A customer of ours from the N. Oregon Coast (Gearhart) brought us divisions of the large, green-flowered Kangaroo Paw species. It had thrived in her garden there for 20 years and formed a huge patch. She had divisions aplenty. We’ve since found that it isn’t quite hardy inland but it’s still a durable, cool, long-blooming plant. Easy container plant that you can protect if the temperature threatens to drop below 20ºF. In summer they send up 4′ spikes with their green, curiously fuzzy paw-shaped flowers. They remain in bloom for weeks. Full sun and fertile well-drained soil with regular water. Easy to divide. Multiples quickly.
As a dry shade evergreen ground cover foliage plant this wonderful perennial excels. Large heart shaped leaves are marked with silver over a sage green background. Pretty. Spreads to form dense colonies in rich, well drained soil in part shade to full shade. Must have regular water for the best appearance but can endure very dry conditions by wilting and will quickly recover with a drink. Takes the most dense shade and is invaluable in planters, beds, containers that are sited under an overhanging roof. Great winter appearance- it should be used in all sorts of year round containers more often. Spreads underground by stolons but doesn’t travel far. Bait for snails and slugs. Small curious brown flowers occur at ground level under the foliage in summer. To 6″ tall and spreading in ideal conditions to several feet wide.
Silver Spear. Dramatic silver green monocot spikey plant that we adore for container culture. To 3′ tall and dense the rosettes produce long silvery spiky leaves at a moderate pace. Full sun to light shade in rich, well drained soil. Not completely hardy in Portland, it freezes out at about 18ºF- and containers should be protected over the winter- move into an unheated place. Rich, soil, regular irrigation which speeds growth. In the ground you must choose the most protected urban site possible. Then mulch and cover with an opaque sheeting when temperatures threaten to dip below 20ºF. In town that is about once every four years. It can freeze back quite a way but recovery is dubious and slow at best. Excellent performance at the Oregon Coast where it is a permanent landscape plant.
Astelia nivicola ‘Westland’
Much hardier to cold but quite a bit smaller this Astelia has thrived in Portland gardens for decades. Part shade and rich, moisture retentive soil that drains well is ideal. It seems to adore unamended loam as well. Rosette forming monocot with silver leaves that have a distinct red tint. Avoid blasting hot dry situations- this species hates that. Spreads slowly to form showy evergreen patches. Mix in borders, among shrubs- which adds winter protection or in containers. Protect containers from temperatures below 10ºF. In the ground it is hardy below that. Excellent long term perennial for beds or containers. Little spikes of green flowers occasionally transfer into bright orange fruits. To 1′ x 2′ wide in 4 years. Regular summer water is ideal and will also speed growth. New Zealand
Button fern from New Zealand is a very pretty, symmetrical evergreen fern for the most protected sites. Forms an arching rosette of round leaves lining wiry stems. New growth is ochre changing to dark green. To 9″ tall and about 1′ wide in time. Part shade to shade in rich well drained soil with regular summer moisture. Protect from subfreezing wind by placing it under the branches of taller shrubs or near a north facing wall. Excellent houseplant. Slow to increase in size- be patient. Cover with remay or leaves if temperatures threaten to drop below 20ºF. Great performance at the Oregon Coast. Moderately deer resistant.
Three fingered felt fern. This clump forming evergreen fern has been a fantastic performer in the ground in the Portland area. The large sage green leaves have three finger like lobes and are held horizontally at the ends of 6″ stems. Forms a dense clump that expands slowly in rich, well drained soil with light but consistent summer water. Part shade to dense shade and it will tolerate quite dry shade when established. An excellent fern for planters and containers in hopelessly dark dry places (usually with a few dead or dwindling plants) this won’t do that. Excellent in containers with great winter appearance. Its been hardy in the coldest winters in my garden- below 10ºF. (Sometimes rated as zone 6…um no). Slow to increase- be diligent with water. Makes an admirable houseplant. Moderate deer resistance. Taiwan.
Tongue fern from Asia is also known as a leather fern in reference to the robust thickness and texture of the leaves. These evergreen ferns creep stoloniferously to create patches. Not rocket fast, but you can enhance growth in rich, well drained soil with regular SUMMER water. This semi-subtropical-ish fern grows fastest during summer so thats when you supply water. Otherwise it is tolerant of very dry conditions and will make due with one spring moisture burst of growth. Very good appearance year round. Part shade to shade- reasonable shade, not a dark planter under the Brady Bunch stairway but bright shade. Mixes well with Aspidistra elatior (Cast Iron Plant) and Asarum splendens a green and textural combination that looks good year round. And sometimes in dry shade thats the best you can ask. HEH. To 18″ tall and spreading several feet wide with care. Long lived and cold hardy to about 5ºF. Avoid strong subfreezing east wind which can scorch the edges. Great in shady containers. Even successful as a houseplant. Moderate deer resistance.
Ribbon lily or ribbon grass. Creeping evergreen perennial with ribbon like arching leaves arranged in fans. Spreads rapidly in rich, moisture retentive soil with protection from hot sun. To 8″ tall. In autumn, among the deep green leaves pink spikes open to white flowers. Not conspicuous but cute when you notice. Even more showy are the bright orange berries that persist through winter Great tough, low maintenance ground cover for part shade to shade. Accepts no summer water if there is protection from the sun. Great winter appearance even after the repeated arctic blasts and ice and snow of winter 2017. This tenacious plant has a real will to grow. It should be used everywhere. Not bothered by gastropods- surprisingly.
Soleirolia soleirolii ‘Aurea’
God I hate to pronounce this name. Its unpronounceable but its such a good and useful plant. We’ll just call it Golden Baby’s Tears- much easier. Golden tiny dense leaves on a spreading very very low, completely prostrate, just millimeters high ground cover. The golden hue is welcome in the shady, moist but well drained soil that this little baby likes. Don’t try to cover vast amounts of real estate with this plant. I can tell you now that it won’t work. Instead pick a small reasonable area where it can form a happy solid patch- maybe 2′ x 2′. In the part shade to shade that it seeks it will virtually glow. Freezes to the ground in severe cold- returns in spring from root bits and the recovery speeds along with truly warmer weather. Give it regular irrigation. It takes dry conditions in the shade. Terrariums, shade gardens, under bonsai, the floor level of modern containers. Useful pretty plant that is more commonly known as a houseplant.
Tolmiea menziesii ‘Taff’s Gold’
An exceptional variegated form of our native “pigaback” plant that is excellent as a groundcover in dense to light shade. Vigorous and evergreen it will spread to 4′ wide in 2 years but stay only 1′ tall. Very easy to grow, works well under established Rhododendrons. Pretty, but not conspicuous brown flowers. Regular water but will take drought if in the shade. Easy, indispensible native plant. Forms new plants directly from the center of each leaf. Cool trick. Also grown as a houseplant. Good in containers. Oregon native plant.