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.

twisted willow leaves

 hawthorn leaves

currant leaves

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.

buds on purple hazel

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.

Aster divaricatus leaves

aquilegia alpina


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.


broad beans


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.

euphorbia amygdaloides pur

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?

tulip foliage

And not all tulip foliage is created equal – TNG quite likes these (I think they are ‘greigii’), but I am far from convinced…

tulip greigii

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.

57 thoughts on “Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day April 2013

  1. Thanks for joining GBFD this month Janet. Hemerocallis work really well hiding tulip foliage, I use it quite a lot. Christina

    1. HI Christina, thanks for the tip, hemerocallis were a plant I was already thinking about for the front garden, so I might just try that.

  2. Hi Janet,

    Can’t help with the hiding of bulb foliage – have that problem myself! Way too many spring bulbs that they swamp all the perennials :D
    Lots of lovely foliage for you though! I like your dark Euphorbia!
    I love bud watch! It’s way too exciting isn’t it watching things emerge…. I’ve noticed Allium buds over the past few days and can’t decide whether they’re early or late.

    1. Hi Liz, I rather like the image of all those spiky bulbs threatening the perennials! I love that dark euphorbia too, I am having fun trying to decide where to plant the rest of it. I think we have to redefine ‘early’ and ‘late’ this spring, it is all going to happen together – I have crocuses and tulips flowering together, how crazy is that!

  3. Bud watch is about the most painfully delicious time in the gardening year. It must be even more so for you during your first spring in a new garden! The deciduous/evergreen balance is a tricky one — I tend to go more for evergreen, but that’s because our climate is mild(ish) enough to make the garden a living space in winter, too. I think in a place with more pronounced winters I would want more of those jumping-up-and-down moments of discovery in spring. (That rhubarb plant is adorable.)

    1. Hi Stacy, ‘painfully delicious’ puts it perfectly. I think I will wind up with more evergreens in the front garden than I used to have as I want to use some silvery plants, and because that garden is so open to view – ours and everybody else’s. I want it to have structure (in an informal sort of way) and interest throughout the year. The back garden, though, will major on those up and down moments. Well, its a plan…

    1. It is a beautiful spring day here today, such a shame we have had so few of them so far, but boy do they boost the spirits.

  4. I think you are right about foliage making the garden exciting. And good thinking about what parts/amount, etc., you want to be evergreen, and how much/where, etc., you want to be deciduous. i agree with you that it is thrilling to see things springing up from the bare earth.

    1. I think Christina’s post put it brilliantly, her garden demonstrates how to use foliage for structure and interest so well, I am going to steal lots of ideas from her!

    1. Thanks Charlie – but Christina is the master of this art, her garden demonstrates how to use foliage to good effect beautifully.

  5. Such a wonderful array of foliage, Janet. I have lots of the same plants appearing in my garden now, like the hostas and euphorbia, it’s really exciting to see them again. I bet you can’t wait for those baby rhubarbs to mature, I remember having to literally clasp my hands behind my back to stop from taking any stalks off mine in the first year…torture!

    1. Hi Paula, it is such a challenge being patient with rhubarb, isn’t it! Fortunately I have neighbors with lots and they have offered for me to cut it regularly as they can’t use it all, so that should tide me over.

  6. I saw those tulips with the same foliage at an NGS open garden on Sunday. Do you know what they are? They looked very good there as a “statement tulip” in a pot. As for being on bud watch, I know exactly what you mean, am out there every morning checking the hostas!

    1. Hi Claire, I think they are some sort of ‘greigii’ tulip, but I don’t know which, sorry, as they just popped up in a weird little bed by the patio. I am still undecided about them, I have to say.

  7. Lovely to see the fresh greens and buds in your garden. I agree about finding a balance between evergreen and bare soil/fresh growth. Seeing new shoots push through “bare” patches of ground at this time of year is a real joy, but then, again, there can be too much bare soil. I’m glad some of the plants from your old garden are thriving. And I must replace the aquilegias I’ve lost over the years; I do miss them.

    1. Hi Wendy, the balance thing is tricky, isn’t it. And there is also the issue that, if you want to allow some self seeding, you need a little bare earth to support it – but too much and the wretched weeds take over! Good luck re-stocking with aquilegias, they are one of the plants I am most keen to build up a goodly selection of myself, they are so good for late Spring/early summer colour.

    1. Hi Sue, it is a great relief to see some of the plants I brought with me apparently flourishing in their new home, it will help fill all the many, many gaps!

  8. Some fantastic foliage there Janet and no doubt more to emerge over the next few weeks. Isn’t it jsut magical to watch all these new fresh leaves come from nowhere. Love the Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’ – just wish that I could grow it but suffer from skin allergies so reluctantly stay clear of all euphorbias : ( I think that your tulip maybe tulipa greigii ‘Red Riding Hood’ which I’ve grown in the past, drawn to the distinct markings on the leaves. Will think about what may fit in well when your other tulip leaves down. I grow all my tulips in pots :)

    1. Hi Anna, shame about the allergies, but a wise move to steer clear, not a good plant for those with sensitive skin. And thank you for the tulip ID, looks like you are spot on – I shall offer them to the Cemaes in Bloom folks, I dislike the foliage more and more… I always used to grow my tulips in pots too, I shall enjoy being able to try them in the ground instead. It looks as if I have some rather pretty pink ones in the front garden, which need to be moved but they are not the bright reds and yellows I was expecting from the other plantings. I shall add some white ones and count my blessings to have such great drainage.

  9. I agree about soil being transformed at the moment by newly emerging leaves. I’m with you on the Tulipa greigii. I don’t like the leaves either. I’m a huge fan of sedums because they are such good value. Their foliage looks great at the moment. Absolutely love your purple euphorbia. Think that would look lovely in my front garden. Will have a look for over the next few months.

    1. It is a wonderful euphorbia isn’t it. It never thrived in my previous garden, I think the soil was too heavy. I am entranced by this particularly little sedum, and surprised it seems to be so happy on wet soil, it lives right by the run off from a large area of paving and the soil in that corner never seems to dry out. Can’t wait to add yet more sedums in due course.

  10. I’m with you, in perpetual bud-watch – and everything opens so quickly. That bright fresh spring green is unsurpassable, isn’t it? Such a joy. I love the serrated edges on your sedum leaves, such a lovely repetition of form.

    1. Hi Sara. Even the recent grey skies can’t diminish the wonderful freshness of that new green growth. I agree about the sedum, I am pondering where I can move some divisions of it to for best effect.

  11. A most enjoyable post. I always walk round the plot looking at the foliage and never cease to be surprised at the colours and shapes I see. At this time of year there seems to be something new every day.
    I agree with what you say at the end of the post about foliage making the garden sing. xx

    1. Hi Flighty, I always think a productive veg bed is as beautiful as any garden with the mix of foliage from beans, cabbages, salads etc. I am watching a rather hacked about plum tree for signs of blossom, so far in vain. Poor thing doesn’t look terribly well, I hope we don’t have to get rid of it.

  12. you have some lovely things happening in your garden Janet, I have tried to work out the evergreen, deciduous, perennial balance and what to do about the dying foliage of bulbs too, I noticed Christina said daylilies and that is what I plan to do for the meadow, in the tweenie I divided a kniphofia 2 years ago and put some pieces between the path and line of bulbs, it has worked well for me, the crocus I planted with low growing grasses last autumn have finished flowering and now the leaves just blend with the grasses, I like it and plan to do more of it, I’ve also thought of using the crocosmia, look forward to seeing what you do, Frances
    ps. just remembered I also have some bulbs threaded through some tall perennials which just loose the bulb foliage as they grow,

    1. Hi Frances, I shall be looking in to daylilies, not least because you can eat the flowers too, I do love a multi-function plant. Crocosmia would work really well I think, but that is a plant I am trying to get rid of in the front garden at least, so not for me. Crocuses with grasses work really well I think, it is the larger bulbs that present more of a challenge. I tend to plant taller daffs at the back of a border so that the emerging perennials hide them.

  13. Great photographs and text – I tried close up of tree leaf buds but didn’t get the focus right so didn’t use them. Did I see rain drops on your leaves – still none here. The euphorbia looks lovely and like you I would want to link it to other things with a reddish hue. So much promise, isn’t there?

    1. Hi Cathy, we’ve had quite a lot of rain here, which is good for the water butts and the newly planted, less good for getting plenty done! It does make for nice photos though. I know what you mean about the blurred close-ups, you should see all mine, or rather you shouldn’t!! I think the euphorbia should look rather good against the purple hazel once it finally comes in to leaf.

  14. What a great time of year this is. I love walking the garden these days searching for signs of new leaves. All the trees are tightly furled yet but some of the perennials are beginning to poke through, like your columbine. Such a beautiful purple tinge to them when they come out of hiding.

    1. Hi Marguerite, it is the time of year when I can most frequently be heard to squeak out loud, as I see yet another plant unfurling. I have this image of all these plants popping up and having a good old stretch and look around to see how the neighbors are doing!

  15. Now everything is starting to spring forth it is always a delight to see new growth emerging. There is plenty to see in your garden – wonder how much more there will be this time next year.

    1. Hi Elaine, I certainly hope that this time next year there will be more, much less grass, deeper borders and less bare earth. Just enough to give that jolt of excitement as perennials reappear.

    1. Hi Donna, things are moving so quickly here that one day a shrub just has tight buds, the next, leaves! I do love Spring.

  16. Ah your foliage is lovely! I love the story of your hazel too, isn’t it great when nature finds a way. I have a few trees in pots, two chestnuts that we’re keeping small on purpose have sprung back into life and thankfully my Indian Bean Tree, which was a wedding present has formed some new shoots too. I love foliage, there’s a lot to be said for it and the different tones, shades and textures provide such an incredible interest in the garden. Really lovely post! I’ve not had time to read a lot of blogs lately but having found the time it’s wonderful to read posts like yours :)

    1. Hi Anna, what a lovely comment, thank you! I am amazed and grateful for how well the most surprising things survive in pots, to spring into full life once they get themselves in the ground. Glad your trees – particularly the Indian Bean Tree – are showing the reassuring signs of life we all look for at this time of year. Do you hope to eventually move somewhere that you can give those trees permission to grow in the ground?

  17. You have a lot of experimentation ahead Janet and perhaps you could keep more things in pots a while longer and move them round the borders until you have the combos you want that work. You’ve sold me on the Aster diverticus – just what I want in some shady ground space a la Gertrude Jeckyll, between hydrangeas
    p.s. am assuming now is the time to divide the Hostas that are popping up finally?

    1. Hi Laura, funny you should say that, I do tend to leave things in pots and move them around a lot until suddenly I get that sense of contentment that says I am happy to plant and try it out. Of course I also tend to move things when I come up with a tweak! I am purposely holding off on planting the perennials that don’t yet have any leaves showing so that I can double check the foliage combinations before committing. I do want to cut down on the watering before summer arrives though…

  18. Hi Janet, I absolutely do want to move to somewhere that the trees can root, the bean tree definitely but the chestnuts are amazing when kept as little bonsais! My dream is for 3 acres. I would still adore my plants in pots though, a lot of people have a negative take on them due to watering but I love the flexibility and like you that you can experiment with colour grouping. My garden needs watering anyway so I don’t begrudge the pots having a drink too! Such a brilliant post Janet, I love learning more and more about your garden.

  19. Whenever finding sprouts in my garden in spring, I’m excited! You have beautiful foliage!! Among them, I’ve never seen the tulip, the last photo. It has beautiful leaves!! Thank you for visiting my blog!

    1. Hi Keity, those tulips with the leaf markings really divide opinion, people seem to either love them or loath them! it is really exciting to see new growth bursting out of the ground isn’t it, the promise of so much more to come.

  20. Bud watching, fabulous. I am always pleased to hear of others as crazy as myself Janet. In fact I was just saying to Myra people would think we are soft in the head if they were to hear us after a spell of getting excited at seeing emerging shoots of Hosta. Foliage of Astilbe and Hosta look great together..

    1. Hi Alistair, I finally found your comment lurking in the spam folder, sorry about that, askimet would appear to have it in for you… I think we are all a little crazy and soft in the head at this time of year. I spent at least five minutes just staring up at the hawthorn, enjoying the buds and shocking fresh green leaves against a pure blue sky…

  21. Spring is fun when you find newly emerging foliage….sometimes (me) not remembering what it was that was planted there the year before. You certainly have lots of growth.

    1. It is fun isn’t it, and I am glad I am not the only one prone to forgetting I even planted something, though hopefully all your surprises are good ones! Of course in this garden it is mostly a question of “can I identify it”, but there are not many perennials, mostly bulbs and shrubs. And lots of ivy…

  22. Hi Janet, great post, I find myself also getting obsessed with foliage these days. I really like to see the foliage of Astilbe along with that of the Hosta.
    I have noticed a few of my comments to those with wordpress blogs not going through, bit ironic concidering I use wordpress myself. Anyway if you see multiple comments coming through from me just delete them.

    1. That is a really good combination Alistair, astilbe and hostas. And won’t delete you!

  23. Hi Janet – I favourite foliage is camellia – the flowers aren’t bad either. Please can you tell me the name of the plant in the third photo? – I think I’ve seen it around with magenta or white flowers hanging down like mini chandeliers.

    1. Hi b-a-g, the plant in the third photo is a currant, no idea whether it is a redcurrant or a blackcurrant though, as the labels don’t seem to have survived the move, which is a shame since they require different pruning!

  24. Hi Janet,
    I also seem to have become obsessed with foliage lately. Having said that, we have never had so many Tulips in the garden, not exactly renowned for foliage. Foliage, I like to see Hosta alongside the foliage of Astilbe. .

  25. That IS a dilemma ! How much bare earth is ok ? There seems to me to be an optimum amount ! Too little and you lose the dynamics of the season, too much and everything looks a little sad. I have bits of the garden planted with evergreens etc that don’t change at all and are completely static, and while half of me loves it because it gives the garden its ‘bare bones’ the other half loves the promise that bare earth brings !

    1. Tricky to balance it, isn’t it. Too much evergreen planting always seems a bit sterile, I think I will be experimenting with that particular balance for years to come. Thanks for visiting and commenting!

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