Celebrating foliage that can be every bit as satisfying as blooms: heart shaped brunnera in lacy sterling, ajuga’s brocade of bronze-green, lamium from lime to silver, jagged hellebore in deep glossy green, coral bells and nasturtium in creamy swirls, chameleon plant with vivacious pink accent, painted fern's feathery mauve, dramatic elephant ears…more than can fit in one post!
Is there a more enchanting colour mix than purple and chartreuse? The exquisite cultivar of spiderwort, Tradescantia ‘Blue and Gold’, does a marvelous job of capturing this alluring combination. Slightly ruffled, velvety pairs of three-petal blooms, cluster atop gentle swords of yellow-green. Spiderwort is an easy and congenial mixer in the perennial garden, spreading moderately to form a bright patch of thick soft blades. While 'Blue and Gold' is my favourite, there are 75 species of spiderwort to choose from, coming in shades of white, mauve, pink and purple, as well as bi-colour versions.
Technical stuff – Spiderwort/Tradescantia ‘Blue and Gold’, hardy perennial to zone 4, height and spread of about 20”, sun to part shade, likes moist soil, summer bloomer.
Japanese forest grass, or Hakonechloa macra, specifically the variegated golden and green ‘Aureola’, brightens the part shade garden. The mounding striped foliage gently sways and rustles in the breeze, emulating waves of water for a calming, cool effect. The slow-spreading clumps take a year or two to establish, wanting to secure roots first, but then they mix amicably adding contrast and texture. The shade garden tapestry gains a dazzle of lemon-lime amongst its soft purples, grays and greens. Above, a daylily or campanula intermingles, lending their exquisite blooms to embellish the graceful grass. The rustling blades dry to a papery brown with wonderful winter interest as they capture and hold fluffy snow. Japanese forest grass will survive in full sun to full shade, but prefers part shade. The greens are stronger in a shadier siting, and the yellows are stronger with more sun. I plan to try the cultivar ‘Nicolas’, whose greens burnish to reds and oranges in the fall.
Technical stuff – Japanese forest grass/Hakonechloa macra, perennial grass hardy to zone 5, height and spread of about 12-24”, prefers part shade but will tolerate full shade to full sun, likes moisture but is adaptable.
I often get asked, what is your favourite perennial? It’s like asking a foodie what is your favourite flavor – just impossible to narrow down to one! But always in my top ten would fall coral bells. I love the variety in leaf colour, pattern and texture. Coral bells’ foliage enriches the garden show from spring to frost. Orderly clumps of rounded leaves add to the garden brocade with an incredible variety of offerings: classic green with spritely coral blooms bouncing on tall stems, to leaves of marmalade, deep purple, russet, green with maroon veining, grey green…palace purple was one of the first rich colours to arrive in greenhouses, and though quite common now, still a fave. The variety names are as much fun as the plants: caramel, lime rickey, green spice, solar power, berry smoothie, chocolate ruffles, electra and many, many more. Some have white or pink bell blooms adding to the variety. The blooms do make a long lasting, varied interest cut flower for bouquets. Coral bells can also double duty as a wonderful container plant, mixing with other foliage favourites like coleus, for a lavish part sun display.
Technical stuff – Coral bells/heuchera, hardy perennial to Zone 4, leaf clump height about 12” with flowers stemming up to 36” and spread of 12”+, full sun to part shade preferring light shade with moist, average to rich well drained soil, blooms late spring to summer.
Many colour descriptors come into play for the foliage of this ‘chocolate’ plant – bronze, green, black, purple, brown, burgundy – and depending on the season, and the slant of the light, they are all correct! Chocolate boneset is known for its indulgent foliage - the spring foliage has the richest colour that fades to a more simple green moving into bloom season (photos below are September colour). I also like the burgundy stems that provide even more interest. It is a great backdrop for other plants through the spring and summer, and then launches its own display of elegant white lacy blooms in late summer through the fall.
Technical stuff: Eupatorium rugosum ‘chocolate’, is actually related to common Joe Pye Weed, hardy perennial, 3’-4’ tall, full sun to full shade, happy in any soil conditions once established, white blooms late summer through the fall, drought tolerant, easy care.