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.