Spring Garden Planning

I've lately been trying to plan what we will plant in our front yard this spring. It is currently home to a very ugly lilac bush, a single wild violet, some patchy turfgrass, a little moss, and some bare dirt (and right now, a few feet of snow). I once spotted a dandelion growing (but I don't think it ever bloomed), and occasionally the nearby hawthorn tree sends up a few weak suckers. Even the neighbour's super-invasive variegated goutweed doesn't spread into our yard, for some reason. Maybe it just hasn't made it that far yet, but it's pretty shady on that side.

I keep hoping to myself that the spot isn't that bad. The landscapers that maintain the common areas in our townhouse complex also do the grass in the front, and I'm guessing they use some kind of weed killer on the grass. Hopefully whatever they apply won't affect our new plantings this spring.

The first thing we're planning is to take out the lilac bush. It was planted way too close to the house to begin with, and it doesn't get enough sun to bloom until the very top of the bush, where the sun peeks over the top of the house. It also sometimes takes over the front door if you don't cut it way back. This will be a big job, since it's probably about ten or twelve feet tall, but I think it will be well worth the effort.

We're thinking of putting in a 'Limelight' hydrangea, 'Mary Reed' daylilies, and either variegated Solomon's seal or 'Blue Pearl' Jacob's ladder on the sunnier side of the yard (it gets a little sun in the morning and evening). In the shadier part, we're planning common bleeding hearts, hostas, ostrich ferns and Sylvan goatsbeard. I'm not very confident that any of these will grow, so if any of my readers have experience with these plants in a northern climate, I'd love to hear some comments.


  1. I'm planting a shade garden in Montana this spring too. All of my research indicates that those plants you've mentioned do fine in this climate. I've definitely seen hostas, bleeding hearts and ferns thriving in some of my neighbors' yards.

  2. Good luck with the lilac. I've been trying to grub out an unwanted one for 6 years, but it has a refuge under the garage pad and suckers come back every year.

    I planted two Dicentra spectabilis ‘Old Fashioned’ Bleeding Hearts in 2004 and one is still going strong. It is against the house on the westside (~2 h sun), so has some protection. The other, in a very wet, cold and heavily shaded spot lasted 3 years and then crown rot got it in the Spring. Fernleaf Bleeding Heart Dicentra formosa ‘King of Hearts’ is a smaller and more feathery plant, but hasn't lasted more than two years here.

    Check the Zones on your hosta selections, but most of mine have done well. ‘Fragrant Bouquet’didn't survive its first winter, but 'Francee' has done splendidly and ‘Frances William’ survived being accidentally chopped in half and then overplanted. Hostas tend to come up pretty late - end of May or early June, so impatient gardening seems to be harder on them than the winter. Slugs like them though.

    Ostrich fern is 'native' to Alberta - so if the provenience of your selection is good, it should do well. However, you never know where the plant has come from at a nursery. The one I planted two years ago isn't thriving, but it is in deep shade, solid clay, and the first year hail stripped it bare a month after planting.

    Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ - the Variegated Fragrant Solomon’s Seal - is doing well in a number of dryish shade spots in the yard, although the shoots don't get very tall. The only one of these I have lost was in the deep shade, cold, wet spot.

    All my plants are well mulched. Outside of ridiculously optimistic zone experiments, my experience is that most mortality in shade herbaceous perennials is due to crown rot during the Spring freeze-thaws where the snow is deepest and the drainage the poorest.

  3. I'm glad to hear about your experiences, karenandjeff and Dave. I know I have a difficult spot - the snow really piles up and takes a long time to melt there in the spring. And if you want to know how shady it is, the lilac bush we removed last spring never suckered at all, it just gave up.

    We want to get our yard looking good in the next year or two because we're hoping to sell our house soon, so we don't really have time for mistakes. Unfortunately, dead plants are a fact of life around here, so we're really just hoping to keep the casualties to a minimum!

  4. We are in the Peace River country and have grown most of the plants you are planning to try, for many years.
    As per another of your comments, Ostrich Ferns (or Fiddlehead Ferns) are native to this area. I managed to get some transplanted into the sunny part of our yard but they really do prefer shade. The smaller they are when transplanting, the better they will take.

    Bleeding hearts will be fine in the shade. I think their roots like to be cool as I have had more trouble with them out in the hot sun - especially when I had landscape fabric around them. Crown rot is more prevalent in deep shade because they are always damp, but if you watch the water it may help. The fern leaf variety is also very hardy and does well in the shade.

    Hostas are a super choice. There are several varieties (unfortunately I can't remember the names right now) that need total shade. They will all fill in fairly quickly and their foilage is so showy. They are a favourite of mine!
    Daylilies are a good choice too, as they like our climate and will also become nice and bushy in a short time. I have also grown Jacob's ladder very successfully.


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