Yesterday, I sat at my kitchen table where the warm mid-day sun was beaming on me and my cat as I reviewed my plant catalogues to begin the exciting process of ordering plants for the upcoming season. Feeling a tad bit anxious because I did this ordering process earlier in January last year, and also did it while sitting in a lazyboy style chair by the fireplace with snow falling outside, taking my time. Yet, this winter, it feels as spring will arrive earlier due to our warmer temps. Thus I stayed focused on this important task to make sure this plant order would get to the growers now, or risk missing opportunities to get some of the newbies on the scene and tropical favorites before everyone else grabs ’em.
I’m not sure if it was the sun’s warm temperatures surrounding me or the fact the colorful photos of plants were vivid from the sun’s light hitting the pages, but a lady bug dropped right on the pages in front of me. It kept hoppin’ up and down’- and as it landed, a click noise from its hard outer body repeated as it hit my papers and table top. Then it stopped, so I grabbed my iPhone and took a close up shot, and immediately posted it on my Facebook wall. Friends commented this was a sign of good luck. I sure hope so, I thought, for I was just about to order a truck load of plants and it feels a bit risky every time I do this.
This risky feeling is not because I don’t trust my plant selections – because I surely do. Like a lighting beam, (okay sounding a bit braggy here, but its true), I can zero in on plants I know will work in my design combinations for container garden installs and container garden parties held at clients’ homes each year. And I immediately notice plants I haven’t seen before or being introduced for the first time by growers. “Oooh,” I’ll think, “Have to have some of those!”
Then there are old true favorites – that I have loved for years. Thus, there it was, my Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ on the very last page of the catalogue. It won the title of “2012 Perennial Plant of the Year” by the Perennial Plant Association. I’m not surprised, and it made me feel reassurred of all the times I bragged about Brunnera.
When I worked at a nursery, and customers would ask what they can use in the shade, I always pointed out Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ because it has three key features in regards to appearance, texture, and color. First, the leaves are shaped like a heart. The ovate shape of the leaves provide a nice contrasting texture to finer foliage in the garden or when used in early spring container gardens.
Second, the color of the leaves, on this particular cultivar, ‘Jack Frost’, with its dark green leaves covered by a soft white or almost super light-blue overlay on the entire leaf makes the venation pattern very visible and distinct, adding visual texture. Additionally, the fact that its leaves are white-to-soft white, almost faint soft blue, is a benefit in a shade garden because light colors really show up in the shade. They don’t disappear.
‘Jack Frost’ is a plant that also grows well with little to no problems. About the only concern, is if it gets hit by a frost, it can blacken the leaves, but what are the odds of that happening? And you noticing in the shade areas of your gardens is unlikely if it is a quick passing frost. And if it happens, you can easily snip off the damaged leaves to remove that unsightly experience.
Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ doesn’t typically experience any serious disease or insect problems and it is hardy to Zones 3-8. And another bonus – it is a spring bloomer with a true blue flower. I often told clients the flowers look like Forget-Me-Nots. They are dainty, blue, very small and rise on racemes over the top of the full foliage below. So of course, when I saw this plant as the Perennial Plant of this year, I was pleased.
This perennial does well in partial shade and moist, well-drain soils. If you want a naturalized look, it is a good candidate for that type of garden as well. Known as Siberian bugloss, it’s photo graces the front cover of Tracy DiSabato-Aust’s book, titled, “50 High-Impact, Low-Care Garden Plants” and she indicates it is: “Long-lived, heat and humidity tolerant, cold-hardy, deer-resistant, insect and disease resistant, mininmal or no deadheading, minimal or no fertilizing, no staking, minimal or no division, minimal or no pruning, non-invasive, and drought-tolerant.” Is this plant missing anything? It is practically perfect.
One year, I plopped a Hydrangea next to my ‘Jack Frost’ Brunnera in my front foundation planting area. The soft blue and pink to white blooms of the Hydrangea worked well with my Brunnera. In containers, Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ can stand alone or try pairing it up with Astilbe, selecting a cultivar with perhaps white or pink blooms, such as Astilbe ‘Amethyst’ with plumes of bright lavender-pink in June or Astilbe ‘Bridal Veil’ with white plumes on 18″ stems in late spring. The Astilbe serving as the thriller and Brunnera as a filler. Astilbe perennials are also wonderful shade candidates so they fit the culture of ‘Jack Frost’. Think of other shade, spring bloomers to pair up with Brunneras.
Use different texture and heights for nearby or companion plants, such as Polygonatum (Solomon’s Seal) which has a arching habit on long tall upright stems. I like to have those elevations in my designs and gardens throughout the beds, not just in the back, as often recommended.
Or use other textures nearby that has slimmer foliage, such as Hakonechloa(Hakone Grass), an ornamental grass with the ability to also grow in shade. The cultivar ‘Aureola’ has bright yellow foliage, and coincidentally, ‘Aureola’ won the 2009 Perennial Plant of the Year. Now they can hold their honors together.
There are many other beautiful choices of Brunnera cultivars, if the soft white of ‘Jack Frost’ doesn’t suit your garden. Brunnera macrophylla ‘Emerald Mist’ is a sport of B. ‘Jack Frost’. It has emerald green leaves with with the white to silver coloring a bit more along the leave’s edges, and it has the similar mounding habit of most Brunneras. There is also B. macrophylla ‘Green Gold’ that is mostly green, ‘Hadspen Cream’ with a creamy variegation, and ‘King’s Ransom’, also a sport of ‘Jack Frost’, with a smaller habit and wide, pale yellow margins, and more. Be on the lookout for this perennial, made for partial-shade, tolerant of some moisture, with little care required. And you too will be braggin’ about Brunnera. Cathy T
P.S. I included Brunnera macrophylla ‘Emerald Mist’ on my order list.