Perfection in leaf major
In a previous article I mentioned a few plants with variegated leaves. It is funny as there was a time when I did not like variegation in plants at all. To me it all looked like a virus. I also used to hate ornamental grasses though, and now I have a National Collection of them! This dislike of grasses was probably due to the state they were in at the garden centre I worked at. All waterlogged and half dead. I don’t remember when my hate of variegation turned into a love for it, but since I started tropical gardening, it certainly became more of a passion.
In general I prefer foliage over flowers. I like the contrast of large leaves with finer foliage, and pointy palmate leaves with lanceolate foliage. I also like different foliar colour combinations. There is something very satisfying about designing with leaves and I always try to have contrasting shapes and sizes next to eachother. One of my favourite combinations in the garden last year was that of my Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa) with Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’. The Monstera loves being outside in summer and mine, in its semi-shady spot, made four new leaves in the three months it was outside.
I have a few Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’ in my garden and the red/purple does go particularly well with large, green foliage. Because I prefer the foliage over the flowers with this plant, I do cut out the flowers. Apart from that I feel it looks nicer without the flowers, the plant will also put more energy into the leaves. I do the same with my Begonia luxurians. I spoke to someone last year who proudly announced they had flowers on their luxurians. When I mentioned I had cut them off, I got a bit of a funny look. However, the leaf on my Begonia luxurians was bigger than I had ever grown.
Another one of my favourite foliage plants is Helianthus salicifolius. The foliage is so long and graceful and, as the name suggests, does resemble the foliage of some willows. Very late in the season it will produce small yellow sunflowers. I did leave these on, but only because I couldn’t reach the plants through my jungle.
When I visited Tresco Abbey gardens on the Scilly Isles in 1998, I noticed a spotted Ligularia. Later I found out that it was a Farfugium. I saw this spotted plant again in a friend’s garden last year. Then when I went to Urban Jungle near Norwich, I found a new cultivar that was also very amazing. Unlike the plant I had seen originally, this one did not have yellow spots. The plant I saw there had crinkled leaves and was a bit like a curley parsley on steroids. I find it so nice to use different leaf textures in the garden and this Farfugium japonicum ‘Shishi Botan’ is a great addition.
If we look at variegated plants in my garden, then there are quite a few as well. I grew the variegated Tropaeolum ‘Alaska Tip Top Red’ for the first time last year. This is a bushy form of a Nasturtium with white marbled leaves and bright red flowers. Like any Nasturtium it is easy to grow and is great to fill gaps where other annuals may have failed or gone over too quickly.
Another variegated plant I grow is Canna ‘Stuttgart’. I got this plant by chance as the seed supplier clearly put the wrong seeds in the packet. For a variegated plant, it bulks up rather quickly. The only problem with this plant is that it does not tolerate any sunshine. The white parts of the leaves will scorch and turn brown. I am going to try It on more year in the shadiest spot in my garden.
Some of my Ginger Lilies are variegated too. Hedychium ‘Dr Moy’ has a beautiful spotted leaf, and Zingiber ‘Silver Streaks’ has two toned, striped leaves. Zingiber mioga ‘White Feather’ has a bright white leaf edge. The Zingiber seem to scorch a bit more than the Hedychium.
The gingers are another group of plants I have really started to appreciate since I started tropical gardening. Their foliage and flowers give an instant tropical feel to any border, and I will definitely be looking closer at these in another article.