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Pulmonarias Natural Choice for Shade Gardens

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'Excalibur' Photo by Robert E. Lyons

Photo by Robert E. Lyons

Pulmonarias, commonly referred to as lungworts, are quite charming and provide beautiful flowers in the early spring as well as year-round interest with their attractive foliage. Their unusual foliage and flower combinations provide a natural choice for brightening up shade or woodland gardens. The basic green foliage is often edged or speckled with lime green spots or white leaf margins. Add to that a brick-red blossom or a flower that can open out with pink blooms that deepen to a blue and you will have quite a conversation piece in your garden. Cultivars with brick-red blossoms include ‘David Ward’ or ‘Redstart’. For pink blooms that deepen to blue, look for ‘Roy Davidson’. The blooming period is from April through June.

In their native environments, the lungworts grow in a wide range of soils from acid to alkaline, dry to wet, sunny to shady, along streams and in mountains. The cultivated varieties need rich, moist, well-drained soil. They grow best with bright shade and some morning sun. Don’t forget to water them often during dry, hot summers to keep foliage looking fresh. You can mow them off during these periods and new growth will form as the summer cools down. Divide every three to five years and mulch in the fall to protect plants over winter. Spray with a fungicide if you wish to control powdery mildew.

'Highdown' Photo by Robert E. Lyons

Photo by Robert E. Lyons

Twelve pulmonaria species make great groundcovers when grown under ideal conditions. Look for P. saccharataP. longifolia or P. rubra. Pulmonarias are attractive mixed with ferns, azaleas, rhododendrons, hostas and astilbes or even oak trees and large shrubs.

The JC Raulston Arboretum has kept most of its pulmonaria collection under the shade protection of the lath house that is currently under renovation. This area lessens the harsh impact of Raleigh’s summer sun and heat, enabling visitors to get a good look at these useful herbaceous perennials for shade.

David Barkley