice. For me, it blooms better in sunlight than in shade but for your climate may be ok.

  7. I have no experience with Rodgersias, but I do love Joe Pye Weed as the butterflies love it and it flowers for weeks and weeks on end. Maybe you need to find out how attractive the flowers of Rodgersia are to pollinators and how long it flowers?

  8. I’m not acquainted with Rogersia but would definitely check for invasiveness (esp. as someone has already mentioned that). I love Joe Pye Weed and have both a white and pink variation in the garden – as you mentioned the pollinators LOVE it.

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