Shade Loving Plants

April 8, 2020
Updated March 2021

I have been looking for Buttercup Ivy and it was seen in the garden at Longwood Pennsylvania in 2004.  It was also seen once in 1983. I had one, but it did not do very well and it died. I had it part shade in San Francisco. I am trying to get another chance with it because I have perfected the technique of keeping the ivy as a houseplant and taking out insurance plants as a backup. An “insurance” is a plant that you take and root in water or divide out or just taking a small portion with a root, in case the main plant dies. Updated: I bought two Buttercup Ivy Plants from Glass House Works. They both survived. I planted one outside this spring in 2021 and I am keeping one inside as insurance in case the climate kills the one that is outside. Small potted Ivy makes a great house plant and they suck up more indoor air pollution then other plants. I did research on which plants clean the air best. I found that ivy, mums, and pathos were the best at cleaning the air. Updated April 2021: I planted one of my buttercup ivies outside but it began to die. I think it was too cold at night. Although I have successfully planted other small ivies outside and they do well even in the cold, Buttercup is especially vulnerable to cold. Therefore it works best as a house plant.

My Buttercup Ivy

I have had better look with another ivy which is green and white. I like the interesting small hybrids such as Hedera helix ‘Clotted Cream’. They are not invasive like regular English Ivy which is the most horrible invasive plant that can ruined your entire garden permanently, if you let it do so. Pull it out while its still young or face the consequences.

I have Hedera helix ‘Calico‘, but the plant I bought I am not sure is the original. There are a number of plants with green and white in the leaves and most of them are not the original. I even saw a selling a fake Hedera helix ‘Calico‘. I saved the links on Archive Today so you can click on them and see a photo of what was online April 8, 2020. I don’t know if they posted the wrong photo but there is some possibility that small ivies can revert to type by growing green non variegated leaves. This happens when the plant does not get enough light. Sometimes you can trim away the incorrect leaves, but you have increase the light. Sometimes removing all the incorrect leaves could be too much and kill the plant. It’s better to leave this ivy in a pot so you can move it around to increase the light or decrease sunlight as needed. Small potted ivies do like direct morning sun as long as it a cool sun. The do not like afternoon sun and the leaves can scorch in direct hot afternoon sun. This plant is more work than you think it will be when you consider having to move the pot several times a day. If you have the time at home, keep the ivy inside at night. In the morning in the spring and fall move the plant to cool sunlight. In the afternoons place the pot in the shade and bring it in the evening. In the summer on a hot day the plant will like shade all day, but bring it inside if it gets too hot outside. Besides you will want it in the house at least half of the time because ivy is great at cleaning indoor air pollution. It may seem like a lot of work, but it the past if I allowed buttercup ivy to be planted in the garden in the shade under sink or swim conditions it died. It’s not easy to find replacements plants.

I also had a lot of hostas in my San Francisco garden. My first Hosta I got in the 90s from Wayside Gardens. It was called something like Little Pot of Sunshine. I had only one photo of it taken. I was taken a begonia photo, and part of the leaf was showing. I later wanted to have a photo of it after it was gone, but I had only that partial leaf.

little pot of sunshine
This hosta was likely pocketful of sunshine, but its hard to tell.

After this I realized I need to be taking photos of every plant and keeping records of the plants name, where I got it, and the date I got it, as well notes about how it progressed over time. “Pocket Full of Sunshine” looks much more green in the online photos. This hosta had a yellow tone. I would have re-bought Pocketful, but I was not even sure it was the correct hosta. There are so many hostas that look similar or even identical to each other. Genetic testing of the plants could help with hosta identification. If you don’t know the name you probably will not find the correct plant online. Hosta are great when planted with non stop tuberous begonias. They both like the same conditions in shade, soil and water. The soil should be rich, the water should allow them to dry out slightly between watering. The light should be morning light sun and afternoon shade or filter sunlight under thin tree branches.  Coral Bells can get by with less water once established in good soil, but they will not grow as fast if they are drought stressed and they may come down with spider mite. They are not a water saving, drought loving plants. Water saving plants have small leaves and flowers.

I wanted to be hosta collector, but most of them died from Hosta Virus X. They had been declining for years. I thought it was the lack of cold in my San Francisco Garden Zone 10, but one day I saw a plant with twisted leaves. I am not sure how it happened, but the first candidate was a cheap hosta in a box, that I bought at Walmart in 2003 because I felt sorry for it. The hosta was Hosta sieboldiana ‘Elegans’. It just never did very well and it died the first year, but I do recall a strange twisted growth. Bressingham Blue Hosta I had in front of the house in 2002. I don’t think it had a virus, but one can’t tell because the virus may not show signs for a few years on the plants.

After that I slowly lost the ones I had collected. I lost Sum and Substances, Golden Prayers, Water Fall, Loyalist (was dug up and stolen by someone). I also had two which I did not know the names of but one was green and white and one was light green and white. The light green one presented twisted leaves, but the darker green and white never did. It just died, but not before splitting off into many hosta babies. Never buy hostas at a big box store like Walmart. Buy them only from independent sellers and ask for a virus free certification. The experience was so heartbreaking to lose all my collection that I don’t try to grow hostas anymore.

There are just basically a few types of hostas. The solid green, which are the most hardy. The white and green which come in light and a darker green. The yellowish ones which are the most difficult. The blue ones which are only blue due to wax like protective coating which can be melted off in hot sun. Then everything else is a combination of these different types. So with five hostas you can have an almost complete collection.

The only one that survived Hosta Virus X was called “Am I blue”, which is overall a small hosta, but it never seemed to get the virus. The deer however finished it off when I moved them to Ukiah. Clearly the one I bought by mail order from was not really Am I Blue, because it does not look like the photo, but it was a good buy because it survived hosta Virus X which took down all my other hostas. However deer love to eat hostas and will seek them out.

Here are the two hostas that were called Am I Blue the only survivors

  Hostas do really well in Effingham, Illinois. There is even a park filled with them called Bliss Park.

I took this photo at Bliss Park May 7, 2014

Another shade loving plant that I have been more successful with are Heuchera or Coral Bells. The first plant I collected was “Fireworks”, and it is still alive. By still alive I mean that pieces are taken from it and it is divided and regrows. You will want to take out insurance plants when the main plant is looking over crowded.

I decided I wanted to collect Coral Bells. I went through a large number of them which I planted on the shady side of my San Francisco Garden.

Here is a list of the ones that perished. I killed Plum Pudding once, and Amber Waves twice. I had high hopes for Amberwaves so I was willing to buy it twice. I bought Amberwaves a second time there because it looked so great when I went to a special open house at Morning Sun Herb Farm in Vacaville, California, in May of 2011. Amberwaves disappointed me this time faster than the first time. I had Plum Pudding. It was a large plant that really looked great and it last more then one year. Crimson Curls had curl leaves, that were also purple. I remember seeing a lot of Key Lime Pies in the nurseries, but when I went to buy one after waiting for a few years, I could not find one. I settled on Harvest Lemon Chiffon.

My favorite Coral Bells was Creme Burle. Creme Burle lives for two years. The second year it came back, and it was in top forum. I took the most perfect photo of it in 2013. I even posted the photo on Twitter with special attention @ the breeder Proven Winners who praised the photo shown below.

coral bells tan color
Heuchera (Coral Bells) Creme Burle

What went wrong? Maybe San Francisco did not get cold enough or the wet winter did it in? I know some of my coral bells died from rust which is fungal disease that forms under the leaves of plants in small usually orange spots. The thing about Coral Bells is they are so close to the ground that you may not notice the rust if you don’t flip the leaves over every few days to check. I did inspect my garden almost daily. This is necessary to head off disasters like insect infestations. Heuchera does not get very many insects but can get spider mites. The wet winters were not good for them, and it may not have been cold enough to make them go dormant properly in Zone 10. If I can find Creme Burle I will buy it again, but I have not seen it around lately.

I have three Coral Bells still alive in my Ukiah garden. They are Fireworks, an unknown green leafed one with pink flowers, and Snow Angel. The Unknown Coral Bells is the strongest Coral Bells ever, and I should sell it if it was not under patent. It comes back vigorously even with neglect. If you just remove a small piece and bury it in soil it will grow roots.

Coleus is a great shade plant. Most people use them as bedding annuals. They don’t really survive more than one season even if you pinch them off the flowers. They can be grown from seeds even by direct sow. I like the colorful leaves, but they lose their color if they get any direct sun on them and fade out. They grow even in hot climates, but they have to be watered very often in heat. I imagine they would do well in Hawaii.

Coleus grown from seeds by direct sow near my pool pump

Since one is not expected to keep them going more than one year there is less pressure with Coleus then with other shade plants.

This year I grew Kong Coleus and Begonia Rex Dibs Butterscotch indoors.  I place them outside in the shade when the temp is between 70 and 85 degrees.

Begonia butterscotch Dips and Coleus Kong Trademark

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