It’s been a while since I was organised enough to join in with Christina’s Foliage Day meme, so despite only having posted a couple of days ago here I am joining in. Foliage is really important to me, both evergreen and not. Whenever I am pondering a planting area, trying to select the plants to put there, I try to spend at least as much time thinking about how the foliage will combine as I do the flower forms and colours. A lot of the planting I have done in the first full year here has been of shrubs and trees, whose foliage will provide the main structure in the garden. Some, like the fatsias and my beloved Euphorbia mellifera (is that even, strictly speaking, a shrub?) are already making an impact. Most of the others are still very small, often barely visible behind the accompanying perennials. Inevitably, then, most of the structure currently comes from perennials and biennials. Of all of these probably the plant making the greatest impact at the moment is Bears Breeches (Acanthus mollis). Its totally evergreen here, and I remember being thrilled to see a large clump in the back garden when we first looked round. I am less thrilled to have an equally large clump growing in the front garden, where it steals the view. I have started digging it out, but the tap roots go down very deep and it will re-grow from small pieces, just like dandelions. I foresee a long running battle. I am happier to have it suddenly rampaging away in the very back right corner of the back garden, where it had clearly lain dormant while the conifers held sway.

acanthus corner

In the past year it has suddenly erupted into a vast plant over 1.5m tall and wide, which is supposed to be its final size. I get the feeling that this one doesn’t feel like stopping. The huge leaves reflect the light quite wonderfully.

acanthus mollis

The plant towers over the neighbouring mahonia. It had better enjoy its time of triumph while it can, the mahonia may be small now, but it will reach heights the acanthus can only dream of!

My previous garden had very heavy clay soil, and was densely planted, a combination that meant few plants ever self seeded. Here, the free draining soil means I am getting all sorts of “volunteers”. I find myself a little torn. There are quite a few areas of the garden that I would like to mulch heavily to improve the soil, and this should help keep the weeds down – the wretched chickweed is flowering already, and I can’t eat it all! On the other hand, I am enjoying getting to grips with the better side of self seeding, like discovering forget-me-nots lurking in the back garden.

forget-me-not seedlings

The foliage is welcome anyway, but assuming it flowers, I will love having pools of intense blue in the back garden as well as the front. And then there is the knowledge that I will be making the bees happy again this summer thanks to a veritable forest of self seeded phacelia.

phacelia seedlings

They are so distinctive I will have no trouble telling them from other, less desirable seedlings, likewise the Californian poppies, but while I was weeding and cutting back in the front garden this morning I realised that I have no idea what the new seedlings of Greater Knapweed look like. Lots to learn.

Other foliage that made me smile this morning includes the feathery bronze fennel. I’ve never grown fennel before, and I left my three home grown plants in their pots far too long last year, so the one lucky plant that actually got a permanent home didn’t have much of a chance to have an impact. it is great to see it throwing up plenty of strong stems and feathery leaves.

bronze fennel

I am a big fan of purple foliage, so no surprise that Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’ features in my garden. I must sow more, but the plants in the front garden should hopefully flower this year, and you never know, might self seed themselves around a bit too!

anthriscus sylestris ravenswing

Another plant I mean to sow again this year is Achillea ‘Cassis’. Its a little on the floppy side, which is a shame, but has wonderful deep cerise flowers and of course that lovely feathery achillea foliage, already making its presence felt. (You can tell I had a good day today, everything is ‘wonderful’ and ‘lovely’!)

achillea cassis

One of my favourite plants from last year was the wonderfully dramatic sedum, ‘Purple Emperor’. Another plant with purple foliage, it has gorgeous deep pink flowers too, and I hope to propagate from it this year. So, I am delighted to see all three plants starting to push up fresh growth.

sedum purple emperor

I grew quite a lot of perennials from seed last year, its a very cost effective way of being able to use multiples of the same plant, but most of them didn’t flower last year. I am really hoping Echinops ‘Star Frost’ flowers this year, the foliage is certainly getting a good start.

echinops star frost

I could go on and on – already have, in fact, not that there’s anything unusual there – but I’ll finish with the welcome proof that the aquilegia I discovered when clearing the very front of the front garden has forgiven me for moving it in the middle of the summer…


…the equally welcome sight of the native English stonecrop spreading itself out a little at the edge of the circle bed…

sedum anglicum

…and the rather sad proof that Asplenium scolopendrium ‘Angustifolia’ is not, in fact, happy “in any moist, shady position”.

Asplenium scolopendrium 'Angustifolia'

It doesn’t like salty north winds. At all. Its two friends are in an even worse state. So much for my ferny evergreen structure in that corner. I am having mercy on them and moving them to the back. And then I have to find some shade-tolerant evergreen plants that enjoy a moist but well drained neutral soil but will tolerate exposure to salt wind. All the plants recommended for exposed coastal sites seem to be sun lovers. Much research required – and all suggestions welcomed! Only the toughest of plants need apply…

Do check out Christina’s blog for links to the foliage other gardeners are enjoying at the moment.

euphorbia myrsinites


48 thoughts on “Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day February 2014

  1. Yay for Euphorbia myrsinites! Your foliage follow up is also a nice reminder that spring is just round the corner. Too bad the aspleniums didn’t do well where you sited them but hopefully they will fare better in their new location.

    1. I was really surprised about the ferns, they are such tough plants, and low growing too. The price I pay for having lowered the fence for the view, less shelter. Am wondering if mahonia soft caress likes salt…

  2. Janet that acanthus mollis is amazing looking, I’ve heard of and read about it but never seen a good photo, you have some nice foliage growing, I too find when I get the grass and weeds cleared other plants pop up many are self seeded from my plants, the 2 ferns I planted in the front garden look like yours I am thinking of moving them down to the top end of the tweenie as it’s sheltered there, if anyone comes up with an evergreen replacement I am interested, I had put in a small aucuba that seemed to be doing alright but isn’t now, Frances

    1. Hi Frances, I will certainly let you know if I find a tough evergreen for exposed salty shade, I am wondering about euphorbia robbiae, it is a tough plant and cheap so not an expensive mistake!

  3. Hi Janet,

    Lovely greens around at the moment; very welcome to see!

    Your Sedum is a lovely colour; something for me to try to remember once I finally move… Plus I’m looking forward to your forget-me-not photos. I probably won’t have much this year as my dad decided to dig up their borders and they’re currently bare. I have seedlings here though and think it’s likely I’ll have to be the one giving them some this year!

    1. Hi Liz, heck, not sure I like shouldering responsibility for forget-me-not photos, I always look forward to yours! I hope this year is the one in which you meet your new garden.

  4. I’ve always fancied an Acanthus, but it sounds a bit of a thug! It could be a candidate for filling a bit of space on the woodland edge, if it can cope with a bit of shade.

    1. Hi Jessica, it is an excellent filler, and on good soil takes a lot of shade. The flowers are rather wonderful too, just make sure you like it where you put it, cos shifting it is a nightmare!

  5. Love seeing your Bear’s Breeches. What a gorgeous plant! Ours is evergreen here in TX, however it is not fond of the Texas heat in the summer. I’ve always wanted to try Achillea ‘Cassis’. I just love that ferny texture. Wish we could grow forget-me-nots here. Oh well, I will just have to enjoy them vicariously on your blog:)

    1. Hi Steph, thanks for stopping by, I can imagine acanthus sulking badly in a Texas summer, the achillea should cope better, and is easy to grow from seed.

  6. Well, apart from the asplenium, why is your foliage all so healthy when mine is brown and spotty and shrivelled from the salt? This is not fair. We need a public enquiry.

    (Or can it be that most of your foliage is in fact brown and spotty and shrivelled and that you just didn’t photograph it, ;-) — I wonder…)

    1. That made me laugh Kate! Hey, at least I showed some of my foul foliage ;-) its actually just the one corner where things have suffered salt damage. The back garden is very sheltered from the salt, the front either by has deciduous planted or shrubs on the coastal exposure lists. Hellebores don’t work out front, and neither, apparently, do ferns. Any pointers for shade tolerant salt tolerant evergreens? I’ll pay by showing more ratty foliage…

  7. Fatsias certainly grow quickly! A for acanthus we have one that I am having difficulty totally eradicating. That bronze fennel makes a huge taproot and is tricky if it becomes really large and you want to dig it up.

    1. Hi Sue, the redeeming feature of fatsias is that they tolerate pruning well, or they could completely take over! I’m not entirely sure it is possible to totally eradicate acanthus without resorting to glysophate. Thanks for the fennel warning, I will have to be doubly careful where I plant the others. If I plant the others… You can have too much of a good thing. Look at the acanthus…

  8. You have lots of lovely foliage in your garden. Acanthus has such beautiful foliage at the moment, usually here it dies down for the winter but it has been so mild for the past few months, I can now consider it evergreen! Your Asplenium should have been happy in a moist shady spot, mine certainly are. Maybe if you cut back the old “burnt by salt” fronds then the new foliage will be ok when they emerge.

    1. Thanks Pauline. I was really surprised at the extent of the damage to the ferns, one has almost completely disappeared, so I am not sure I want to risk leaving them, I’d rather find something I know will do well there, and use the ferns near my tree stump in the back garden. The previous people had amended the soil to make it acidic and planted skimmia and rhododendrons, but I am not a fan of constantly having to add something to change the ph, would rather work with what is there naturally. If you have any ideas I would love to hear them, you are very au fait with shade lovers…

  9. I really enjoy these foliage posts with all the different shades and shapes. I grow the common fennel just for the foliage.
    I also think that seeing water droplets on plants like the aquilegia add a touch of magic.
    Flighty xx

    1. Hi Flighty, I am hoping to use the seeds in my cooking too, but either form is worth growing for the foliage alone. I totally agree about aquilegia foliage and raindrops, a bit like Ladies Mantle. Leafy magic.

  10. Having a youngish acanthus I do get a little concerned about people calling it thuggish – how many years before it gets thus, do you think? I had to smile at Kate’s comments as she is quite right in that we could always just show the best bits and leave any dismal failures out, even inadvertantly, but giving readers a completely biased impression – reminding me how surreal it was when we saw your garden for real and recognised so much of it, even down to the blue pallet! It’s just the scale that’s difficult to convey from photographs. You have lots of interesting foliage coming through, even though it is still a voyage of discovery seeing what will grow successfully and what will sulk – hope you can find a good spot for your ferns.

    1. Hi Cathy, I remember you thinking it was a lot smaller “in the flesh”!! Acanthus, not sure, I suspect it depends on how happy it is. It clearly copes with poor soil in full sun, hence my view stealing plant, which easily gets to 1m, but the two in the back garden in richer soil and almost full shade are the most rampant. The one with partial shade, also in rich soil, flowers the best, and grows to around 1.2m, but is at least as wide. No idea how long they have been there, but for reference the corner thug wasn’t there at all this time last year, who knows how big the roots were though, and how long they had lain in wait until I demolished the conifers!

      I am a fan of showing the failures as well as the successes in the garden, wide views as well as macros, untidy bits as well as immaculate bits. Not that I ever have immaculate bits!

  11. It IS all wonderful and lovely Janet! How nice to see Aquilegia foliage already. The Euphorbia looks great, and I do love the Acanthus leaves. Shame it’s such a huge plant, although the dry heat in my rockery might keep it in check… one for me to consider though! I’ve heard you can cut back the Achillea by a third in early June to stop it flopping, but have never dared try it… my yellow one also gets so leggy and falls over. Perhaps I’ll take the plunge this year and give it the chop!

    1. Hi Cathy, I think fresh aquilegia foliage is amongst the best for Spring cheer, I love the way it catches the raindrops. You would probably find that your rockery would control the size of acanthus quite well, just be really sure you want it in there before you plant it, it is so difficult to erradicate, makes dandelions seem a doddle… Must, must, must remember to do the cutting back thing this year. The irritating thing is that Achillea ‘Terracotta’ doesn’t need it!

  12. I also like E. mellifera and have to try and source it somewhere this year. Well, all Euphorbias are great plants. My latest addition is E. characias Blue Wonder. The Acanthus is very showy indeed but may need to be watched ;). Sedum Purple Emperor is my favourite of the red leaved ones and is supposed to be among the longer lasting ones, as a nurseryman told me that they most of them are short-lived.

    1. HI Annette, yes, another reason for taking cuttings from the sedum, though I am hoping it will last well here. I agree about euphorbias, there weren’t many I could grow in my previous garden, so I am loving finally being able to have ‘mellifera’ and various sun lovers. Wonder if my E characias ‘Blue’ is the same as your ‘Blue Wonder’? If so, isn’t it stunning? If not, we will have to swap notes.

  13. I’m interested that you get so many more flowers self-seeing in this garden. I certainly don’t get many self-sown in mine although there are a handful of notable exceptions that seem to go mad! I’d like to try sedum this year and like the look of Purple Emperor – I think that will be the one.

    1. Hi Wendy, the self seeding thing is quite a culture shock! It was only hellebores and euphorbia robbiae that did it in my previous garden, despite us having gravel paths. Here, I have veritable forests of forget-me-nots, stipa tenuissima, various euphorbias, and that’s before my own additions have had a chance to join the party. Enjoy your emperor, I’m sure you will, it is a beauty. I had planned to get Sedum matrona because everybody raves about how good it is, but I am very content.

  14. I love your Acanthus leaves, so glossy and smart. I added A. spinosus here a couple of years ago, but its foliage is looking rather raggedy at the minute in comparison!
    I sowed some Achillea ‘Cassis’ seeds in the autumn, and have one plant flopping on the kitchen windowsill waiting to be taken outside. I intend to sow the rest of the seeds soon to try and have more than one; such a lovely deep colour.
    I’m hoping to add a good dark-leaved sedum here too; I think I have my eye on Jose Aubergine…

    1. Hi Sara, I can’t find my ‘Cassis’ seeds, I think I may have to buy more, it is such a lovely plant, isn’t it. Will have to look up your aubergine, sounds intriguing, I am eagerly awaiting enough fresh growth on ‘Purple Emperor’ to allow me to make baby emperors.

  15. Oh yes, you do indeed have some fascinating foliage plants there. I remember several other people posting about Bear’s Breeches. Lots to enjoy in the months ahead!

    1. Lots indeed, I love watching the aquilegias pushing up out of the soil again, a sure sign that Spring is on its way.

  16. So many perennials seem to be emerging early this year. I guess it’s hard to compare this year with last but my garden seems much more lush than I would expect it to be. I love ‘Cassis’ and had it on my cut flower patch last year. Last time I checked it looked like it was emerging so I’m looking forward to lots of flowers. I still haven’t got round to tidying up the garden. Lots of plants still have the brown seed heads lingering. I really need to get out there. Maybe I can squeeze in half an hour now. Right that’s it, no more computer, I’m off to garden. ;)

    1. Hope you enjoyed your gardening spurt! I still have some seedheads on some of my perennials, tidying up seems to be taking me forever this year, but it is lovely to see all the feathery achillea foliage appearing again. Which reminds me, I must get some plant supports organised, and try to remember to chop ‘Cassis’ back in May too!

  17. Lovely to see all your foliage (tatty or otherwise! We all have corners best not photographed!) Sympathise with your salt intolerant plants – this is where the college library comes in so handy as there are thousands of books on all topics for inspiration and answers. I need to buy another sedum as mine has keeled over, not sure why. It was in a pot on my balcony, did well over the past two years, now dead. I probably neglected it thinking it was a hardy plant! OoooooOOOps!

    1. Don’t you just hate it when you mistake a plant for being tougher than it is and lose it? Its always something you really like too, sod’s law in action. The most frustrating thing about trying to research salt-tolerant plants is that the same ones come up again and again, and all sun lovers, as if it was impossible to have a shady patch exposed to salty winds! Though one of the ferns appears to be putting on a strong growth spurt, so I am crossing my fingers.

  18. Hi Janet, your enthusiasm for foliage really is infectious! I am seriously impressed by your statement in the intro to this post: “Whenever I am pondering a planting area, trying to select the plants to put there, I try to spend at least as much time thinking about how the foliage will combine as I do the flower forms and colours”. As much as I intellectually know how important foliage in the garden is, I don’t give it half as much thought. Still too fixated on the blooms ;-)! But I will use your post as a reminder to consider foliage more consciously. Maybe I should do a post about foliage in my garden as well. That will certainly raise my awareness and that would be a good starting point. Happy gardening!

    1. HI Christina, I do love flowers, but foliage was my first love, I think it all goes back to falling for richly contrasting leaves in a magazine article when I first got a garden and was trying to learn what to do with it. Joining in with the foliage meme is a great way of developing your leafy appreciation, you’ll probably me amazed at what you discover about what you have got, and it bring a new dimension to the garden too. I particularly love the fresh growth in Spring, all the contrasting foliage is a promise of all the flowers to come. Thanks for dropping by!

  19. When I redesigned my shade garden last fall, I added several plants with variegated or strong foliage to add interest to the garden when it was done blooming. I love how resilient aquilegia is. Despite a nasty cold winter, mine is already pushing up, too, ready to grow. All those self seeders will help fill in any gaps in your beds for free!

    1. I do love the way aquilegias self seed themselves around, so useful, particularly when you are developing a new border. There are so many wonderful foliage plants for a shady garden, aren’t there, one of my favourite areas in my old garden was predominantly ferns, the contrasting textures were calm but lovely.

  20. Bear’s breeches are certainly dominating the courtyard garden I attend – instead of dying back the clumps have spread out like Romans who adored its leaves for sculptures. Not easy to dig out when the soil is to its liking. Am admiring all the foliage in your sunnier borders forseeing the colours that lie ahead. How about Osmanthus delavayi for the shade plant? (admit am suggesting something I have on my own imaginary garden wishlist).

    1. Hi Laura, there is no doubting the thuggishness of acanthus once it has settled in, I am still astounded at how happy it appears to be in poor sandy soil in full sun, the plant has no shame at all! I like the idea of the osmanthus, the leaves have many of the characteristics that would suggest tolerance to salt, and the flowers are so pretty and so beautifully scented. Thank you!

    1. Thanks Lucy, I meant to take photos yesterday when it was all sunny, but I got too engrossed in my gardening! I’ll get on it, am looking forward to reading about all these trees each month.

  21. Janet, I agree, foliage is so important to the overall look of the garden. We also had the Acanthus in our Aberdeen garden a few years back. It didn’t remain evergreen as you can imagine and didn’t flower every year, but when it did, I felt like it was some sort of achievement. I did get rid of it, cant really remember why, the roots do indeed go down a considerable distance. Enjoyed your post very much, now, why did I leave all of those great Ferns behind.

    1. Hi Alistair, I hope you manage to build up a collection of even better ferns for your new garden, I am really looking forward to developing one of my shadier corners into a bit of a fernery. For me it is a pale lemon aquilegia I miss the most, I really wish I had brought some with me, and fully intend to replace it at some stage. Funny how it goes. Glad you enjoyed the post!

    1. I fell in love with the euphorbia from seeing it in Christina’s garden, it is a wonderful plant, I am looking forward to having more as I develop the front garden. I am lusting after euphorbia rigida too…

  22. Janet I think I would have a lot of foliage if only the snow would melt…it is amazing what continues to grow under that thermal blanket of cold white stuff…wonderful to see all your growth.

  23. How amazed am I that someone else is as crazy as I am about foliage? Some of my friends call me the plantaholic, and for food reason . The images you put up are great, I especially love the reflection of light on the Bears Breeches plant (Acanthus mollis).

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