by Martha H. Oliver



Quicksilver in Dry Shade

Foamflowers add spring blooms to the shade garden, and Tiarella 'Butterfly Wings' adds a new dimension, because the divided leaf, with its horizontal layering, appears to hover weightlessly over the ground. This lightness can be mirrored in companion plants, as it is in the flowers themselves, airy stars with exserted stamens, which appear weightless on the stalk. The dark maroon markings along the central vein add drama to the leaves all season.

 Although foamflowers are native to the woodlands of Northeastern United States, their newfound popularity is due to a number of hybrid selections which have appeared on the market recently. The plants are easy to grow in a humus-rich woodland or shade garden, and 'Butterfly Wings' combines a clump-forming, rather than running, habit, with exceptionally lovely leaves and white flowers with pink buds.

 April sees the emergence of the bloomstalks from the clusters of leaves, then green and cut with a delicate filigree. Intensify this cutwork effect by adding Viola dissecta, its white flowers dancing over dissected foliage, and Japanese painted ferns, Athyrium niponicum 'Pictum'.  The same cut leaves are found in Helleborus Sunshine Strain, and the flowers of these have already boomed in the early spring. Simply pulling together similar leaf shapes can unify a planting and make it look like a garden instead of a plant collection. For a lovely color combination, add some Phlox divaricata laphamii for a light blue starry flower.

 By early summer, the flowers of Heucherella 'Heart of Darkness' and H. 'Kimono' will show their own airy presence, but their leaves are the real beauty of these plants, producing dark midribs in contrast to their green edges.

 For summer, the fern leaves and the foliage of Tiarella 'Butterfly Wings' will be complemented by the contrasting shapes of Hosta 'Sundance' and the light pink flowers of Geranium 'Claridge Druce' which enjoy similar cultural requirements: a moist, shaded soil with a neutral pH.

 For drama, add Cimicifuga 'James Compton' as the dark foliage will resonate with the maroon centers of the foamflowers. Astilbe chinensis 'Pumila' in late summer adds another bottlebrush accent. The Japanese anemone (Anemone 'September Charm') will finish up the year with delicate pink flowers. Of course, the fern and hosta will continue to add structure and elegance to the planting throughout the season.

 This planting will bring lightness and grace to the shade garden all summer. It will prove to be long-lasting, and the clumps will increase in size year by year. Tiarella 'Butterfly Wings' is a grand addition to the native spring flower collection.

This article appeared originally in the Walters Gardens News, 3 (1), spring 2003. 

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