Pulmonaria – Flowers & Foliage for the Shade Garden

I have a fond appreciation for those perennials whose foliage is still attractive in November, even after several hard frosts. Ajuga, coral bells, Epimedium, European ginger, lady’s mantle, lamb’s ear, and Pachysandra are some enduring characters in my landscape, but it was the Pulmonaria that caught my attention the other day while doing some fall clean-up in a shade garden.

Commonly called lungwort, Pulmonaria is a genus offering hundreds of varieties, all with interesting, fuzzy, silver-spotted leaves. The silver splashes occur in varying degrees – depending on the variety – producing leaves from nearly solid green to almost totally silver. The plants, ideal for shaded gardens, grow about 12 inches tall and 18 inches wide, spreading slowly and politely by rhizomes and sometimes by self-seeding.

In early spring, small trumpet-shaped flowers bloom in shades of blue, pink or white, delighting winter-weary gardeners and early-rising bees alike. The buds are often colored differently giving flowers a bi-color appearance.

Pulmonaria grows best in moist, but well-drained soil amended with lots of organic matter, but it performs admirably cohabitating with the roots of silver maples in my shade garden, too. While filtered light all day or a few hours of direct morning sunlight followed by part shade the rest of the day is preferred, lungwort can tolerate more sun if the soil remains slightly moist. Sited in too much sun, their leaves may burn. Grown in too much shade, powdery mildew may be a problem, especially if they are planted in an area with poor air circulation.

Lungworts don’t require a lot of maintenance to keep them healthy and happy. Cut back winter-damaged foliage in early spring; remove spent flowers and their stems; and water in prolonged periods of drought – that’s about it.

Partner Pulmonaria with fine-textured perennials like ever-blooming bleeding hearts and ferns; group them with other perennials with colorful foliage like coral bells, hostas and Japanese painted fern; or combine them in a riot of early spring color with hellobores, old-fashioned bleeding hearts and Virginia bluebells.

The hardest part of adding Pulmonaria to your garden is deciding which one to choose. These are some of my favorites.

Pulmonaria officinalis ‘Sissinghurst White’ shows off pale pink buds that open to pure white flowers. They glow above the silver-spotted foliage.

Pulmonaria longifolia ‘Bertram Anderson’ sports deep violet-blue flowers and silver-splashed foliage.

Pulmonaria longifolia ‘Coral Spring’ features coral pink blooms over long, lance-shaped leaves speckled with silver.

Pulmonaria longifolia subsp. cevennensis is a hybrid of P. longifolia with very long leaves – up to 24 inches – heavily spotted with silver. Flowers are dark violet blue.

Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’ boasts violet buds that become raspberry-red flowers over silvery-speckled foliage.

Pulmonaria ‘Majeste’ has green-edged silver foliage and bluish-pink blooms.

Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’ flaunts long, narrow foliage generously speckled with silver and violet blue flowers.

The genus Pulmonaria was the focus of a plant evaluation study by the Chicago Botanic Garden from 1994 to 1999. They evaluated plants based on their flowers, habit, adaptability, disease and pest resistance and hardiness. Click here to see their complete report.

Do you already grow Pulmonaria in your garden? Which varieties are your favorites? If you don’t, considering adding some to your spring shopping list. Garden with me!

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