Posts Tagged ‘foliage’

Not just the holly and the ivy

December 20th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Four Christmas Foliage Shrubs - Nandina, Pittosporum, Mahonia, Hebe.

Last year, about this time, I discussed holly and then ivy, the two favourite Christmas evergreens and the traditional evergreens for indoor decorating in the holiday season. But there are more, plenty more. And a quick look round my local garden centre, The Barn in Oundle near Peterborough, reveals some of them. And it’s the colours that are so appealing, not green but red and silver and purple and bronze.

Most are better suited to small arrangements, they just don’t have the vigour, and so the length of stem, of holly and ivy.

More and more varieties of nandina (top left) are now appearing and while some of them are rather dwarf and bushy, not ideal if you want to cut stems to bring indoors, many also have pendulous clusters of bright red berries alongside reddening winter leaves.

Two pittosporums feature purple foliage but one has green tints that let it down and another is short and dumpy. Silver ones (top right) are a better bet as many are vigorous and also respond well to having shoots cut to bring indoors.

Bronze shades always work well as they harmonise with red and contrast with whites and silvers. Some mahonias develop fiery winter tones while M. aquifolium ‘Atropurpureum’ comes in bronzed winter colouring and a bold, holly-like shape.

Most hebes, like ‘Red Edge’ (left, below), are only suitable for small table arrangements but the silvery colouring is invaluable and a the faint red margin to the leaf helps create harmony with red berries.

Elaeagnus and eucalyptus are also good for silvery colours and for background green try sarcococca, osmanthus, and trails of vinca.

It’s definitely time to complement ivy and holly with some new choices. Take a look round your own garden…

The finest foliage perennials

February 22nd, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Heuchera ‘Berry Smoothie’, ‘Lime Marmalade’ and ‘Forever Purple’.

The number of different heuchera varieties now available is simply astonishing. These tough evergreens have established themselves as the finest coloured leaved perennials we can grow but the problem is that some are better than others – but how do we know?

The RHS lists almost seven hundred different varieties – seven hundred! -but which can we depend on?

The good people at Mr F have made their choice and picked a trio with foliage in wonderful colours: ‘Berry Smoothie’, ‘Forever Purple’ and ‘Lime Marmalade’. But it’s not just the colours of the leaves they’ve had in mind. These three varieties are strong and reliable growers, the leaves retain their colour all the year round, although they may change with the seasons, the neat overlapping foliage creates a dense cover and they’re reliable in propagation so there shouldn’t be any supply problems.

The leaves of ‘Berry Smoothie’ open bright rose pink, bronzing as the season progresses, and with creamy flowers in early summer. ‘Forever Purple’ has glossy purple, black-veined leaves all the year round, with purplish pink flowers in summer and the slightly larger ‘Lime Marmalade’ has ruffled lemon yellow leaves that turn lime green as they mature but with relatively insignificant flowers.

All three are good in containers and I like to grow them individually in terra cotta pots where they can be groomed as specimens to look their best all the time. Site them on the shady side of the patio. They’ll also thrive in shaded borders and appreciate well drained but rich soil.

The leaves are very long lasting when cut for posies and tabletop arrangements and I like to plant snowdrops and other spring bulbs amongst them for a sparkling spring display. And they bring you unique foliage colours that no other perennial provides. Why wouldn’t you try this colourful collection?

Colourful sweet potatoes

January 11th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Ipomoea 'Sweet Caroline Purple' and 'Sweet Caroline Green'

There are two kinds of Ipomoea. There’s the familiar ‘Heavenly Blue’, one of the loveliest of all climbers – of all flowering plants, in fact – but there’s also another type: the sweet potato.

Sweet potatoes have always been on the margins here in Britain, they need hotter summers than we’ve had here until recently but we can now grow them and they can crop well. But we can also grow ornamental sweet potatoes, varieties with a dramatically coloured foliage. Two of these are available this year.

These are not vigorous climbers, these are bushy semi-trailing or ground cover varieties that are superb in large hanging baskets, in large tubs or tumbling over the edges of raised beds. And it’s not for their flowers that we grow them but for their coloured foliage.

There are two varieties: ‘Sweet Caroline Purple’ and ‘Sweet Caroline Green’. The foliage of ‘Sweet Caroline Purple’ is, indeed, rich bronze-purple and it looks good in a large basket with red ivy-leaved geraniums or petunias. The leaves of ‘Sweet Caroline Green’ are more of a lime or chartreuse shade than simply green and are superb with petunias in fierier shades. Both also look good planted together or with coleus.

Both make dense growth, very effective ground cover in sunny sites – and they do like sun, whether grown in beds or containers. They like regular watering too and, when happy, ‘Sweet Caroline Purple’ may well produce a few pink-eyed white flowers though they’re usually hidden by the leaves.

Whether sweet potatoes as summer foliage plants is a new idea to you or not – they’re well worth a try.

Sun survivor

August 10th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Amaranthus 'Velvet Curtains'Visiting the Mr F trial ground this week, it was clear that some plants had suffered badly in the heat while some had enjoyed it.

One that clearly loved the hot weather was Amaranthus ‘Velvet Curtains’, the RHS AGM winning hardy annual sown direct into the light and sandy soil of the trials field.

This dramatic relative of the familiar love-lies-bleeding is attractive from when the first richly coloured, reddish purple shoots emerge soon after sowing. The handsome foliage becomes more striking as it develops and I’ve seen it looking very dramatic emerging through a carpet of white alyssum. The white gypsophila that was also doing well in the heat would also make a taller and longer lasting partner.

Now, in August, the bold upright plumes of ‘Velvet Curtains’ are at their peak. I’ve grown them interplanted amongst orange dahlias and cannas to bring a softer look to the more structured dahlia and canna plants. If that’s the plan, raise the seedlings individually in pots from seed sown in a cold greenhouse, be sure not to let the plants dry out or suffer any shocks as this may spark them into flower prematurely.

‘Velvet Curtains’ is also splendid for drying, especially as the colour fades hardly at all. Cut the stems when the flowers are at their peak – about now! Strip off the lower leaves, tie the stems in bunches of half a dozen then hang them upside down in a cool and dry and well ventilated place. Drying in cool conditions (which is at last possible as everything cools down) helps preserve the richness of the colour.

Leave the plumes on the plants into the autumn and they will shed their seeds. This can be double-edged as you may end up with far more self sown seedlings than you need. The best compromise is to cut some for drying, cut back most of the rest to prevent self sowing and just leave a stem or two to shed seed. And if seedlings come up in inconvenient places next spring – well, you can always move them.

Easy and invaluable nasturtiums

May 11th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Nasturtium 'Empress of India'

Nasturtiums have developed an unfortunate reputation. They’re enjoyed, of course, but somehow they’re dismissed as, I don’t know, too easy perhaps…? Not ordinary, exactly, because they’re far from ordinary… The seeds are large, easy to handle so great for kids. Maybe it’s the fact that when grown in rich soil you get so much foliage that you can’t see the flowers – although, these days, that’s a bit of a myth. So were does that leave us?

It means that we should definitely grow them – but in the right way, in the right place, and using the right varieties. Start now.

I’ve just sown mine, yesterday. I’m growing quite a few different varieties so I’ve sown five pots of each variety, three seeds in each pot – and I expect almost all of them to come up.

I could sow them where they’re flower but I don’t want the mice to dig them up and, frankly, I’m not yet quite sure where they’re going to go! So they’ll sit on the spare room windowsill until they peep through, then I’ll stand the pots in a sheltered spot outside for two or three weeks.

But they must be kept frost free: nasturtium seedlings are very soft and fleshy: one waft of icy air and they’re mush.

When it comes to planting them we’re back to those hidden flowers. What happens is that in rich soil, or if you feed them, the leaves become broader and, more importantly, the leaf stalks become longer but the flowers stems don’t. This stretches the leaf stems beyond the flowers – which are hidden by the lush foliage.

So: choose bushy nasturtiums whose foliage tends to stay compact, choose somewhere sunny and choose just about any soil that’s not rich and fertile. And don’t plant out your seedlings until after the last chance of frost.