Every garden, vegetable or ornamental, includes many shades of green, and yet so much of our attention is on color. We look for blooming trees and shrubs, we consider how to combine colors in the flower garden and we even welcome unusual colors in the vegetable garden – rainbow chard, purple carrots, nearly black cherry tomatoes. And yet green is the overarching color in our gardens and requires consideration in its own right.
Having said I will focus on low growing plants with green foliage today, it must be said that many of the plants I mention will also have flowers. However, flowers often appear for just a short period of the season.
In early spring the first plants to make themselves known are ground covers like lady’s mantle, Alchemilla mollis, and foam flower, Tiarella cordifolia. Lady’s mantle is famous for the way it collects drops of rain water on its gray-green scalloped leaves. It is the fine hairs on the foliage that account for the velvety soft color, and the plants ability to turn drops of rain or dew into a jeweled adornment. It produces airy chartreuse blossoms on fine stems in late May or early June. It is a foot or so tall and each plant will spread to about two and a half feet. It is happy in sun or dappled shade especially if the soil is moist.
Tiarella cordifolia is a clumping plant just under a foot tall. It will send out runners and spreads beautifully. Its bright green leaves are also scalloped, but smaller than those of lady’s mantle. It blooms in May, sending up airy racemes of pink or white flowers that will rise a foot or more above the foliage. The blooms can be snipped off when they begin to die to keep the plant neat. Tiarella thrives in part or full shade and prefers moist soil.
Wild gingers also make excellent ground covers. There is Asarum canadensis which is a native ginger. The stemless dull green kidney shaped foliage will not grow more than a foot tall. It does produce a small brownish blossom but it is not notable or very noticeable. I have Asarum europaneum, which is not native, but whose leaves are shiny and leathery. It stays at a height of six inches and spreads slowly. Both asarums will grow in shade or part shade and prefer moist or even wet sites.
While I have been concentrating on plants that welcome moist locations I also have a spot for epimediums, sometimes called bishop’s hat, which thrives in dry shade. Garden Visions nursery in Templeton offers an amazing array of these sturdy little plants with airy blossoms that appear in the spring. I have E. rubrum with a reddish border on the green foliage and delicate pink flowers, as well as E. sulphureum which has yellow flowers. The heart shaped green leaves are handsome into the fall.
I do not grow hostas. In Heath hostas were a losing battle with the deer, but the truth is I do not like the blossoms and that kept hostas out of my garden. I know, I know. I could just cut off the blossom, stalks, and now that I am in town, maybe I will. The truth is there is a world of color, size and texture in the hosta world.
A few years ago I was on a garden tour in Buffalo and environs. We made a stop at renowned hosta expert Michael Shadrack’s fabulous garden with its enormous collection of hostas and daylilies. Hostas are not groundcovers, but they do cover a lot of ground at the edges of mixed beds or as an important statement of their own.
Hostas come in a full range of green from deep dark green, bright green, golden green, blue green, and many patterns of variegation. They also come in a full range of sizes. As I was going through my Shadrack Pocket Guide to Hostas I came upon a single large Liberty hosta which can grow to 40 inches wide with leaves “dark blue-green turning green, widely margined with golden yellow turning ivory-cream toward the mid-rib.”
Shadrack was very fond of miniature hostas, and I could join him in that affection. There are many tiny hostas like the six inch Mouse Ears with its blue-green round-ish foliage and Tears of Joy which is only four inches tall and with grassier brighter foliage.
Hakone grass, Hakonechola macra, is a bright green ornamental grass from Japan that has become more and more popular. This graceful grass grows to a foot tall or more and several varieties give a choice of shades of green and gold that will turn shades of pink or golden orange in the fall.
I have a bit of “Aureola” in my garden with slim variegated leaves in bright green striped with gold. “Naomi” is creamy gold and green in the summer but in the fall it turns a rich shade of purple-red. “Nicholas” is solid green in summer but cool autumn temperatures turn it stunning shades of red, orange and gold.
The term green foliage does not tell you very much, but shades of green with a variety of textures can make a brilliant arrangement in your garden I find the mostly green array of plants at the Shelburne entrance of the Bridge of Flowers perfectly beautiful. I always stop to admire the serene arrangements before I go on to the amazing color and form on the Bridge itself. Serenity is as important to me in my garden as is joyous color. I have room for every mood.###
Between the Rows April 29, 2-17