amateur weeder banner

amateur weeder banner
This gardening blog is written in Bathurst, NSW, Australia.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Bits In Between

I've always loved flowers: 

Sedum 'Brilliancy'
To me, flowers were the stars of the garden and leaves were mostly just the bits in between the flowers. I say "were" because today, suddenly, that has changed.  Let me explain.

Last month, Steve and Cathy, at Our Garden Journal blogged enthusiastically about foliage, and mentioned a book, Foliage by Nancy Ondra.  They convinced me I might just be missing something, so I bought the book and today I started reading it.  I looked at the beautiful photographs and something clicked.

Foliage is more than the in-between bits. Leaves can be lovely. I was inspired to go outside between thunderstorms and assess my own garden purely in terms of foliage.  What kinds did I have and did I already have any interesting combinations? I was expecting to find more deficiencies than successes, but I was surprised at how much good foliage I found. After a while, I started to see it everywhere.

Lamb's Ear (Stachys byzantina) is a classically good grey foliage plant and I have lots of it:

It does flower, but look how utterly beautiful the leaves are, silvery grey and furry.

Another wonderful silvery grey plant is Curry Plant (Helichrysum italicum):

The new growth is practically glowing.  I decided I love both of these plants individually, but in one spot I found this:

How elegant is that? They are almost the same colour, but the leaf size and form is so different that they complement each other brilliantly.  A symphony in silver. This was a lucky accident, but now I'm going to plant some more together on purpose.

This gorgeous thing doesn't need a companion because it harmonizes with itself:

It's Russian Red Kale, actually a leafy vegetable, but pretty enough for the flower garden, don't you think? I must have more of this, maybe next to the Lamb's Ears too.

Moving away from grey, this common Houseleek (Sempervivum) looks like a flower itself:

Isn't it lovely with raindrops scattered across its face? How did I miss all this?

Although there are flowers in the next picture, the foliage combination would be lovely even without them:

The large fresh green leaves of the Hellebores (Helleborus x hybridis) look great underplanted with the smaller, yellower leaves of  the self-sown daisy (Feverfew:  Chrysanthemum parthenium). I also think the dark purple Hellebore flowers look at their best against this golden foliage. This was another unplanned partnership, and in autumn I'll scatter more seeds of the daisy in this area.

This next golden combination is a deliberate one, that I hope will look good when the plants grow:

It's a new planting in a new pot, the beginning of the improvements to my potted garden that I blogged about in Potted Ambition last month. Clockwise from top right are a lime green succulent (variety unknown), a variegated Oregano (Oreganum vulgare 'Country Cream') and a golden Marjoram (Oreganum vulgare 'Aureum'). The leaf shapes of the two herbs are the same, but the colours are different, and the succulent provides a contrast in leaf size and shape. It is also glossier than the other two. All these should spill over the sides of the pot.  I'm really happy with this combination and can't wait to see how it develops. I planted this before I read the book, so something was already going on in my subconscious.

I found a lot of other exciting foliage on my walk, but I'll just share one more picture with you. This one shows a group of plants that I planted simply for their flowers, not realising until today what a beautiful foliage grouping they make at this time of year:

They are Bearded Irises (Iris germanica), Shasta Daisies (Lucanthemum x superbum) and Daffodils (Narcissus). They only look like this for a few weeks, after the daffs have finished flowering and before the irises start, but they make a pretty picture, don't they?

I'm sitting at my computer and looking out the window, and my garden seems transformed.  So much more interesting, textural and rich than I thought yesterday. How could I have missed all that foliage?  I've been growing the stuff for years, and there is masses of it after all. Yet I did miss it. I took it for granted. 

I was looking at my garden, but now I've started to really see it.


  1. I think your succulent may be sedum 'gold mound'. I have it here - love it! Also love your beautiful foliage photos.

  2. Fingers comment actually arrives goes... Your photography today is inspiring. Those silver / greys are just amazing, don't know why I've not done this before, going to 'borrow' your idea!! We do have a very green 'foliagey' garden but def' going to introduce greys next year...thanks for inspiring me xx
    Pressing 'send'...NOW!!

  3. Your foliage combinations are stunning! I always try to remember the foliage, and sometimes I do (!), but most of the time I'm a sucker for flowers. Great post!

  4. Lyn, I thoroughly enjoyed this post, and I love your new-found delight in your garden. I discovered the wonders of foliage the first time I planted a shade garden; and, like you, I found it a revelation. I'll have to look for Nan's book. Your Lamb's Ear/Curry Plant combination is inspired. -Jean

  5. I enjoyed you post. It's always great to see the garden in new ways. After seeing your picture of Lamb's Ear, I really would like to get mine to spread a bit!

  6. This is so wonderful to see your eyes opened to foliage and shapes and textures, and hear how it transformed your appreciation for what was growing right there in your garden. You do have lovely foliage plants, especially the silver symphony! Welcome to gardening beyond flowers --- it's so much more.

  7. Greenwords - thanks for the tip about the sedum. I've looked it up and you could be right. If I get the yellow flowers, I'll know for sure.

    Jane - yay, it worked! I think making the comment form open in a new window was the answer. Greys in the garden are great. I have most of mine in what I call the "Mediterranean Garden", with shades of pink and purple flowers.

    Holleygarden - thanks! I'm still a sucker for flowers too, but now I will consider the foliage when I'm planting.

    Jean - thank you so much, although I can't take credit for the Curry Plant/ Lamb's Ear combination - it was a fluke, but one I'll now repeat. I think the Curry Plant is my favourite photo in this post.

    NH Garden - Lamb's Ear seems to spread where it likes. I want it in the sun, but all the seedlings this year are in the shade, so I have to move them. It seems to seed where it is shady and damp, especially under other plants.

    Laurrie - thanks! Isn't it great that we can keep experiencing more and learning more as we garden? I think that's why it's so fascinating.

  8. I love the post! Your symphony is silver is beautiful!

    I've really tried to pay more attention to the 'structure' of my garden lately, since a lot of my perennials seem so short lived, and thus foliage has definitely been getting more of my attention.

    The irises are so lovely for adding that vertical (insert some sort of fancy lanscaping term here) to complement the other foliage!

  9. Indie - thanks, I love that silver too. And if only Iris leaves were evergreen, they'd be the perfect plant. By the way, I think the fancy landscaping term for the Iris foliage is 'uppy-downy pointy things', but that's pretty technical...

  10. Lyn, some of the gardeners I most admire are the ones who sit and take notice and then think - Jackie French, Joyce Wilkie, Beatrice Bligh. I was just thinking today, I was starting to think like them and then this post made me rethink all over again. Gorgeous. Thanks for the support. Alison

  11. Clearly, you had Foliage Instincts all along-- And now you know! It is quite energizing to suddenly have one's consciousness tuned up...You and I grow and love many of the same plants. Lambsear is definitely a favorite!

  12. I so agree with you that foliage is much more than the in-betweens... and yours is absolutely beautiful! Especially love the silvers... it IS a Symphony.

  13. Lyn, we are delighted that you enjoyed the book so much and that it opened windows for you in your own garden. I agree, sometimes it's just a matter of looking at things with a new point of view.

    That curry/stachys combo is definitely a keeper. I'm thinking that I have some artemesia that would benefit with a touch of stachys and maybe one other silver leafed plant.

    And I am going to take my lad from you with our hellebores.... I have not really given any thought at all to a plant that would look good with them, but I love the light, bright green you've got paired with them. Wow! It makes both of them stand out!

    The nice thing about that book is that she has it organized by color and so it's easy to find a plant that complements what you have.

  14. Hi there, Lyn. I'm so glad to hear that you enjoyed the book. You already have many lovely leafy combinations, and I'm sure you'll make many more, both intentionally and by accident. It doesn't really matter how they happen as long as we're observant enough to see and enjoy them. Happy spring!

  15. Lyn, this is a great post! Intellectually I know that foliage is very important for a garden to work out, but I also have to admit that I don't pay enough attention to it in my own yard (maybe because I grow a lot of roses and often their foliage isn't that pretty but rather messed up by diseases?) Your post has truly been an eye opener and I will have a closer look at foliage in my garden, when I am out next time! Thanks!

  16. Alison - Jackie French has been one gardener I've followed for years. Now I have to check out the other two.

    Linnie - you're right, it is energizing. My mind is buzzing with all kinds of ideas. For years I couldn't grow Lambs Ears - my soil was too dry and concretey in summer. There are still areas where they won't grow, but I'm so happy I can grow them at all now.

    Carolyn - thanks, that means a lot from someone with such a lovely garden as you.

    Cathy and Steve - thank you for the initial inspiration! And I feel honoured to have inspired you too. Artemisia would be lovely with Lamb's Ears I'm sure, and now I'm thinking about where else I could put the Feverfew.

    Nan - wow, it's you! I'm enjoying the book so much and it's just filling my head with ideas. As Steve and Cathy said, the way you have arranged the book in colours is really helpful. And now I've seen your blog and I'm following it. I love the way blogging brings people together.

  17. Sometimes it does take other gardeners to draw our attention to what we already have. I have hundreds of native spicebushes, but I didn't really appreciate them until a friend came over and admired them.

  18. What a thoroughly pleasant post! I agree that foliage is magical--sometimes even on its own with no blooms. Your photos are wonderful!

  19. Haha, yes I do think I've seen 'uppy-downy pointy things' in various gardening handbooks. Such technical jargon!

  20. Add me to the list of foliage lovers and I have read Nancy Ondra's book multiple times. Fantastic photos and love your blog. Happy to have stumbled upon it and will be back!

  21. I love foliage and texture in the garden more so than flowers though in my early days of gardening that wasn't the case. I too love your lambs ear next to the curry plant. I have those in the same area but not next to each other. I might try this combination next year.

  22. Carolyn - it's true that other gardeners' insights can help us see the garden in a totally new way. One of the reasons I love to read blogs.

    Plant Postings - thank you, Beth. A compliment about my photos from you is high praise.

    Indie - heh heh heh.

    ONG - I'm so glad you like the blog, and I'll be checking yours out today.

    Leaves n Bloom - I don't like foliage more than flowers yet, although that might happen in the future. It's amazing how our garden tastes change, isn't it? And not always the same way. I heard a garden designer on the radio yesterday say that when he was young, he was only interested in foliage, but now the older he gets, the more he loves flowers. The only problem with the Curry Plant / Lamb's Ears combination is that I don't think they'd look good flowering together. This isn't a problem for me as I always cut the flower buds off the curry plant anyway, as I don't want yellow in this part of the garden.

  23. I too was inspired to buy Nancy Ondra's book on foliage. I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I have always put more emphasis on foliage, mainly because I really must have a low maintenance garden and also because my summer just kills a lot of flowers. Your own foliage combinations look great, showing what an instinctively good gardener you are!

  24. Wow, that silver on silver is just amazing. I never would have thought of that. I have loads of lambs ear sort of languishing by itself in a corner--next spring I'm going to put in curry plants next to it. And maybe something else, like one of those fine-leaved mounded artemesias?

  25. Yes, Amanda, I have Artemisias nearby too and they look great. In this area I also have Catmint - grey-green at this time of year and blending well too. And of course when it flowers the mauve looks wonderful with the greys.

  26. I love the combination of the Lambs ear and curry plant. I recently bought some curry plants and I've got lambs ear seedlings going ... now I know when I am going to plant them when tyhey are ready to be planted out. Right next to the curry! Great tip - thank you!

  27. Thanks, Christine! It's good to hear from you again.


Thank you for visiting! I'd love you to leave a comment so we can get to know each other.