There’s nothing quite like a Brunnera to light up that little patch of shade in your garden. Brunnera macrophylla, with its airy sprays of blue forget-me-not flowers and dense mounds of neat foliage, is a mainstay of many shady gardens but rarely does it receive the attention it deserves. It can often be overlooked during the summer as more floriferous displays demand our attention. However, every March the dramatic displays provided by this forgotten treasure, will remind you of why you planted it.
Until recently, there were few cultivars of B macrophylla. In the Sixties a selection with unpleasant cream-variegated leaves was introduced that did nothing to enhance the plant’s reputation. About the same time another cultivar, ‘Langtrees’, which has a row of aluminium-coloured spots around the leaves, came on to the market. Close up, the leaves are handsome but the overall effect is uninspiring. Then a sport of ‘Langtrees’ appeared with distinctive silvery-white leaves that had a green edge and green veins. This was propagated, named ‘Jack Frost’ and fast became a star of the shady garden. The bright blue flowers last longer than those of the species, starting in February and continuing to June and make a spectacular partnership with the silver foliage.
Brunnera needs to be grown away from direct sunlight. The dappled shade under deciduous trees and shrubs is ideal. In the wild it grows in the mountain forests of the Caucasus, where the temperature is cool, the air moist and the soil rich. Although these are the ideal conditions, established plants can tolerate periods of drought. ‘Jack Frost’ and others with variegated foliage prefer deep shade and shelter, to retain their silvery leaves. It’s also best to remove the dying foliage in the autumn, or it will die disgracefully. In winter it rots and covers the plant like “dirty old rags”.
Brunnera makes great groundcover and mass plantings in flower are a spectacular sight. Combinations include similar spring flowering herbaceous plants that like the same conditions as Brunnera. Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’, Hellebores and ferns make great partners, as the textures of the leaves work well together later in the year when the flowers have disappeared. If growing in light shade, adding some Geranium Rozanne into the pick packs a punch of colour for the summer months too.