It’s the height of summer, there are flowers everywhere. Come winter, it’ll be hard to keep this meme going as there’ll be so much less going on. At least there’ll be the foliage plants to fall back on.
When I worked on a nursery customers would come in wanting to know what a plant they’d seen somewhere was. They would describe the flowers, perhaps show you a picture taken on their phone. You’d ask what the leaves were like and they wouldn’t have a clue.
My six this week are all primarily grown for their foliage. They are all providing stirling service at this time of year as focal points, background or ground cover. They are all as it happens, antipodeans. They deserve better than to be overlooked.
One. Ozothamnus hookeri. A neat, compact bush that has reached around 75cm height and width with us, though this one is a bit less than that. It is native to alpine and sub alpine areas in Australia and Tasmania and is tolerant of quite wet ground. It needs to be grown in full sun to stay compact. The stems are less than 1mm in diameter, with the leaves tightly pressed to them. Tiny dull white flowers are produced at the shoot tips in mid summer, strongly honey scented though not, as far as I have observed, attractive to insects.
There is a variety of Ozothamnus called ‘Sussex Silver’ which is sometimes listed as a variety of O. hookeri, which has much stouter stems and grows much more vigorously. It may have O. hookeri in its parentage but is a very different and IMO inferior plant.
Two. Astelia chathamica. For many years this was sold as Astelia ‘Silver Spear’, though the RHS Plantfinder always gave that as synonymous with Astelia chathamica. It comes from the Chatham Islands, which are east of New Zealand at the same latitude as central South Island. Here in Cornwall I have never had any concerns about its hardiness. Mine has always been in an open position, getting full sun for most of the day, though it is said to prefer light shade and to be one of the few silver leaved plants happy to grow in such situations. In New Zealand Astelia species seem usually to grow in shade, on the forest floor or as epiphytes, but the light levels out there are much higher than here. For me its key merits are that it has grown to about 1m in height and stopped, and is as bright and silvery after twenty years or more as it was when planted. Compared to Phormiums, those are real positives.
Three. Blechnum penna-marina. This small, spreading fern is native to South America, Australia and New Zealand. As far as I know the forms usually grown in the UK are from New Zealand. In my garden it is growing in shade and spreads at a moderate rate of around 20cm a year. It makes a very dense carpet and smothers weeds effectively. The neat evergreen foliage is attractive all year but especially when making new growth in spring, the new leaves being held upright and having a reddish-bronze colour. I have had sporelings spring up away from the main clump very occasionally but the usual method of propagation would be by dividing the clump. I haven’t always found it easy to re-establish.
Four. Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Elizabeth’. I remember when this was introduced that the suppliers made much of it being a hardy selection. With ever milder winters that is less relevant than it was in the south, but perhaps means it would be a good choice to try in colder areas of the country. One of the features of the variety was that it acquired strong pink tones in cold winter weather, an effect that has been barely noticeable on my plant for most of the past decade or so. The leaves are quite large, with a bold white margin, the habit is upright and quite narrow, to an eventual height of 5m or so. The dark purple flowers are strongly fragrant, though hardly showy. Most evergreens have dark foliage; it is the lightness of this that is its best attribute.
Five. Muhlenbeckia astonii. A divaricating coastal shrub from New Zealand which emphatically qualifies as interesting rather than showy as a garden plant. Very slender zig-zag stems, tiny leaves and when it produces them, transparent flowers about 5mm across; what’s not to love. It’ll be either male or female, one day I shall examine its bits with a hand lens to try and determine which.
Six. Chionochloa rubra. I was astonished to find pictures of this plant that I took in 2000, when it was not much smaller than it is now. I grew it from seed that I purloined from a well known garden, presumably quite a few years earlier still. The tallest of the very slender leaves on my plant have now reached 1.8m in height, with the flower spikes emerging rather lower and not adding much to the effect. There is very little build up of dead leaves in the clump, so maintenance is essentially zero. I have managed to raise some seedlings from it, but many sowings have come to nothing. It has been used to great effect as an accent plant by Keith Wiley at both The Garden House and Wildside. With hindsight, I’d have planted it further away from the path which it now blocks.
So that’s this Saturday’s contribution. Check out meme host ThePropagator for more of the same, or more of the different. See you next week.