Saturday, September 24, 2011

Garden Bloggers' Foliage Day - September, 2011

Christina, who writes from Italy on her blog, Creating my Own Garden of the Hesperides,  has started a new meme focusing on foliage.

This is particularly timely for us because this summer, we planted the skeleton of our first garden bed that is dedicated to foliage.

Inspired by Nancy Ondra's  book Foliage, many of the plants in the bed do bloom but all were chosen for the architectural and textural interest their foliage brought to the garden.

Our foliage garden is nestled under a large maple tree, so it's heavily shaded.  We've planted an assortment of hostas, heucheras, ferns, and some ground-covering vines.  We still have a lot of work to do on it - it won't be finished until next year - but once we started looking beyond blooms, it opened up an amazing array of possibilities for us. Even though some of the plants in the bed do bloom, their blossoms are far less interesting than their leafy elements and we chose them for their leaves.

Focusing on this bed has made us more aware of the beauty of the foliage surrounding us in the other beds, even foliage of plants that are prized for their blooms. Here is a sampling.

The leaves of the Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) are just beginning to acquire the scarlet color that makes them such a showstopper in the fall.
This heuchera ordinarily has deep burgundy - bronze leaves during the summer. In the fall, as the plant goes dormant, the leaves turn to shades of sage and gold.
The variegated leaves of this heuchera have made a wonderful contrast with other elements of the foliage bed.
Hostas and other foliage plants that are starting to fill in the foliage bed. At back is a screen formed by the as yet untrimmed branches of the neighbor's weeping willow which was damaged by Hurricane Irene.
English Ivy cascades from our cottage beds onto our front walk. We let it grow untrimmed this year as our neighbors are replacing a retaining wall that they wanted to plant with ivy. They are almost ready to plant it, and when it goes in, it will have plenty of growth to cascade over the edge.
Penny-wort and variegated water iris in the water garden.
One of our climbing roses, New Dawn, sent up several new canes. I love how the stem, leaves, and thorns are tinged with burgundy.
After surviving severe winter injury, our sand cherry tree is enjoying life as a shrub. It is fully leaved out, healthy, and has numerous new shoots and branches.
We have several beds of stachys growing in different parts of the garden.
Astilbe in the foreground, blue spruce and potentilla on the rocks in the background.
The herb garden. Clockwise from upper right: Clematis Betty Corning on the fence, anise hyssop, Italian flat parsley, lemon balm (a volunteer), Texas tarragon (yellow flowers bottom left), basil "Mozzarella"  (left) and purple basil (center).
Be sure to visit Christina's blog for a show of foliage and share some of your own garden examples.


  1. Hi Cathy - Great post! I love your combination of Penny-wort and variegated water iris. Lovely!
    PS: I mentioned you in my Foliage Day post - thank you for recommebdation of Nan Ondra's book! I'm loving it.

  2. Hi Cathy, foliage is one of my greatest challenges! I had a fit last year and pulled out most of my stachys - boy did I regret it! Thanks for the idea, I look forward to reading more.

  3. Dear Cathy and Steve, your foliage plants look lovely. I basically prefer foliage plants because they are so restful, and the differences more subtle than bright petals. But I have just started to follow the meme for garden bloggers bloom day, and I don't think i can cope with another meme to remember (or forget as the case may be) just now. cheers, catmint

  4. Do you find that the Sand Cherry has a lot of pests? It has been on my wish list - I love the foliage color! Your iris/penny-wort combo is very nice. I also like your variegated coral bells. I think I finally found a place for my coral bells to well. I have been working on a couple shade gardens...I mostly have sunny gardens :) I hate it when the heuchera leaves get all dried up. Are those hosta really yellow (by the willow) or is it the sunlight?

  5. Christine, we're touched that you mentioned us on your blog.... I have to tell you, I love Nancy Ondra's books. We have almost every one she ever wrote LOL. We should start a fan club!

    Alison, the good thing about stachys is that it's hard to get rid of LOL. We have it in several locations in the garden. It sends out volunteers everywhere, and we dig them up and move them to the places we want them (or give them away).

    Catmint, there is another excellent monthly foliage meme that I'd wanted to be part of but it came the day after the garden bloggers bloom day, and that was just too hard for me. But I understand... there are so many excellent ones out there, but I have had to pick just a few to participate in regularly. ;)

    NHGarden, that bright yellow really IS the color of those hosta. I've got two rows of them, about 8 plants in all. I got them at Wal-Mart a few years ago and they were listed generically, without a cultivar name, but I will make a note to dig some for you in the spring.

    As for the sand cherry, we absolutely love it and were devastated when we almost lost it this spring. If you go back in our blog, you'll find some of the updates that tell the story of this poor tree, which a snow plow slammed into and split nearly in two, destroying many branches in the process.

    Last year something nibbled on the leaves (an unidentified something - we never witnessed what it was, just saw the evidence). We sprayed with canola oil and dish soap and that solved the problem. We sprayed it a couple of times this year as well, just to be sure, and there is not a single nibble on any leaf.

    The sand cherry blooms in the spring and is covered with tiny pink blossoms that have a perfume that you can smell from 20 feet away. It's an amazing tree. We give it two thumbs up. If we had the room, I'd plant one in back too!

  6. Lovely foliage and a great idea for a meme. I hate to see burning bush recommended though. It is in the top 10 invasive plants for the northeast. We are battling it on my small island in Maine.

  7. You have such a beautiful garden! I've only really started thinking about foliage this winter (just past for us), even though I've been gardening for decades. I wonder if I can get hold of that book? Have to check it out.

  8. Carolyn, I'm not recommending them (burning bushes) per se - and certainly not for areas where they are going to be left to their own devices and allowed to grow at will.

    My understanding is that their tendency toward being invasive is primarily a problem where they have been allowed to naturalize along highways or in pastures and woodlands because they out compete native plants and take over. When they are planted in urban areas as ornamentals, there doesn't seem to be as much of an issue with them growing out of control, probably because routine pruning keeps them under control.

    There were 5 mature burning bushes already planted here when Steve bought the house 10 years ago. I considered digging them all up. We quit after the first one. The root system was so extensive, we needed a back hoe to get it out.

    That said, we have not had a single seedling develop from any of the remaining 4 in the 8 years we've lived here since we got married and I think it's because we prune them hard in the late spring so they never bloom, don't produce berries, and therefore never produce seeds.

    Now monarda, that was another story altogether. I planted a single pot when I started my first butterfly garden and within two years, it had totally took over. Over the course of 2 summers, it pretty much choked out everything else, destroyed my iris collection, and very nearly killed all of my white rhodies too.

    Last year was the first year we had no volunteers pop up anywhere... it took almost 6 years to control it because I made the very serious mistake of tossing it into the compost pile when I pulled it up. (Don't even say it LOL. I KNOW.) Every time I see it on someone's blog I get a craving to grow some, and I saw a dwarf plant that looked gorgeous, but I am really skittish about ever trying it again.

    I'm sorry that burning bushes are causing such a problem on your island. If it is growing "wild" in the woodlands, you can hardly be out there pruning it the way we do, and I can very much appreciate what a nightmare it must be to have it growing out of control.

    I think that many plants and shrubs have the ability to become invasive and threaten natural ecosystems. I've always been very concerned about well-intended but sometimes misguided planting of non-native plants in areas where they will be left to their own devices and not cultivated or kept in line. They're kind of like teenagers... you need to set firm limits and if you don't, you end up with a teen (or a burning bush) that is totally out of control. Not a good thing.

    Lyn, you should be able to get it from, which is international, or contact Nancy Ondra via her blog. She is on Blotanical. Her blog is Hayefield. That book has been indispensable for me in putting together our foliage garden. She even has me cultivating weeds LOL.

  9. Love the beauty and variety of your foliage. I'm intrigued with the banter over Burning Bush. We love Burning Bush in this part of the world. It is a beautiful border shrub in our gardens. Never invasive and always minds it p's and q's. The brilliant reds of the burning bush in Autumn is always welcome.

  10. Hi, Carolyn. I'm delighted you enjoyed the post!

    Although the burning bush is not considered a threat to your woodlands in Utah (at least not as of this time), here in New England and in several other states as well, it is causing some serious problems.

    Where it has been allowed to naturalize outside of the confines of an ornamental garden, it readily spreads through meadows, fields, and woodlands, completely taking over and eventually eliminating the plants and trees that grow there naturally.

    Given the chance, it can completely displace the understory in mature forests and overtake meadows and fields, eliminating both the natural habitat and the food sources for wild animals. When it gets a foot hold, whole ecosystems are turned upside down.

    Before the aggressive habits of this shrub were fully understood, burning bushes were used extensively in both private and commercial landscaping. They were even planted in the fields along highways in an effort to "beautify" the countryside.

    Rate of growth of these shrubs can be very variable, even within a relatively small geographic area. Plants that are maintained in a controlled garden situation may not pose a risk to the local environment, especially if they are regularly pruned and not allowed to flower or produce fruit.

    Unfortunately, if the shrubs are allowed to grow naturally, even in a well maintained garden, and they produce fruit, birds who eat the fruit will disperse the seeds with far reaching consequences.

    Burning bushes that are used as a hedge or a foundation planting are often kept closely pruned and that helps keep them under control. Unfortunately, gardens get neglected and even a few berries can start a chain of events that can rapidly spin out of control.

    Here in Massachusetts, they were planted extensively for decades so there is no shortage of shrubs that were planted long before they were banned. I see them everywhere I look - the shopping mall parking lot, school yard, all around the foundation of the doctor's office, and my own and my neighbor's yards.

    In the immediate area surrounding where I live, there is no sign of the kind of pernicious spread and destruction of woodland habitats that is occurring just a few miles from here. But the problem is very real and very serious nonetheless.

    It may be that the native plants in your area can compete effectively or outpace them and if so, you may never have a problem with them spreading out of control as has happened here. But in the right set of circumstances, the danger these bushes pose to the environment is substantial and unfortunately, once the genie has been let out of the bottle, it's really hard to rein it back in. My guess is that horticulturalists in your state are monitoring them very carefully for evidence of a problem, but forewarned is forearmed.

  11. You have a beautiful, beautiful garden! So many treats to the have obviously put a lot of love and work into it!

  12. Hi Cathy and Steve, I bought the book! I went to The Book Depository, which is my first online choice for books, and it arrived today, can't wait to start reading it. Thanks for the recommendation.

  13. Thanks for visiting, Hanni! So glad you enjoyed our garden.

    Lyn, I'm delighted you found the book.... I trust you'll enjoy it as much as I do, both for the plant choices and for the wonderful charts and tables that help you find suitable plant options for any spot based on color, size, and light requirements. I never appreciated chartreuse or blue-green leaf color before I read this!


Thank you for leaving a comment for us. We try to reply to each one here on the blog so feel free to ask questions and we will respond. Do be sure to subscribe to the comments so you will receive our reply by email. Otherwise, you can email us for a more personal, detailed reply to a query.

Spam Alert: Spammers, our spam blocker keeps most of you out and the few that slip through with inappropriate links, we immediately delete so you probably shouldn't even waste your time.

Everyone else, do have a great gardening day!