Some New Plants for a Difficult Bed

The Back Island Bed has never quite clicked. Lots of different plants have been tried in it. Some have worked, others have not. I suppose part of the problem is that the bed, which is in light shade most of the year, is infiltrated with feeder roots from the nearby Silver Maple.


Here are the main plants that have worked in this bed:

  • Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’.
  • Dwarf Goatsbeard (Aruncus aethusifolius).
  • Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis).
  • Yellow Coydalis (Corydalis lutea).
  • Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica).

As for the plants that haven’t worked, the less said the better.

A box of plants arrived from Prairie Nursery last week and I got them in the ground over the weekend. There were 2 species meant for the Back Island Bed.

Poke Milkweed. Photo from

First, Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata). An interesting rather than a beautiful Milkweed, but shade tolerant and happy in moderately dry soil. Also, it adds some height to the bed, as all the plants listed above are pretty compact.

The Poke Milkweed is going to replace the American Spikenard (Aralia racemosa), which is now officially dead to me. It’s not technically dead, however, and is a bear to dig up, so I just intend to cut each stem at ground level until the roots starve.

This is my second try with Poke Milkweed – the first time I accidentally dug it out and killed it. It’s a late riser, like most Milkweeds, so this time I was careful to mark the location of each plant.

I also ordered American Bellflower (Campanula americana). This is a biennial that likes shade, another vertical plant with lovely blue bell-shaped flowers. With any luck, it will self-sow.

Indian Pink reblooming in September.

I’ve also ordered a bunch of bare root Indian Pink from American Meadows. I figured since this plant was already prospering, why not make a much bigger patch of it? Also, it blooms later than most woodland flowers, and reblooms sporadically into fall. The red tubular flowers, popular with hummers, are topped with a pointed yellow star.

Are you adding new plants to any shady beds in your garden?



28 Comments on “Some New Plants for a Difficult Bed”

  1. I have added a few new plants lately. I am working on my Circle garden. You have given me some inspiration for a shadier spot though. I would love to get those Indian Pinks going in my garden. They are so striking when blooming. I don’t blame you for taking out the Aralia. I have the fancy one and I am taking it out. It didn’t do a thing for the garden. It has sulked since I planted it. Of course we have been through two of the worst summers water/heat wise.

  2. I am in the process of dividing the happy plants and pulling out the flops. I think you are right that it makes sense to add more of what works. Sun, shade, moisture, tree roots – so many variables and it is not always clear who’s the bad or good guy when plants succeed or fail.

  3. I have a bunch of Hostas and ferns that I need to get in the ground in a shady spot, not very original, but they’re workhorses here for shady area. But I’m also working hard on redoing some front beds into prairie type plantings. Too much to get done this fall! I tried Indian Pinks twice here but maybe they don’t like our climate, both times they failed.

  4. I understand your problem with shallow silver maple roots. There is a hosta nursery about 20 miles from where I live (in Kentucky). The owner, who has a background in horticulture, buries plants she puts beneath tree canopies in large pots. She has found this has worked for her. Just a suggestion. . .
    The Indian pinks are lovely.

  5. Sounds like you made some great choices! I added Poke Milkweed this year, and I’ll cross my fingers that the plants emerge again next year. They (3 plants) seemed to be doing OK, though not growing much, until a tussock moth defoliated them. Hopefully, the roots will be established and the plants will show up again next year. I didn’t notice any monarch caterpillars on them, but they were small plants. You’ve had more luck with Indian Pinks than I have, although I was just pleased that they all made it through a winter with very little snow.

  6. Some months ago I did have autumn plant plans but in the meantime I gave up all planting plans for this year! You read my latest post. The soil is like concrete now. 😦
    Have you ever tried with Epimedium? I have a similar shady bed under a high fir tree. There I made good experiences with Epimedium pinnatum ssp. colchicum.

  7. I have a shady floodplain bed in the backyard. The epimedium, low scape aronia, queen of the prairie and anemone are all doing well. I thought the indian pinks needed moisture. If that is the native campanula you are planting be aware that it can be invasive.

  8. I’m not familiar with the Indian Pink. That looks like a charmer, and it doesn’t mind shade! That is good news. I read that Anemone canadensis would work well in a shady, sometimes wet are I have. It can be invasive, I’m told, but frankly I would welcome that as nothing else grows there! Whatever did your Aronia do to make you that mad?

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