Garden Q&A: Several plants meet needs for Pittsburgh newcomer
Q: I am a newcomer to Western Pennsylvania, and I need your advice. I have an area along a walkway that is about 2 feet wide and 20 feet long. I'd like to fill it with a plant that meets the following requirements: perennial, long blooming, needs only morning sun, grows to only 12 to 14 inches, is fairly inexpensive, and, if possible, I'd love something the hummingbirds can feed on.
A: Thankfully, there are many plants that will fill at least several of your requirements. Though the large majority of perennials have relatively short bloom times — usually two to four weeks — there are a few with longer bloom times. If you are really interested in having season-long color in that area, I suggest you mix two or three perennials together. That way, there will always be something in bloom.
As the area receives only morning sun, I'm only going to tell you about plants that are best grown in partial shade. These plants will perform best with about two to four hours of sunlight daily.
My first recommendation is fern-leaf bleeding hearts ( Dicentra exima). Though traditional bleeding hearts ( Lamprocapnos spectabilis) bloom only in the spring, fern-leaf bleeding hearts stay in bloom for most of the spring and summer with very little care. The foliage is — you guessed it — fernlike and a beautiful grey-green. The flower color can be shades of white, pink and red, depending on the cultivar you select, and the mature plant reaches only 10 to 15 inches tall. I cannot say enough good things about this tough little beauty.
Another suggestion is coral bells ( Heuchera species). Coral bells are largely planted for their interesting foliage, though the dainty, bell-like flowers are a lovely sight as well. The 8- to 10-inch-tall foliage can come in shades of green, orange, burgundy, yellow, chartreuse, brown and everything in between. Some cultivars have stunning variegation. Plus, red-flowered varieties are adored by hummingbirds.
I'd also suggest you plant one of my all-time favorite shade perennials: Yellow bleeding heart ( Corydalis lutea). Though this plant blooms heaviest in spring, it also produces a moderate amount of flowers through the entire season. My corydalis was blooming on Thanksgiving Day last year. Clusters of small yellow flowers rise above the foliage, and when the plant is allowed to drop seed, many baby corydalis will grace the garden the following spring.
One final choice for your area would be spotted deadnettle ( Lamium maculatum). Though it is generally considered a ground cover, deadnettle is a lovely plant. It comes in many flower colors, including yellow, red, pink and white, and many cultivars have variegated, speckled or striped foliage. In my garden, I grow a cultivar called “Pink Pewter” that flowers heavily in spring and then off and on until frost.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.
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