29 May 2010

Focusing on Foliage (mostly)

Like many of you, I definitely need more hours in the day. I'm into the last month or so of mad panic before my book deadline plus regular work plus the gardens, and oh yes, the weather is NOT cooperating. Wind, wind, wind and more wind. Still, I work inside like a maniac for a few hours, gird up my loins and go out in the wind to do battle until it drives me nearly around the bend. Hopefully, the weather stabilizes a bit, SOON, please and thank you.

Despite my needing to do a LOT of weeding and still some dividing and moving, things are looking quite well. There are many plants in bloom, some of which will surprise those of you in decidedly warmer climates. These 'Spring Green' tulips are just coming into their own, and I still have other tulips in bloom here and there around the gardens.

We who are primarily landscape gardeners (as opposed to kitchen/food gardeners) get very excited and happy over flowers, of course. But I have been gently stressing the need to focus on foliage as well as blooms. Flowers are great, but they come and go, and if you have a perennial border where most everything blooms at the same time and has unexciting, lance-leafed foliage, it's understandable if you think you've got nothing much going on. But when you remember to add plants with interesting foliage into the mix, there's always a great show happening.

Happily for us, plant breeders have been developing great plants with marvelous foliage as well as cool blooms. I'm going to show you just a few things from my garden, many of which are new to the garden this year for one reason or another. Above is the tiarella 'Pink Skyrocket'. If you google this plant looking for images, you'll find plenty of focus on the flowers, but I think the foliage is just as attractive.

My favourite Jacob's ladder, hands down, is Polemonium 'Stairway to Heaven'. Mind you, I have 'Purple Rain' as well as 'Snow and Sapphires', but the foliage of this one just gets to me. In the early spring, I posted a photo that really showed off the new colours in emerging foliage; now, some six weeks later, it's still a stunner, though less there's less pink in the leaves.

This is a new-to-me Pennisetum, or purple fountain grass, 'Fireworks'. The pennisetums usually aren't hardy here, but I gave one to a friend of mine to see if he can overwinter it. Mine are currently in pots, and I don't care if they even put up flowers later in the season. The foliage is great enough.

My friend Rob Baldwin is determined to convince me that I can grow a Japanese maple or two or six on my property. This is a seedling he grew of 'Osakazuki', which is normally a green one with coral/pink colour in its new growth and amazing fall colour. We're interested to see whether this will turn more green as the season progresses. Oh, and if I can overwinter it or not. Speaking of Rob, he now has a blog for his business, Baldwin Nurseries; I'm looking after it for the time being, and it's a work in progress, of course, but please do come and visit.

I like the juxtaposition of the somewhat climate-delicate Japanese maple with this particular specimen of Labrador tea, Ledum groenlandicum (or Rhododendron groenlandicum, depending on which taxonomist you listen to). This is from seed collected on our trip to Labrador in 2007 with Dick Steele; however, it's from plants growing just over the border in Quebec at Blanc Sablon, where the ferry from Newfoundland comes across. My buddy climbed a rocky, wind-scoured cliff to collect seed from the Labrador tea clinging to a very sparse soil, while I sat in the car holding our place in the ferry queue and had 14 conniption fits waiting for him to come down off the hill, preferably in one piece. I'm not awfully worried about THIS marvelous native plant overwintering in my garden, given what its parent plant was growing in.

Jubilation! I finally found a nice pot of Aster lateriflorus 'Lady in Black'! I've been looking for it for several years, as (ahem) I inadvertently dug mine up a few years back, thinking it was a wild, weedy species. Also known as the calico aster, this has tiny dainty flowers in late summer, but it's the foliage and flower buds that rock my socks. I will be marking its presence VERY carefully, so as not to lose it again.
I haven't planted 'Lady in Black' yet, and I might just plant her behind Campanula 'Dickson's Gold' just to make another one of those striking black-and-gold foliage displays that I'm very fond of.

Ferns, of course, do not flower. They don't have to. Even the regular ostrich fern makes me extremely happy, but the Japanese painted ferns are, in a word, exquisite. This is a crested form, Pictum-Applecourt', and as you can see the ends of some of the frond pinnae are crested or tasseled-looking. I only have a couple of cultivars of athyriums, but I can certainly see getting more of them in the future.

From the cool-shade environs of the ferns, we bounce over into the hot and dry rock garden where most of my sedums and sempervivums hang out, along with a few flowering things like several spurges, a lewisia, and prairie-crocus, pulsatilla, which is just wrapping up its bloom session. Although I love the flowers on the various sedums, I've mentioned before that I really wouldn't care if mine ever bloomed, just because I love their foliage so much. You can see a wee bit of 'Angelina' on the left-hand side of the phot0; then there's 'Frosty Morn' and 'Purple Emperor clumping sedums, and in the bottom left-hand corner, a semp I just got from Jane at Woodlands and Meadows, 'Sir William Lawrence.'

This is a new-to-me creeping sedum, 'Coral Reef'. The foliage is, in a word, gorgeous. I've just planted it and am waiting to see if putting it into the ground changes its colour much, as sometimes happens with plants that have been in containers for a while.

I have a number of sempervivums, most of which I don't know the names of, either because they were sold merely as semps, or they've got NOID/Lost Label syndrome. This one is seriously cool, because the babies are like little beachballs that roll down off the hen and take root in the soil. It tickles me to look at it. Some might say I'm easily amused. I'm okay with that.

Okay, fellow plant geeks, here's a mystery for you. The same day as I got 'Lady in Black' aster, I got my greedy little hands on Astilbe Color Flash Lime. And there was another astilbe with gold foliage at that nursery, and all of the pots of that particular one were mislabeled as a thalictrum. This is that mystery plant, settled into the shade garden alongside other astilbes, actaeas, trolliuses and thalictrums. I actually wrote to Tesselar, the breeders of Color Flash Lime, sending them a photo of this plant and wondering if it was the same one, just mislabeled. I heard back from them saying they thought the foliage was too gold in colour to be their cultivar, but to track it when it flowered. So, I hand it over to you: has anyone heard of any other astilbes with golden foliage? Is this perhaps just a Color Flash that has reacted to soil pH, or fertilizers, or cold, and gone more gold? Any ideas? I love a good mystery....


  1. Well I don't know much about astilbes. They are toast in my garden. Gets too hot and they don't like that. All your greenery and such is very lush considering all that wind. Looks so nice.

    Me, I'm a flowergirl. I want it all to be flowers. It does look bare around here come Winter.

  2. I would be amused by that semp too - I'll have to watch out for it for my garden too. I am also a big foliage fan - variegated, deeply lobed or serated, black, white, yellow, prickly, fuzzy....

  3. Jodi, things look wonderful in your garden. Yes, the wind did die down here mid to late afternoon and it turned into a beautiful supper hour. It's as still as can be here right now, with a few flashes of lightning, actually. I said, my luck, we'll have gold ball sized hail overnight or something. :-?

    (I found this photo on Google images of an Astilbe Colour Flash 'Lime' and its foliage is rather chartreuse, but not quite as gold as yours, I guess. http://tinyurl.com/29yneqd)

  4. I love the pinks of the jacob's Ladder Stairway to Heaven when the foliage emerges. I have a few of this perennial scattered on the property. It is one of my favorite spring perennials.

  5. That's a very neat astilbe but I've never known of one with gold foliage. I hope you find out it's very cool! The creeping sedum looks good too. It's hard to believe you still have tulips. It feels like summer down here. Maybe you could send us a cool breeze or too? Maybe? ;)

  6. Is it the futuristic Color Flash Copper coming out soon? Dates to be announced soon. Did it escape? By accident?

  7. Can't help much with the astible, to dry in my garden for them. But, you mystery plant is a great color. I use a lot of foliage in my mostly shady garden. Happy gardening and keep us posted on the mystery plant.

  8. Like you, I'm a foliage lover! And, as you know, we grow many of the same things. I just cut many of the blooms off my Heucheras because I don't like them, unless they're brilliantly red, as in 'Firefly' or they're larger and show up well against the foliage.

    Our Little Acre is becoming more and more of shade gardens, so foliage is very important.

    Sorry...I can't help with the ID of the Astilbe.

  9. Jodi girl you are a busy bee : )
    I am laid up with another disc blowing in my back .. just when I want to be knee deep taking pictures of my foliage too ;-)
    I have had Pink Skyrocket for quite a few years and adore it for every delight it offers me .. plus many of what you have mentioned here.
    I have both the red and what is supposed to be lime colourflash astilbe (I was absolutely smitten with the red last year) .. mine funny enough is not very lime .. it is along your gold lines too girl .. so when I can get out to take a picture of it I will so we can compare ? is there a variation , who can tell ? plants can be naughty to our benefit ? LOL
    Joy : )

  10. What a fun time I had, there is so much to see in your garden. I am a big fan of foliage, the more the merrier. Definitely worth adding to any garden. I also love to mix the colors, contrasting, and matching, for added effect.


  11. So much going on in your garden Jodi. I like those black and gold combos too. I think it odd that you live in that cold moist environment and can grow those hens and chicks and I can't. Puzzles me to no end that I can't get these little seemingly nondestructable/no fail plants to grow in my garden. I guess we all want what we can't have.

  12. Jodi, how I know your woes of lack of time, deadlines, weeding, etc.! I'm currently nursing my 8 yr old who's fighting the flu. I had so much to do this long holiday weekend, but am getting none of it done as I have to be near her side. Oh well, she's worth it and the weeds, etc will still be there later! :P I love your purples!! Purple and yellow are my favorite colors in the garden. You have so many beautiful varieties! BUT, my favorite is that sempervivum..I've never seen one like this, and really, I MUST have one! Now I'm on the look out! After all, it made my sick baby smile! Good luck with your forthcoming book publishing. I'm looking forward to checking it out!! BTW, I like your new header.

  13. I love the green tulip too. I 'm growing this year as well along with a very pale pink one both in bloom as I write.
    I like a garden with lots of foliage in different shades, shapes and textures with little hits of colour from the flowers.

  14. Hi Jodi

    Your cut little semp is actually a Jovibarba and not a semp at all. Those little balls can be laid on the ground and will root just like semps.

    Woodlands and Meadow

  15. Beautiful post Jodi! I'm not sure how I missed it. I use to be a foliage gardener, and even avoided flowers other than a few annuals. I enjoy different colours & shapes of leaves immensely. I'm learning how to pair this with the showy blooms of perennials, and now can appreciate both. Your pictures are wonderful, I also have Spring Green Tulips and Stairway to Heaven polemonium, both are favorites. :)

  16. I love the subtle colors, textures, and tapestry like feeling of these plants.

    Succulents send me to the moon. A cluster of sempervivums nestled by a rock??? As satisfying as a good scoop of caramel ice cream.

    Thank YOU for the wonderful review of Toad Cottages. Your words mean the world to me.


    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island


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