Cool new idea makes shade gardens hot again

Silver leaf Rex Begonia

Cute flowers OUT. Sexy leaves IN. PC® Gigantico Rex Begonia Shadow King Cool White  Photo courtesy of Loblaws

GOODBYE CRAYOLA CUTIES    If your shady bed of hot-coloured Impatiens suddenly collapsed last spring, you probably encountered a case of Impatiens Downy Mildew, a pathogen that can attack the plant very quickly and leave an entire bed looking devastated. The disease has now struck Ontario, Quebec and parts of B.C. and may affect gardens in the future since it can overwinter in the soil. In the 2014 Spring edition of Trillium, the newsletter for the Ontario Horticultural Association, OHA President James Graham called out the problem, stating “…we are likely to see fewer impatiens for sale; since the disease affecting them has become very prevalent…” So what are Southern Ontario garden centres going to do this spring without this cheap ‘n’ cheerful annual crowding shelves with their crayon-bright flowers? Impatiens walleriana was an easy and affordable option for turning a drab border or a  shady corner of the garden into a brilliant swath of colour. Peter Cantley, VP Floral and Garden at Loblaw Companies Limited, said he’s been looking into some exciting alternatives.

HELLO, SEXY LEAVES     Rethink what you know about flowers and colour for a part shade or shady garden this spring. Where once you might have planted Impatiens, Peter recommended Rex Begonias. They’re all about foliage. But these plants have leaves in shapes and colours so unique, noted Peter, they make an eye-catching substitute for blooms. A mass planting of Rex Begonias would transform a shady area into a highlight of the garden. For instance, Rex begonia ‘Shadow King Cool White’ (shown above) “just glows'” he said.

Here are some more easy-to-grow plants for part-shade to shade where once you may have planted Impatiens:






9 thoughts on “Cool new idea makes shade gardens hot again

  1. Pingback: A begonia serves up ice and wine in the shadows | Rhymes with Linnaeus

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  5. Pingback: Say no, no, no to zombie impatiens | Rhymes with Linnaeus

    • When it comes to Rex Begonias – yes and no. The answer could be yes if your balcony is very sheltered and you’ve got a shady area. The problem is that balconies are often windy places and the combination of wind and sun is not good for delicate plants with fragile leaves and fleshy stems like begonias. Wind can be very drying as well as rough up your plant. But you can still get some great leaf action. Look for plants that are naturally adapted to windy, sunny areas. Think the ocean shore, the desert or Mistral-swept Provence. So succulents (such as echeveria), grasses, lavender. Plants with hairy leaves are naturally protected from the elements: sage, lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina). Plant up a pot of Lamb’s Ears and I’ll guarantee you’ll start petting your plants–they’re so soft! BTW: all of the plants I’ve just mentioned come in lovely, soft grey and purple colourings. Together in their various pots, they’d make a complementary grouping on your balcony that wouldn’t compete with your view but their textures would continue to draw your eye back. Happy plant shopping!


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