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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Foliage Foes

Not all plants with fancy foliage can be considered friends.

As I've mentioned earlier on in this foliage thread, some plants with beautiful foliage can be horribly invasive. What's invasive for me might not be invasive for you but when you hear a number of gardeners moan "Oh why did I plant that in my garden", you know that this one is a problem in many locations.

Pacysandra is a love it or hate it kind of plant. For almost all my gardening life it was a "hate it" plant for me. Only in the last year or two have I found the desire to try it in the right location (such as under a tree where I can't get anything else to grow).

Interwoven through the Pacysandra is Aegopodium variegatum which has several nicknames such as Bishop's weed or Gout weed. My second year at this house a garden club member brought me a huge plastic bag full of Aegopodium as a house warming gift. Thankfully my gut instinct kicked in and I put the whole thing in the trash barrel. I'm not saying I haven't seen successful, even beautiful plantings of this plant. I just don't think it's well behaved enough to incorporate in a garden that is not confined by many feet of hardscape.

Sometimes you come across a foliage plant that could be well behaved but looking at it just makes you cringe. Yes, we all obviously have different tastes in things but some plants just aren't meant to be (at least not in MY garden). I love Ligularias and highly recommend them in most cases but this spotted variety just sets my hair on edge.

Thick fuzzy gray foliage such as you see here on this Salvia argentea is another "love it" or "hate it" trait. This one would be a "Love it" for me but I've only tried it once and did not have any success. It could be that I put it in too moist a spot or incorporated too much manure in the soil. It seems to me like this plant would like a leaner, well drained spot in full sun. If you have luck growing this in your garden please leave me a comment telling me what it likes.

Last but not least, another spotted leaf here. This one is on a Begonia, there was no tag to tell me the cultivar name. It just seems to me like somebody tripped as they were walking by and splattered a bunch of paint on this plant. Begonia leaves can be beautiful on their own with their thick waxy green finish. In other words, you won't find this in my containers.

Stay tuned, tomorrow I'll wrap up my foliage thread with some fun foliage shots.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Spotlight on Perennial Foliage

Today I'd like to expand my foliage topic and shine the spotlight on specific perennials that I rely upon to add dimension to my garden. When reading about my experience with these perennials please keep in mind my growing conditions here on Long Island. The conditions in your garden might be quite different. Here in South Huntington we are a zone 6b garden even though most of Long Island is zone 7a. Snow cover cannot be counted upon (we've had none this winter) and yet even with many days well above the freezing mark, our nights dip well below freezing so there's a constant freeze/heave/thaw cycle going on.

In this first photo we have the blue/gray foliage of Dicentra eximia (Bleeding heart) and Lysimachia nummularia (Creeping Jenny). My first inclinations with Bleeding hearts were always to plant them in the shade. Yet when my Dad was alive, he had the most stunning border of Bleeding Hearts in a spot that received full sun shine all morning long and they were glorious! Bleeding hearts have a very long bloom season for a perennial and the foliage on this type doesn't go dormant once summer arrives.

Spread about like a lovely skirt is the golden glow of Lysimachia nummularia. Now this is why I want to you note my growing conditions here because I don't know how this plant behaves in other zones. For a few years creeping jenny spread it's way around enough that I began to worry if I had let a monster loose in my garden. Then ZAP, either a harsh winter, or a long cold wet spring and suddenly there was no more creeping jenny here. So my observation is that 6b is the edge of hardiness for this plant (unless perhaps thick snow cover gives it protection). This year I will be on the look out for more creeping jenny since the color makes for amazing contrasts and it's tiny roots make it very easy to pull from unwanted areas.

Photo number two shows some of the true stalwarts of my perennial borders. At the top left corner is the ferny leaf of Coreopsis verticiliata 'Zagreb'. While there are other verticiliata varieties to choose from 'Zagreb' is the only one for me. Some people don't like the color of it in bloom, it's a strong yellow/gold, not soft and buttery yellow. But the big selling point for me is that it doesn't flop at all and is wonderfully vigorous in it's growth habit. I can always count on 'Zagreb' to look perfect and a simple shearing when its bloom season is done brings it right back into shape.

Peeking up in the center here is Liriope muscari variegata, another great plant. If you have bunnies that frequent your garden, they do love Liriope so you might want to have some red pepper flakes on hand. One year I put a ring of milorganite (fertilizer sludge) around the base of the plant and not only did the bunnies stay away but the next year it was three times the size! Liriope blooms too, very simple lilac stalks in the autumn.

Spilling down along the belgium block is one of my many sedums. I've lost the names of the earliest varieties that were added to my garden so I can't pinpoint this one. One of these days I'll go visit the wonderful site at and see what jogs my memory.

Moving along a little further down the driveway perennial border you will find yet more Sedum. This one is easy, it's 'Vera Jameson' and I highly recommend this plant to somebody looking for pretty foliage and something that will cascade out the front of your garden beds. I'm going to guess that the little plant coming out of the pot is a Saponaria. I say 'guess' because I think it only lived long enough for me to take this photo.

At the right you will see one of my favorite plants, Alchemilla mollis, also well known as Ladies Mantle. People are probably tired of hearing me say this but I think that having Ladies mantle in your garden is like putting up beautiful crown molding in your dining room. It makes everything near it look fantastic. This far north I have no problem growing Ladies mantle in full sun although it holds its own in partial shade too.

Finally, photo number four for today is one of my favorites. I can't take the credit for this one, Mother Nature had her say here. Just making it in the right edge is more Ladies Mantle, at the very top right corner is the tiniest shot of Achillea (yarrow) foliage. Spilling down along the curb here is yet another lost-name Sedum, this one with nice tight growth habit and yellow star shaped blooms. But the ultimate for me is the combination of the deliciously fuzzy gray leaves of the Stachys byzantina (Lambs ears) interwoven with the finely cut leaves of the Geranium sanguinium (Hardy Geranium). The bright purple blooms on the Geranium are just icing on the cake.
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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Fantastic Foliage

As my hunt for fantastic foliage unfolded, my first inclination was to search out foliage with contrasting colors. Purple foliage and chartreuse foliage were (and still are) highly desirable. Variegated foliage was another trait I sought out.

After adding these plants with fantastic foliage to the garden (or containers), it took a while before I understood just how diverse foliage can be. It's not only the colors, it's the shape, size and texture of each leaf that counts. Even if one were to have an all green garden, there could be incredible diversity by choosing lance-like leaves and placing them next to soft lacy foliage.

While there is such a wealth of tropical plants with amazing foliage (just look at Coleus alone), there are plenty of perennials with foliage that will blow you away. In this photo are four plants, a simple Hosta 'Emerald Tiara', Sanquinaria (a double blood root), a dwarf Epimedium and Asarum europeam. While each of these plants also flower at one point, I grouped them solely for their fantastic display of foliage.

The wonderful thing about perennials is that your one time investment will reap you a many times return in plant material. So often I see buyers here poo-poo the "common" plants like this lovely Stachys byzantine (Lambs ears). And yet, every photo I scanned that had lambs ears in it was just lovely. As the the Sedum behind it, you only need to read some of my past posts to know how much I love Sedums. One simply needs a pinch and before you know it you have another clump of Sedum to use to highlight another part of your garden.
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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The foliage epiphany

As a beginning gardener, I had little focus in the garden. Just being able to grow different things got me so excited. At first I tried the familiar plants, perennials such as Iris and Daisies, vegetables and herbs like Tomatoes and Basil, annuals meant Impatiens and Begonias.

Once I gained confidence and toured other gardens, the collectoritis bug bit me and I began to search out all kinds of perennials. Daylily fever almost took me down for good, at one time my garden was filled with strapy green foliage until the glory of July showered me with waves of colorful blooms.

It was on a tour one July (a daylily tour at that) where I was struck by the most amazing sight. It was a shade garden filled with an amazing array of foliage plants. I was experiencing a gardeners epiphany. From that moment on I've worked hard to add new dimensions to my gardens and my containers by searching out all kinds of foliage.

One only needs to visit the greenhouse at any local botanical garden to find the most delicious display of tropical foliage colors. At the beginning of this post you can see a simple croton, I never noticed them before my foliage awareness came upon me. Now not a year goes by that I don't add them to my shade planters.

Once your mind opens to the multitude of foliage varieties, you will find that there are so many directions to follow. Whether you are looking for hardy perennials or tropical annuals, you will find foliage with unique colors, shapes, textures and combinations of all of these.

The biggest advantage to adding amazing foliage to your garden is that you don't have to wait until the flowers open. Even if the summer is too wet to make your pelargoniums happy your containers can look great from day one right up until frost.

One warning though, don't be sold by a pretty face. The colors in this chameleon plant (Houttuynia) are amazing but if you plant this in your perennial bed you will never ever be able to get it out of there. Luckily for me I only put in one single slip many years ago, yet even now, ten years later I battle stray pieces that pop up here and there.

Stay tuned for more on foliage in the garden. This morning I finally finished scanning 100 foliage slides so I have lots of fodder to share with you. I'd also love to hear from you about what works and what doesn't work for you in your garden.
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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Sunday peace

Today I wish you a peaceful Sunday.

Seeing as it is Super-bowl Sunday and my husband Don has been a die-hard Giants fan since his teens, there will be no peace here today :-)

I've selected four photos, each hopefully shares with you the sense of peace I've felt in these locations.

First is the most magnificent view ever and one would hardly believe that this pocket of peace is in New York City. This breath taking location is at Wave Hill, overlooking the Hudson river.

Secondly, this park-like expression of spring was taken at my friend Mary Kay's home, right here in Huntington New York. Mary Kay has a garden that is just chock-full of unusual collector plants.

Third comes a place that was one of my favorites since I was a child myself. Way in the back of the photo you might be able to see my daughters when they were young girls too. I bet they'll feel the same way about this magical place, the Primrose Path at Old Westbury gardens.

Last but not least, a place that I have spent many an hour in peaceful solitude, dreaming of gardens to be is one of the sales beds at Fox Hollow Farms. Just four doors away from me here, it's the only one of these locations that is no longer as the photo shows. I still miss being able to walk a few minutes to be in the middle of a top notch perennial sales garden. Walking was always my preferred method of transportation as it kept me in line by only being able to purchase what I could carry home.

Today is predicted to be seasonally warm, I think I'll bundle up and head outside for some peace of my own.

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