Christine’s Foliage Day meme is aptly timed. I am a little obsessed with foliage at the moment. Some of it is what I call bud watch, that almost fevered searching for the just-unfurling leaves that shout “Spring is here”, adding that astonishingly bright and fresh green to the garden’s palette.
Some of it is the anxious watch for the return of old friends. For me, this means the plants I brought with me from my old garden. I was thrilled to see that, although the buds are still tightly closed, the purple hazel I planted out – the very first plant I added to this garden – has coped with two years in a pot and then a move, and is still alive.
Next year, hopefully, I will have catkins to enjoy too.
In the same border, Aster divaricatus is a mass of new leaves, and is going to be joined by the Aquilegia alpinas and Astrantia. I appear to have lost one of the three aquilegias, which is a shame, but I have a spare, and I am really hoping that the astrantia is ‘Shaggy’ and not ‘Hadspen’s Blood’. I do love the latter, but it is the white flowers of the former I hope will be contrasting with the deep blue aquilegias.
I love the contrasting leaf shapes of these plants, they should make a really interesting tapestry in that corner once they have filled out a little. I really must get rid of the old flower stalks from the aster though – and where have all those stones come from?!
I am also avidly watching the new leaves that promise something delicious to eat in due course, though I will have to wait patiently for my baby rhubarb plants to provide me with the makings of rhubarb pie.
All of this is lovely, but it isn’t what causes me to lie awake at night, or has me sat apparently staring at nothing for ages while my brain whirls. With so many new areas of garden to plant up I find myself spending far more time thinking about foliage than I do flower colour and form. Which is saying something. The areas of my previous garden I was happiest with had strongly contrasting foliage, broad leaves with delicately dissected, simple with complex, strappy with oval. And grasses played a big part in this tapestry of foliage too, adding movement and sound. I already know I want to use various evergreen grasses in the front garden to capture the movement of the wind, but the thing I am obsessing about most is the balance between evergreen and deciduous. There is something so exciting about plants erupting from bare soil. I planted out three hostas that have been growing in pots for several years, and the fresh spikes of new growth, almost invisible against the surrounding soil, are a thrill.
I love the dynamism of bare soil being transformed by fresh growth, of the branches of trees and shrubs suddenly being transformed by a haze of new leaves. But I also find I need a good proportion of evergreen structure to balance this. And leaf colour counts too. I have inherited several clumps of Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’ (which strangely doesn’t appear to be “evergreen” at all), and although I will enjoy the vivid lime green flowers later in the Spring, it is the purple foliage I adore, and want to combine with a red-tinged grass and some of the deep reddish orange tulips I appear to have here.
So as I wander around the garden enjoying the contrasting colours and textures of the plants I have inherited and brought with me, I find myself constantly asking myself how much bare soil is OK, and for how long, where would the various hebes work best to add year round structure as well as bee-friendly flowers, where else to use some of the sedum that provides an evergreen carpet of low growing foliage in a quiet and damp corner of the garden, but which is suddenly bewitching with fresh growth.
And since, judging by the large number of tulips popping up all over the place, the free draining soil means they work well here, I can use their wonderful leaves while they are looking good – but what do I hide them with when they start to go over? It isn’t like just moving a pot out sight… I love how they contrast with the Stipa tenuissima they are currently popping up around (a happy accident from me using the circle bed as a plant nursery), but I need something to take over from them, a later bulking perennial. Any suggestions?
And not all tulip foliage is created equal – TNG quite likes these (I think they are ‘greigii’), but I am far from convinced…
I love flowers, and plant to cram the garden, front and back, with plenty, but it is the foliage that I think will really make the garden sing – or not. Do you have favourite foliage combinations? Do check out Christina’s blog for more on foliage plants.