15 December 2014

Gold foliage for brighter gardens

Hello, fellow gardeners! Where have I been, you ask? Well, it's been a busy, busy few months, with lots of projects on the go. Now, with only 10 days til Christmas, the main deadlines are under control so I can do some catchup tasks, including updating my neglected blog. It's like that for gardeners, though, so often: during the main gardening months we're outside in our gardens, planting, weeding, harvesting, puttering, designing. Now that frost has come and things have stopped growing and we've gotten our bulbs planted (yes! I did! Before December, even!) we turn to the season of indoor gardening, which includes, of course, planning for next year.

When I was a plant science student at the Agricultural College, to see yellow in foliage often suggested a nutrient deficiency or other problem. It took me a long time to embrace the colour gold, or cream, or yellow, in ornamental plants, but here's what turned the tide for me:
Hostas. Of course it would be hostas, with their splendid foliage that utilizes only a few colours--cream, green, yellow, blue--in such dramatic ways. I love the flowers of hostas, too, but the fresh, perfect foliage is what really does it for me. They are calming plants with their tidy clumps of leaves (especially if they're slug-resistant or you've done battle to keep slugs at bay), and if you have a shady spot, they really brighten it up. It's true that deer adore hostas so if you live in an area where deer are a problem, you may have to opt for hostas only in containers out of reach of hungry bambis. 

Pretty much any plant with gold foliage is best suited for a partially shaded site; from a practical point of view, many need some protection from full sun sites because their foliage will otherwise burn. The golden colour just glows in a shaded garden, as demonstrated with this 'Dickson's Gold' campanula. 
Many gold-foliaged plants include the name 'aurea' in their botanical or cultivar names. This is a golden form of meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria 'Aurea'), which does well in dappled shade in my garden.

Because I went to the Agricultural College where the school colours were blue and gold, I do have a particular fondness for that colour combination (even when the blue is more lavender, but you get the point). This is creeping speedwell Veronica prostata 'Aztec Gold', which has been a good performer for me.
 This is the spiderwort Tradescantia 'Blue and Gold', also sometimes also called 'Sweet Kate'. It was one of the first replacement plants I purchased to put in my new garden because I so love it.
And this is Brunnera 'Diane's Gold'. I had it for several years but didn't take it with me when I left my former home, and haven't sourced it again. I miss it, as it did very well under the azalea where it was planted.
Plants that are bombastic or invasive in one area of the country (and beyond) are not necessarily so in other areas. This is Tansy 'Isla Gold', a golden leafed form of the common wildflower tansy. It is a vigourous grower but easy to control, and it's deer resistant to boot. Some like to dry the flowers to use in arrangements and wreaths. 

Sometimes, new cultivars of a perennial or shrub fail to perform up to a gardener's standards, and disappear quietly from catalogues after a couple of years. I was initially suspicious of 'Eos' geum, but it has done very well for me--I had it in my previous garden and planted it again last year in my new yard, and it grew beautifully. The bright orange flowers contrast fantastically with the gold-green foliage.
I really like weigelas, although I have yet to add any here in my new garden. When I do add one next year, it will be this golden-leafed form, 'Rubidor', which I had in the past and absolutely loved. You'll also find several other cultivars available, including 'Jean's Gold' and 'Ghost', depending on where you live, and where your nurseries source their plants.
To wrap up this post on gold foliage, I leave you with one of my favourite trees: Metasequoia 'Ogon', aka 'Gold Rush', the golden dawn redwood. The dawn redwood is a star in my books in its normal, green foliaged form, but this one leaves me breathless at its beauty. It absolutely glows, and it can take full sun, to boot.

Where do you fall on the spectrum with golden leafed plants? Love or not?


  1. Like you when they first started coming onto the market I didn't like the golden leaved plants but I have come around. I have several of your highlighted plants in my garden. I like the way they break the constant green of my garden.

  2. As a shady character, I rely on these sudden bursts of fabulous chartreuseness! The Hakonechloa is an all time favourite. I too have heart palpitations where Metasequoia 'Ogon' is concerned and am so happy that I gave in to the temptation. My current lust is Aralia cordata 'Sun King' - all four of them on my tiny property! Wishing you the happiest of holiday seasons dearheart!

  3. Glad you are back! I hope to hear more about the new garden!

    Yellow foliage.... I like it, a lot, but find it hard to place in my garden. I have tried some of the ones you mention, but they don't seem to do well for me. Next summer I'm going to try some of them again in the shade. What's the secret with the Golden Grass? I've tried it several times, it sulks and then disappears. What does a GG really want????

  4. Love hostas, just wish the deer didn't pound them. And my bulbs I just planted.

  5. Jodi, I'm late getting to this. I like gold-foliage plants in moderation, and some more than others. I have not been able to get past my sense that the caramel-color heucheras are sickly, but I do love gold tones in some hostas. And I am definitely going to look for Tradescantia 'Blue and Gold.' Another favorite of mine is the bleeding heart 'Gold Heart.' -Jean

  6. I like Spiderwort Tradescantia as flowers bloom in from late May into early July and extremely easy to grow and care for. As a Arborist Sydney, I usually recommend this to most of my customers and friends.


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