Recently the staff at the Lurie Garden made some interesting changes to the Dark Plate, which is the partly shaded area east of the boardwalk. The Dark Plate tends to play second fiddle to the larger Light Plate that basks in full sun.


The Dark Plate is divided into 3 sections by two parallel east-west paths. Near the more southern of the two paths there was a large swath of ‘Halcyon’ Hostas. Too large a swath, someone thought, because during the summer many of the Hostas were removed.

‘Halcyon’ Hosta

I’m not much of a Hosta enthusiast, so I was not inclined to disagree. I mean no disrespect to the many lovers of Hostas out there.

Autumn Moor Grass with Wild Petunia

Anyhow, many of the Hostas were replaced with some interesting plant combinations. For example, Autumn Moor Grass (Sisleria autumnalis), interplanted with Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis). I never thought of either the Autumn Moor Grass or the Wild Petunia as plants for part shade, but they seemed to be quite happy.

Coral Bells and Autumn Moor Grass

Adjoining some of the Autumn Moor Grass is a crescent-shaped patch of what I think is ‘Palace Purple’ Coral Bells (Heuchera micrantha var. diversifolia).


So many interesting contrasts here. The airy flowers of the Heuchera and the white wands of Sisleria. The green, grassy leaves of the Sisleria and the bold, dark leaves of the Heuchera.


Not all of the Hostas were removed. Some were just thinned, then interplanted with Purple Moor Grass (Molinia caerulea ‘Poul Peterson’). This is another grass that is generally recommended for full sun, but I found at least one source that suggests part shade in areas with hot summers. I’ll be interested to see how this planting evolves as it matures.


Just a few more views from the Dark Plate. To my knowledge, these have not been changed recently. This is the Chicago skyline seen from the east edge, in the foreground masses of white Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea ‘Green Edge’, ‘Virgin’, maybe others).


The white Purple Coneflower combines really well with the pink Japanese Anemone (Anemone hupehensis var. japonica ‘Splendens’).


Look, I captured a Monarch butterfly in flight without even realizing it. Kind of a fuzzy image, but I still really like it.


There’s a big patch of Skullcap (Scutellaria incana), an underused Midwest native.


There’s a nice planting of ‘Gateway’ Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum) in the central section of the Dark Plate. Its tall flowering domes go well with so many other plants, like the ‘Karl Foerster’ Feather Reed Grass above (Calamagrostis acutiflora).


Or Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum).

Now, there’s a lot in the Dark Plate I’m not including, and I may have gotten a little confused on what has and hasn’t been recently added. But I would just say that if you visit the Lurie Garden, don’t get completely absorbed by the sweeping views of the Light Plate. Spend a little time in the Dark Plate as well, and you will be amply rewarded.

34 Comments on “Plant Combinations for Part Shade”

  1. That photo of the Joe Pye weed and Culver’s Root is just stunning. I really, really like that combination. I found Joe Pye weed in the wild last weekend — already gone completely to seed. I had hoped to find some in flower this year, but at least now I know where to find it flowering next year. I’ve finally started keeping a journal, so I can keep that of what’s where, and when to look for it.

  2. Feeling truly cutting-edge as I look out on Culver’s root next to Joe Pye in the “meadow-ette” bed here!

    Lessons from the deer in a very wet year: The Culver’s root plant that was chomped back from four feet to two in June has grown back fine, blooming strongly and staying upright on its own. The other clumps are splayed out in all directions, greatly diminishing the effect of clean white spikes against dusty purple domes. Filing away for future reference, though summers to come are unlikely to be so benign (moderate temps, regular rainfall).

  3. That sweep of skullcap is mighty appealing; Pam Penick’s pics from her garden in Austin got me interested, and now I’m determined to try some. S. incana isn’t native here, but there are nine or ten locally native species. S. serrata, called “showy skullcap”, sounds like the one to go to for garden effect. Now to seek some seed…

  4. Hello Jason, we’ve ended up with a shady understorey in the borders now and I’m getting a bit tired of the usual “hostas and ferns” for these so I’m gathering together “shopping list” material like this to see what else is available. Thanks for the inspiration!

  5. Thanks for the shady ideas!

    Back in my salad days (the ’60s), I worked on Michigan Ave, in the 300 South block. How things have changed — and hooray for such change! Back then the sighting of a Monarch butterfly in the Loop would have happened only if one had hitch-hiked in on the South Shore.

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