There are some plants in the garden that are so undemanding that we tend to take them for granted. They grow away quietly, their blooms may not be spectacular but they make a very positive contribution to the garden when their season comes, and so deserve to have the spotlight on them at that time. Such is the case with the so-called the turf lily, Liriope, which hails from China, Vietnam, Taiwan and Japan.
This is a tough little perennial (ht 30-60 cm) that grows as an arching clump of shiny, slim, evergreen leaves and is happy to grow in dry, shady spots, although will also cope with some sun. It is starting to flowers now, sending up little spikes of tightly clustered bell-like blooms, rather reminiscent of the grape hyacinth, Muscari, which sadly doesn't do very well in our Sydney gardens, but lends its name to one species of Liriope: Liriope muscari. The most basic form has plain green leaves with purple flower spikes; 'Monroe White' has white blooms. They look effective grown with contrasting rounded leaves, such as those of the succulent London pride (Crassula multicava) or any of the ground-covering rhizomatous Begonias. It is excellent used as an edging alongside paths.
There are forms of Liriope with white-variegated leaves, such as 'Variegata'; others (such as 'Gold-banded') have leaves striped with limey-gold, paired with purple flowers, which make a very pretty groundcover in shady places if massed-planted beneath shrubs. To emphasise the variegation in the foliage, place it nearby a plain gold-leaved plant, such as Duranta 'Sheena's Gold' or golden money-penny (Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea'). It is also attractive grown under the purple form of Plectranthus ecklonii, which often starts blooming in February and also like shade, or its smaller cousin Plectranthus 'Mona Lavender'.
Liriope muscari 'Samantha' has plump lavender-pink blooms, and looks very effective nestled amongst the groundcover Plectranthus 'Nico', which has purple veins and undersides on its quilted foliage, or the dark purple leaves of Tradescantia pallida 'Purpurea' or stripy Tradescantia zebrina. Liriope muscari 'Pee Dee Ingot' has all-gold foliage, but so far doesn't seem as robust as the others. The unusual Liriope muscari 'Okina' has superb white leaves in spring, that become variegated with green over summer, but still remaining very striking: it looks good paired with white flowers or silver foliage.
'Evergreen Giant' grows to 80cm or more and is an excellent foliage plant in shade, giving the effect of an ornamental grass and providing good foliage contrast to broad-leaved plants such as Clivia, Alocasia, Begonia and bromeliads. It has purple flowers, though these are often hidden by the leaves, which are its main attraction.
Another species is Liriope spicata, and 'Silver Dragon' (or more correctly 'Gin-ryu', which I have never seen it actually sold as), with greyish-green leaves with a white stripe, is one of its cultivars. It has pale lilac flowers. This looks effective growing with silver foliage plants such as Plectranthus argentatus, or with white-flowered specimens such as white hellebores or snowflakes to echo its white leaf stripes. This species is more inclined to spread, as it has a rhizomatous growth habit, and is sometimes referred to as the creeping turf lily.
All Liriope plants may produce black berries in autumn after the flowers fade. The foliage can become a bit shabby over winter, especially in colder regions, and can be cut off (or even mown over!) in late August and new leaves will grow to replace the old. Propagation is by division of the clumps in winter or spring.
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Coleus can make wonderful pictures in the garden.
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Earlier this year, I visited Callan Park in Sydney's inner west.