Gardens are as unique as the gardeners who tend them, but one thing is certain: plants that can pull double duty are always desirable. Sun or shade, these multi-tasking plants solve problems and provide beauty.

Ligularia

Ligularia przewalskii. Photo by Kor!An, Wikimedia Commons

Ligularia przewalskii. Photo by Kor!An, Wikimedia Commons

Shady areas are sometimes also wet areas. Grass won’t grow and many plants won’t, either. Plus, perennials that do grow in those conditions may not have much of a flower or they stay very short. These conditions leave the gardener with few options, but don’t despair! Ligularia is ready to solve this problem.

All ligularias like damp conditions and part sun, and they all grow quite large (3-6 feet tall and wide). They fill space and put on a show that won’t disappoint. Tall flower spikes produce stunning yellow flowers, and the foliage is not shy, either. Depending on the variety, foliage can range from deep green with a deeply pronounced lacey edged leaf to huge, rounded maroon-purple leaves. Flowers are either spikes (which can be over a foot long!) or resemble a cluster of tall, yellow daisies.

Important to know: ligularias will be quite grumpy if planted in dry conditions or too much sun (and for partial sun they prefer the morning). In extreme heat the foliage can “flag,” or droop downward. It doesn’t necessarily mean they need water. They just don’t love heat and they will recover once the temperature cools later in the day.

Good companions of ligularia include Filipendula Venusta (Queen of the Prairie), Lady’s Mantle, Astilbe, and Pulmonaria (lungwort). If wet shade is a problem, ligularia and friends are the solution.

Tiarella

Tiarella Sugar and Spice, shown at the top, is another shade-area solution. The real charm of this plant, though, comes in its highly decorative, yet low-input, nature. Tiraella wants part to full shade and moderately moist soil (no drying out) and will reward gardeners the whole season.

The compact, mounding habit of the pretty leaves makes tiarella perfect for a border, as a ground cover, or as a front-of-the garden specimen plant. Sugar and Spice has lacy green leaves with a bold, maroon line running down the middle of each leaf section. The delicate, yet profuse, “foamy” flower spikes appear in spring and add a whimsical touch to the garden. The blooms can be trimmed when spent, but the leaves remain attractive all summer.

Strawberry

Strawberry plants

Strawberry plants. Photo: Iowa State University Extension

There is a variety of different types of strawberry plants, but one thing is sure — all make a tasty summer treat and many make an excellent, edible groundcover!

Strawberry plants produce above-ground runners that root into the ground and begin to create a new plant. No dividing needed — they do the work for you! For any sunny spot that requires a ground cover, including boulevard plantings (if allowed), strawberries are a problem solver. Quick to establish, these plants need water, but are not overly thirsty, and humans and pollinators love the delicate white flowers.

When it comes to eating strawberries, the possibilities for this versatile fruit are nearly endless: pie (alone or with last week’s featured edible – rhubarb!), jelly and jam, ice cream topping, in salads (fruit and green salads), scones, tarts, dried, milkshakes, lemonade, and even salsa and soup (yup) . . . who’s hungry?!

Put these pretty problem solvers to work in your garden!