For a gardener who loves leaves, here are some choice plants.
Hosta Hill, George Schmid's half-acre garden in Tucker, Ga., is an example of how beautiful and diverse a shade garden can be. Consisting of mostly foliage plants, the garden — under a canopy of high pines — is crisscrossed with informal paths and contains a tiny stream reminiscent of the Appalachian mountains. Schmid has also installed a Japanese-style dry stream bed and has used various garden ornaments reflecting both European and Asian influences.
A native of Germany and a retired engineer (he worked on the design of the SIC booster rocket that helped propel the U.S. mission to the moon), Schmid comes from a family of artists and has used his backyard as a living canvas. In the past several years he has refined his garden by removing most of his hosta collection (which numbered in the thousands and which he has shared with friends, neighbors and his children) and adding a variety of other shade-loving plants. Texture and foliage color create interest. Understory trees like Stewartia pseudocamellia, Japanese maples and select hostas (including George's own hybrids) blend with rare arisaemas, ferns, mosses, gingers, disporums, Solomon's seal and ornamental grasses.
The founder of the Georgia Hosta Society, Schmid is the author of the The Genus Hosta and the recently published An Encyclopedia of Shade Perennials. "I am a foliage gardener, not a flower gardener," he says. "I deal with textures and leaf sizes and different shades of green."
Some of his choice plants include:
Hosta (Hosta 'Antioch'). Introduced in 1979, this hosta is still one of the most popular cultivars. 'Antioch' is a fast grower, forming large, three-foot-wide clumps quickly. No two leaves are alike. The 10-inch-long, medium-green leaves have large, irregular creamy-white margins. When the foliage emerges in spring, the edges are chartreuse. As the leaf matures, the margins turn to yellow then to creamy white. Pale lavender flowers appear in July on 32-inch stalks.
How to use it: This hosta has the effect of a cascading fountain and would look good on the edge of a mound or small wall. The variegation is especially effective next to solid green.
Cultivation: Hostas like part shade and well-drained soil that has been amended with composted material. Divide clumps in spring.
Source: Plant Delights Nursery Inc.
Fiveleaf aralia (Acanthopanax sieboldianus 'Variegatus'). A little known deciduous shrub with green, palmate leaves that have a creamy white border, this upright shrub has arching stems which gradually bend over to form a rounded outline. A medium to fast grower, this native of Japan can be kept low (as Schmid has done) or allowed to grow to eight feet tall. Hardy from USDA Zones 4 to 8.
How to use it: The variegation is stunning against solid green backgrounds. Use this shrub to lighten shade gardens.
Cultivation: Grow in sun or shade. Prune to keep the plant at the desired height.
Source: Arrowhead Alpines
Callaway ginger: (Asarum shuttleworthii 'Callaway'). Ginger is an evergreen perennial groundcover that is native to the Southeastern United States. This particular selection was found near Pine Mountain, Ga., by the late plantsman Fred Galle. The green, half-dollar-sized leaves are heavily mottled in dramatic silver patterns. Hardy in USDA Zones 5-8, 'Callaway' produces "little brown jugs" (bell shaped flowers, which with a purplish cast) in May. This is a very slow grower, taking 10 years to form a mat three feet wide.
How to use it: A wonderful plant to tuck between rocks or among small ferns in a woodland garden.
Cultivation: 'Callaway' needs shade and good, moist woodland soil.
Chinese mayapple: (Podophyllum pleianthum). The Chinese mayapple is a perennial with large glossy green leaves that unfurl in mid-spring and stay beautiful throughout the season (unlike the native U.S. mayapple which becomes unsightly, then disappears in summer). Bizarre purple flowers appear in May and produce a strange, fetid odor. The leaves measure seven to nine inches across. Hardy to USDA Zone 7.
How to use it: Plant where the dramatic leaves can be appreciated. Good companion plants are ferns, variegated hostas and golden creeping jenny as a groundcover.
Cultivation: You need adequate drainage and compost-enriched soil. Plant in shade, and feed with fish emulsion or compost tea.
Source: Asiatica (international rare plant resource)
Variegated Japanese reed grass: (Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'). This shade-tolerant ornamental grass has graceful leaf blades striped with yellow which cascade in a fountainlike form (all the leaves face the same way). Native to the Hakone region of Japan, this deciduous grass has a bamboolike appearance. It grows to one foot high by three feet across. Hardy from USDA Zone 6 (with protection) to Zone 9.
How to use it: Plant this grass where it can drape gracefully over a short rock ledge or small slope. Combine with hostas, ferns or tricyrtis or use it as an accent by itself.
Cultivation: The leaves of 'Aureola' will be brighter yellow with more sun; chartreuse in shade. The plant requires abundant moisture during its initial spring growth cycle, but make sure the soil is well-drained; stagnant water in the ground will cause root rot.