Good-looking leaves

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Leaf of Tropaeolum majus - the common nasturtium

We may think of winter as a time when plants are leafless or their foliage scruffy (especially semi-tropical types) - but while that is true of a number of specimens, there are others whose leaves are at their very best in July! I have written previous blogs about the value of evergreen native and exotic shrubs in winter, and the warming glow of golden-leaved shrubs and perennials at this time of year, so today I went searching for other sources of good-looking winter foliage.

Lush winter foliage of Amaryllis belladonna

The first thing I noticed was how the leaves of spring-flowering bulbs is so attractive at this time - tall, straight and healthy. Some, like the snowflakes (Leucojum) and jonquils, are already showing their blooms amongst the lush foliage, but others - such as Babiana, Watsonia, bluebells and Freesia - make an impact purely by their fresh, fan-like clumps of leaves. Yes, we know it will be hideous when it dies down after flowering, but in July I enjoy anything so perky and so promising of pretty flowers to arrive before too long. Belladonna lilies, which flower in February, have gorgeous luxuriant leaves now, resembling a verdant fountain. In my garden, they are a welcome distraction from the ugly skeletons of Hydrangea bushes behind them. Again, this is foliage that is vile when it dies down, but by then other perennials will have grown up around the bulbs and I push the untidy leaves amongst these to disguise their decline.

Foliage of Lunaria annua var. albiflora Alba Variegata

Another source of thriving foliage is that belonging to spring-flowering annuals. I don't grow many of them these days - only those that effortlessly self-seed from year to year - but the ones I found in my garden today all looked healthy and plush, and I noted the variety of leaf shapes and textures that annuals have: from the sleek green plates of nasturtiums, to the fine feathers of love-in-a-mist and Orlaya, the frilly rosettes of Viola tricolor, the sumptuous white-edged hearts of variegated honesty and the furry, rounded leaves of Primula malacoides. Again, these plants give us hope of spring by their determined, active growth through winter, and in the meantime delight the eye with their flourishing leaves.

Foliage of Geranium phaeum cultivar, possibly Samobor

Other plants that caught my eye included some of the species Geranium that have survived in my garden. I have tried many of these over the years, but few proved truly suitable for the Sydney climate. Varieties of Geranium phaeum do well, and the dark-blotched leaves of cultivars such as 'Samobor' look fabulous at the moment. Geranium macrorrhizum is another good doer in Sydney and its neat, scalloped foliage looks particularly attractive at the moment. Interestingly, the foliage of their cousins the fancy-leaved Pelargonium cultivars, is also at its very best in winter.

Foliage of Salvia Omaha Gold in winter

The amazing ornate leaves of Acanthus mollis are at their very best now - luxurious and shiny. The gold-leaf form ('Hollard's Gold') is particularly beautiful. I grow mine next to another plant with excellent winter foliage: Salvia 'Omaha Gold'. It has leaves marked with gold, the variegation being particularly pronounced in winter and accompanied by deep blue flowers to complete the picture.

Other perennials that stood out as I strolled around the garden today included Ajuga, whose leaves gleamed as if polished; the many succulents I grow in pots, including Kalanchoe species and cultivars, Crassula and Echeveria; rhizomatous Begonia; Lamium cultivars; and the dainty leaves of violets - which have the added bonus of their cute fragrant blooms right now.

In a few weeks, winter will be on the wane - till then, I am enjoying what July has to offer!