"Finding gold in the shade"

Golden foliage lights up the shade.
Sunday, 20 February 2022     

Potted golden version of Philodendron Xanadu, at left, in the garden of Jill Hankinson in Sydney

One of the best things about gardening is that we never stop learning. Whether it is discovering new plants, finding the name of a plant that has long eluded us, getting an idea about a colour combination or a practical garden tip: there is always something to add to our knowledge, especially when visiting other people's gardens. Last week I visited a lovely Sydney garden with some friends. The sunny front garden was a glorious picture of late summer colour - a profusion of blooms of myriad Canna, Dahlia, Buddleja, Salvia, various species and hybrid Fuchsia, hybrid Lantana and many others. As we explored the shady back garden, we were awestruck by the artistic use of foliage plants to wonderful effect.

Of particular interest to me was the use of shade-tolerant golden, yellow and chartreuse foliage plants, which really are so effective in illuminating areas with reduced light. A simply gorgeous grassy-leaved golden plant repeated several times in the back garden caught my eye and I was quite mesmerised by it. It appears it is likely to be a variety of Japanese sedge: Carex oshimensis 'Evereillo', which has arching, lime-gold leaves and grows best in light or medium shade, to a height of 30-45 cm. I have always airily dismissed Carex as being 'unsuitable for the Sydney climate' after a few failures with other species, but I had to hastily rethink that view, seeing this one and another striped pale yellow and green one (possibly Carex oshimensis 'Evergold') growing very happily here. Another friend in the group confirmed she grows the latter successfully in her Sydney garden. Linear leaves provided by these sorts of plants provide a wonderful foliage contrast against bolder specimens. I resolved to add these to my own garden pronto!

Shrubby golden versions of Duranta and Coprosma provide a colourful background for perennials with leaves of a similar hue in this shaded garden and after tearing myself away from the Carex, I admired a lovely vignette around a seat, with a potted Xanthosoma 'Lime Zinger', with its dramatic 'elephant's ear' leaves and a thriving clump of the golden version of Philodendron 'Xanadu' - another plant that I have had trouble with as it hasn't grown that well in my garden. I learned that day that I need patience as it is a rather slow grower. It could be seen elsewhere in the garden also growing well in a pot (pictured at the start of the blog). The scene was edged with a row gold-striped Liriope muscari, with their purple flower spikes in bloom.

Coleus are excellent shade-dwellers and are much used in this garden. A particularly robust dark-marked, yellowish-gold variety (grown by many in our group, as it was passed on by a past member, a superb gardener) is used in various spots, including near the seat mentioned above, paired with other golden leaves in some spots, Elsewhere it is used very dramatically with a very dark coleus with a faint golden, scalloped edge. Another very handy yellow-leaved plant for shade is Iresine herbstii 'Aureoreticulata', a version of the beefsteak plant. It is a semi-tropical, soft-leaved bushy perennial, which has the form of a shrub and lasts for many years if cut back fairly hard in late winter each year. I also noted a healthy Sanchezia, which also has yellow-veined leaves, growing in the garden and questioned my previous labelling of this plant as too tender for Sydney's winters! I may try it once more!

Another striking lime-gold plant grown in the garden is Begonia 'Golden Girl', with huge, rounded leaves. Not always an easy Begonia to keep going, this one is thriving! It was nestled amongst other shade-loving foliage plants, including Strobilanthes dyeriana (Persian shield) and a dark-leaved Iresine, along with lots of green foliage as a foil to the coloured leaves. Some rhizomatous Begonia have leaves of a similar hue to that of 'Golden Girl' and are excellent groundcovers for shaded gardens.

We departed from the garden with precious cuttings, many ideas and much inspiration!

 Reader Comments

1/6  Lloyd - 4060 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 21 February 2022

Iresine is a plant I ignored to death thinking it a very 'old fashioned' plant when we moved into our Brisbane house in the late seventies. Now, courtesy of cuttings via a plants forum, I have three leaf forms - pointed as in your photo, a rounded form that was here originally (both in bright sunlight) and one with leaves marked green, red and white yet to be planted out. Best in shade? Is the round leaf form included in your categories? We prefer the deeper colour than the pointed version.

2/6  Lloyd - 4060 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 21 February 2022

I was referring to the Iresine photo in the linked item I now realise. Sorry. And I think that variegated version is Iresine herbstii Aureoreticulata - but mine has red flashes on the leaves. I think the pointy leaf version of the yellow one is called 'Formosana'. There may be other variations. Mine does develop occasional red bits. I think they are great plants for shade! Deirdre

3/6  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 22 February 2022

I am a great fan of gold and lime coloured plants in the garden, especially placed in shady areas, as the colours light up a potentially dark area. Grasses have not interested me much, but the gold Carex displayed in Jill's garden has changed my mind, somewhat. Plants of B. 'Golden Girl', B. Listarda, with its lime green stripe in the leaf, Z. 'lime zinger' and lime and golden leaf Coleus are all fabulous in the garden. Thanks, Margaret. I think we were all captivated by the Carex. Those begonias you mention grow very well in your garden! Deirdre

4/6  Jude - 4560 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 22 February 2022

I've long disliked coleus, but since moving to our established garden in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland that has some lovely specimens growing in shade and deep shade, I've learned to love them! And it must be the easiest plant to propagate from cuttings. They do indeed illuminate areas under large trees, a bit like the little carriage lights provided by clivias in bloom. Loved this post--thanks as always! They are such good plants for shade and there are so many different varieties - collecting them can become quite addictive! Deirdre

5/6  Pamela - 2158 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 23 February 2022

Fabulous read as always.I grow Carex very well in my garden, both the golden varieties and the silver striped Carex Feather Falls which is invaluable in many parts.Coleus are great value for so long, overwintering in warmer spots and can last for years here.Iresine is a great filler.Golden foliage is a must in my garden to brighten the grey of the gums, whether in shrubs, trees or perennials its superb.My Alchemy border full of gold & silver foliage is a favourite area in my garden. It's so good to know that the Carexes mentioned grow well in Sydney! I love the sound of your alchemy border, as I would never have thought to mix silver and gold together! Deirdre

6/6  Pamela - 2158 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 23 February 2022

Forgot to say. I have the golden Philodendron in my garden. I grew it in 3 pots for over 5 years then I planted them in a shady corner in the garden. It hardly moves as you said but it is indestructible and every time I walk past and catch the golden glow of its leaves next to the burnt plum coloured Persicaria it delights me. Its good to have plants you can set and forget but always look good. It does survive here and I know what you mean about the colour. I don't have mine any more but I use golden Duranta a lot in shade for the same effect. They do need a bit of pruning to keep them shapely but the colour is great. Deirdre

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