Solomon Seal’s the deal in shade gardens

Shade plant

Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum), photographed in May, 2015.

Most everyone with a garden has a spot under some trees or along the side of the house where the sun hardly shines and the soil is often (as my endearingly direct guy will sometimes put it) as dry as a popcorn’s fart. These are the places that try a gardener’s soul. What can grow there that looks great, doesn’t need a lot of maintenance and won’t invade the entire garden given half a chance?

Solomon’s Seal works for me. This elegant perennial, looking like the very tall love child of a fern and a lily of the valley, is a native of southern central Canada, including Southern Ontario, as well as southern parts of Quebec and Nova Scotia and most of the eastern half of the U.S. In the wild, it grows in woods, in either dry or moist conditions, in thickets and what botany buffs refer to as calcareous hammocks. What this means is that, for all its beauty, it’s not a particularly particular plant and can do really well in most soils from sandy to clay and can thrive under trees where shade and dryness rules.

Unfortunately, you’ll find a lot of care information for this plant that specifies a need for medium to wet, well-drained soil. Don’t let these guides deter you. For a definitive guide to the range of its growing conditions, check out the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Centre website. Or drop by my place so I can show you the patch of Solomon’s Seal that comes up every year, right up against the side of my neighbour’s house, directly under the eaves, in a neglected patch between our two homes, that I have never seen watered and gets about one hour of sun a day.

If you don’t have a challenging spot in your garden, think about adding this gorgeous plant in any case. It’s a great choice if you want a part of your garden to have a wild or woodland look to it or you have a shaded border, a rain garden or a rock garden. Try pairing Solomon’s Seal with astilbe, ferns, hostas, bleeding hearts, and heucheras.

When you’re shopping for this plant, keep in mind that Giant Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum commutatum) is a larger plant, growing up to 120 cm in height and a spread of up to 90 cm. It does better in sandy or clay soils that are consistently moist.



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