This time last year, I wrote a blog about some of the hot-coloured flowers that can give us a sense of warmth during the coldest days of winter. Another source of cheery colour is foliage, and the leaves that take my eye at the moment are those of a golden hue. They really seem to brighten up the garden scene and distract me from the bare branches of deciduous trees and shrubs.Those that tolerate shade are especially valuable to bring colour into gloomy areas of the garden.
One of my all-time favourite shrubs is the cultivar of Duranta known as 'Sheena's Gold'. It keeps its good looks all year round and can be clipped to a formal shape or trained as a hedge. It can grow to 3m tall, but I try to maintain mine to a rounded shape of 2m. It can grow in sun or shade - in shade the leaves will have more of a lime colour, whereas in full sun it will really be gold. The leaves are an excellent backdrop to some of the bright flowers of winter, such as Kniphofia 'Zululandii', Justicia rizzinii, and Tagetes lemmonii as well as the pretty blue flowers of the Salvia rubiginosa that are out now.
The beautiful form of Acanthus mollis known as 'Hollard's Gold' (ht 1m), pictured at the start of this blog, is at its very best in winter, when its shiny leaves form a stunning lime-gold mound. It grows best in shade and in a position where it will not be smothered by other plants. Like all Acanthus, once it is planted, it is hard to ever get rid of it, so choose its site wisely.
Another pure gold specimen is a shrubby succulent Sedum (ht 50cm), which has bold fleshy leaves held in loose rosettes. Unfortunately, I don't know the species or cultivar name of it but it is an excellent plant for Sydney gardens. Plain gold foliage like this looks good grown near leaves with gold variegations. Shrubby Euonymus japonicus 'Aureus' (ht 1.5m ) is one of my all-time favourite stalwarts of this type, and it looks good every single day of the year with its leathery yellow and green leaves. It is pictured earlier in the blog, nearby to the golden Duranta. I also like to grow yellow flowers nearby to echo the variegation of its leaves: Reinwardtia indica - sometimes known as linum - is a pretty, winter-flowering small shrub that is a perfect companion. Yellow jonquils also look effective growing around the Euonymus.
Another gold-variegated foliage specimen is Aucuba japonica 'Variegata', a shrub that has been grown for many years in Sydney gardens, valued for its ability to tolerate dry shade. Sometimes called the gold dust plant, its glossy green leaves are dappled with golden-yellow markings, and it grows slowly but steadily over the years to reach an ultimate height of around 1.8m.
For smaller spaces, there are other gilded options. I have always grown a gold-leafed form of zonal Pelargonium, which can create an excellent pool of bright colour, again in sun or shade. It needs to be clipped back every so often to keep it in good shape. It needs a dryish position. All types of fancy-leaf Pelargonium seem to look at their very best in winter. There are various named forms of the golden one that can be obtained from specialist geranium nurseries, but most gardeners I know have obtained theirs from cuttings from other people's gardens: these strike readily.
At groundcover level, dainty Sedum mexicanum 'Gold Mound' forms a mat of finely dissected fleshy foliage. It will grow in sun or shade, and tolerates dryness. The golden form of creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea') also forms a lovely carpet of rounded leaves in sun or part shade. This plant does need some moisture to do well. I like to interweave it with a plain green-leaved groundcover such as Veronica peduncularis 'Georgia Blue' (syn. 'Oxford Blue'), which does well in Sydney gardens. It is effective to grow a golden-leaved groundcover around the base of a plant with golden blooms, such as the Helleborus foetidus 'Gold Bullion' pictured here with the Sedum. This lovely hellebore also has golden new spring foliage, which ages to chartreuse.
Foliage is fun and all these golden leaves will be with you in the garden for much longer than any flower!
To all my regular readers: I am taking a short break but I will be back in a fortnight with further garden musings.
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