Sunday, May 19

A focus on foliage

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Smart gardeners select leafy plants which contribute to year-round interest suited to their climatic conditions.

Many plants with attractive foliage can provide your garden with yearround interest. Plants grown primarily for their foliage sometimes come with a bonus of seasonal flowers.

Shrubs are of great importance in a garden as they anchor and add stability to the design. Shrubs can be used on boundaries to filter wind and dust. Use small shrubs to divide the garden into “rooms”. Care must be taken when selecting shrubs and other foliage plants.
Consider your climate, and whether you have winter or summer rainfall. In drought areas, always check the water requirements of the plant before selecting it for your garden.

Shrubs for interest

Abelia x grandiflora is a garden hybrid with glossy green foliage, sometimes with a bronze tint, and white-tinged-pink, small bell-shaped flower clusters. Abelias were originally used as hedges, requiring little maintenance once established. Abelia Francis Mason became popular because of its golden-green foliage and A Kaleidoscope for its changing foliage colour.

Although the cane-like stems of sacred bamboo (Nandina domestica) resemble bamboo, it is not. It’s valued in the landscape for its slender upright stems and dainty foliage that contrasts well with bold-leaved plants.

The plant is useful in narrow places such as a side passage, and for screening.

Dwarf heavenly bamboo (N Pygmaea) is a compact plant, and is ideal for small gardens, where it can be grown as a low hedge alongside a water feature or in containers.

N Royal Princess has finer leaves; Gold Flame has yellow foliage in cold winters. Indigenous honeybells (Freylinia tropica) is a fairly fast-growing, evergreen shrub reaching a height of 2m with an attractive upright growth habit of loosely spreading branches, small grey-green leaves and tiny white or mauve flowers. It makes a good background shrub, a medium height screen or hedge.

Grow succulents in patterns to emphasise leaf form and colour. Picture: Etienne Cremer

The sweetly-scented confetti bush (Coleonema pulchellum) is an attractive shrub with aromatic needle-like leaves and tiny pink flowers that attract bees and butterflies. It is wind resistant and a good companion plant in a fynbos garden.

The cultivar Sunset Gold is more compact with pink blooms and golden foliage. Many plants in today’s gardens are chosen for year-round interest. Favourites include Abelia Cardinal, A Confetti and A Dwarf Gnome, Cuphea mexicana White Wonder and Euonymus japonicus Microphyllus.

Silver-grey foliage plants include lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus), lavender and coastal rosemary (Westringia fruticosa). Do not overlook the potential of low-growing foliage plants for semishady places.

Coral bells (Heuchera sp) have dainty flowers on wiry stems, but their real value is in their scalloped foliage of cinnamon, peach, plum, purple and chartreuse. Heuchera Obsidian has shiny almost black leaves, Southern Comfort has butterscotch leaves and Sugar Plum has frosty plum-purple foliage.

Sun-loving succulents can be grown in patterns to emphasise their fascinating leaf forms and colours. Creeping sedums, known as stonecrops, are effective grown en masse. Look out for Sedum spurium Bronze Carpet, and Sedum nussbaumerianum. Desert roses (Echeveria sp) are not all blue-grey; some are dark, others pink with leaves that can be smooth or frilly.

The spreading blue foliage of blue chalk sticks (Senecio mandraliscae) is an excellent contrast among yellow and orange succulents. Occasional height can be introduced with orange sticks on fire (Euphorbia tirucalli) and the dark-purple rosettes of the Irish rose (Aeonium arboreum Zwartkop).

Drought-tolerant plants

Plants with a reduced, leathery, hairy or narrow leaf surface are better able to withstand wind, salt spray and drought conditions. Indigenous leucadendrons are erect shrubs with leathery leaves and colourful leaf bracts.

They suit fynbos gardens and because they need good drainage, do well on hillsides and slopes. Variegated Jester, burgundy red Safari Sunset and lime-green Jade Pearl are an indication of how their foliage can vary in colour.

The featherhead bush (Phylica pubescens) is an attractive indigenous shrub with leathery, hairy, narrow leaves; a pretty filler among fynbos species such as proteas, pincushions and ericas.

The rushleaved strelizia (Strelitzia juncea) has fleshy roots and upright cylindrical leaves and requires little attention once established.

Plant indigenous featherhead (Phylica pubescens) among proteas, pincushions and ericas. Picture: Lukas Otto

The flowers are similar to the crane flower (S reginae), but smaller. Silvery-grey hairs that cover the needle-shaped aromatic leaves of indigenous wild rosemary (Eriocephalus africanus), reduce water loss.

Small white flowers are followed by fluffy seed heads that look like cotton wool. Autumn leaves It is necessary only to remove leaves on lawns, paths, steps and around seedlings. Fallen leaves are a wonderful bonus for gardeners as a mulch around shrubs, where they will eventually decompose and enrich the soil.

Add fallen leaves to the compost heap or store in a wire enclosure where they will become leaf mould.

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