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Friday, May 16, 2008

Foliage is the Key

It took me many years to learn just how important foliage is in the garden. People who have to listen to me now hear me say over and over again how important it is to select plants with good foliage.

Walking around with my camera yesterday morning I came across a number of areas where the foliage has made all the difference, changing what would have been a drab spot to a true highlight in the garden.

Above you can see the fiery red of the emerging leaves on the Pieris japonica combined with the dainty leaves from the Galanthus odoratus (sweet woodruff) and the broad leaves from the Convallaria (Lily of the Valley).

A number of years ago I was struck by the lovely combination of Achemilla mollis (Ladies Mantle) and Nepeta mussinii (Cat mint) at Old Westbury garden. Since I had both plants here in abundance, I put them together in this spot. The addition of the all gold Hakonechloa was perfect and I've been hunting for more gold Hakone grass.

Here's another clump of Hakonechloa 'All Gold'. As you can see, it's a nice sized clump but I'm just not ready to cut into it for divisions. Unfortunately the two places we visited yesterday sold this plant at a price I was not willing to pay. One place had one gallon pots for $18.99. The second place had one gallon pots for $14.99 but they were less healthy looking than the more expensive pots.

I did end up spending $14.99 for a pot of Hakone Grass but it was another variety that I didn't yet have in the garden and I hope to get a photo of it today.
One of my recently purchased hardy Geraniums has started to bloom. I believe this is Geranium renardii 'Philippe Vapelle'. I think it will look lovely as it fills in this spot.

Pulmonaria 'Opal' is blooming away behind this lovely Hosta. Unfortunately most of my hosta tags were either blown away by a vigorous leaf blowing a few years ago or chewed up by Calie-the-wonder-dog.

The same goes for this dark leafed Geranium. I have at least three different Geraniums with purple leaves in this part of the garden but no name tags to tell you what the cultivar name is. I don't find them super vigorous but they add a soft beauty to the garden.

I can't wait to get the compost to these beds, weed those pesky little weeds popping up all over and spread some mulch.

That Alchemilla mollis (Ladies mantle) is just invaluable in plant combinations. Here you can see it paired with Hosta 'Whiskey Sour' and a lovely red Primula that has been spreading nicely in this spot. Today we're getting a very soft rain so I hope to take this shot again with all the water beaded on the ladies mantle.

Yes, it's Geranium season and here's another new comer. Geranium 'Orion' is going to be a nice asset here and I hope it will slowly weave together with the Sedum 'Frosty Morn' on the other side of the Allium foliage. I might have to move those Alliums after they bloom.

One last shot here of my Hamamelis 'Arnold's Promise' with some lovely gold Spirea foliage at the base. I'm not sold yet on the Spireas, they look great now but I have to see what they look like later in the season.

Off to make mud pies in the rain. I'm going to be spreading more compost and planting some of yesterday's purchases. Will try to get photos of everything too!



backyardwoman said...

I totally sympathise about the price of hakonechloa! It costs exactly the same in the UK, around $18 -$19 (and that's only if you can get hold of it). Itlooks fantastic with magenta geraniums and I love the way it lights up a shady corner.

Amy said...

You're so right about the importance of attractive foliage. This is an area I've just begun to learn about. Starting out, I was completely focused on flowers, but they're only around for so long. I love lady's mantle but am unsure if I can grow it in my zone. Some books have indicated I could, and others think not. If I can find a plant I may have to just jump in and try it out.

garden girl said...

Melanie, you've got some wonderful foliage combinations. I love lady's mantle, haven't added it to this garden yet, but it's on the list.

Maybe that purple-leafed geranium is Midnight Reiter? I planted one earlier this spring. I know there's at least one other variety of the purple-leafed geraniums. Mine is small, since it was a mail-order plant. Some plants are just to hard to find locally. I definitely prefer the larger-size pots you can't get through mail order. Larger root balls hold up to the squirrels' digging much better around here. I really have to be vigilant with mail order plants until their roots start knitting into the surrounding soil.

Nan Ondra said...

Exquisite vignettes, Melanie! And that clump of 'All Gold' Hakone grass - wow. I don't blame you for not wanting to disturb it.

And...I know it's a little late, but I've been meaning to congratulate you on your fantastically successful plant sale. I sure wish I lived near you...I'd be right in line to buy.

Nancy J. Bond said...

Your foliage combinations are lovely -- thanks for the "lesson". :) That Pieris japonica leaf is stunning!

Jean said...

Thank you for the lovely photos of foliage, I am just starting to appreciate it as well. Have always grown Alchamilla Mollis, but do find it seeds everywhere, and is not easy to get out.

rees Cowden said...

You're spot on with this one Melanie,
The rhythum and texture differences than can be created by foliage may be more important than color in my mind. I love a bold leaf offset by a fine textured groundcover. Although I'm not a big fan of variegated leaves in general, I do like to use differing shades of leave colors to create interest too.

Gail said...

I wish I had figured out this important design principle sooner.
You've done a thoroughly delightful job at combining plants...

I just spotted an Astilbe with lovely leaf color, rather like Autumn fern meets Heuchera but it had these scary words "keep moist at all times". Not in this garden, too bad it would have been perfect in bringing that color into the shadier parts of the garden.

Great post, as always, Melanie.


Melanie said...

backyardwoman, well, I'm not happy to hear how expensive 'All Gold' is for you but at least I don't feel like I'm going to be robbed here. At the end of August I'm going to have to bite the bullet and divide up my one big clump.

Amy, this plant is originally from a very cold location in the Ukraine so you should be able to grow it in your northern zone too.

Linda, I think you are right about 'Midnight Reiter'. I know for sure I have that Geranium, this might be it. By next week they'll all be blooming and I can take more photos.

Thank Nan, you are much of my inspiration when it comes to finding great variegated foliage plants.

Nancy, I agree, the new foliage on Pieris is just wonderful.

Jean, other people have mentioned to me about Achemilla seeding about but I've never had a single seedling here.

Rees, it took me a long time to learn this lesson, or maybe it just was that foliage wasn't touted as much as it is today?

Gail, just this week I bought 5 new Astilbe. I have to be very careful though where I site them. Parts of my garden are easily moist, they get watered when I water our lawn twice a week. Other parts of the garden never get watered other than from rain. Finally, some parts are super dry because even with rain, there are trees in those areas that suck the soil bone dry instantly.

Frances, said...

Hi Melanie, another beautifully written and illustrated post. You have showed us good examples of foliage texture and color, the hakone grass is so lovely. I bought one and immediately divided it, like other grasses, but it is much different, not nearly as vigorous or happy when cut up. All three pieces died. Don't split it. Your dark geraniums are lovely, not matter what their name is.


I love your combinations and those raised beds are gorgeous!

Lets Plant said...

Looks great!!

Cinj said...

Melanie- What lovely foliage combos! I like to use a variety too, but I'm not as good at it as you are.

I have a spireas collection. They're some of my favorite shrubs. The flowers are kind of cute, but I like the foliage on them the best.

Julie said...

You are the epitome of a true much hard work, but you don't shy away from it...your gardens are just gorgeous!!! Love all your foliage, which is my "thing" with plants...You have great combinations of everything!

Robin's Nesting Place said...

I read an article in a magazine last year about the importance of foliage. It is the foliage that gives us that restful tranquil feeling, that lowers our heart rate and our blood pressure.
After reading that article I noticed that it was the gardens with the best foliage that captured my attention and made me want to linger. This was surprising to me because I really love flowers.

Esther Montgomery said...

I think I'm right in saying people in earlier centuries (such as 16th and 17th) used to put Sweet Woodruff in their linen closets so clothes and the things which kept them warm at night were infused with the scent - but I've never known before what it looks like.

Don't you think low growing weeds could be re-named 'ground cover'?


Anna said...

I ran out of money---;( No more plant shopping so I'll just have to hang out here and look till next year. Starting up a new garden is killing me. You and I like a lot of expensive plants!

I don't mind the hard work one bit and you don't either--it's a labor of love. Right now I'm fighting all that darn grass that blew in my gardens. I'm having to hand pick it out of everything.

One day I want to drive up and see your gardens. I think it's something you just have to take in on a personal level to get the full affect. I just love it. I have to do some genealogy work up that way in a couple of years so I may just look you up on my way north sometime!

Anonymous said...

Great post, and I enjoy the foliage combinations you have put together.
I am a big fan of foliage.
An Artist's Garden

garden photo tours @ said...

Foliage really compliments a garden. It just goes along with almost anything.