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By kowhai


In my parents’ garden, and in most others at the time, the stress was on flowers rather than foliage. This meant, among other things, that a lot of attention was given to propagating and planting out of annuals, such as the non hardy salvia mentioned in another blog. I recall, among other things, pansies and marigolds as part of the annual planting routine, and, of course, they provided lots of colour —pretty brash colour in the case of the marigolds. Other favourites were cosmos and stock. Distinctive or attractive foliage was a largely unappreciated bonus.

When visiting benchmark quality gardens in the UK, one can’t ignore the attention that is given to foliage display as well as to flowers. The trick is to have an interesting variety of foliage so that, as with flowers, there is variety within a small compass. Coincidentally, I developed a fondness for hostas, a plant which, pre-eminently, is grown for its foliage, since the flowers, though attractive enough, are not really its USP. Over the years, some lessons have been learned about successfully incorporating hostas in such a way that their foliage is highlighted and provides summer long enjoyment.

Firstly, they don’t like a dry site. The hostas planted in our south border didn’t thrive. So, they were transferred to pots.
Secondly, slugs and snails just love hosta foliage. So, the plants have to be robustly protected against these predators. This is more easily accomplished if the hostas are in pots, and one of the most effective slug repellents is in the form of coffee grounds. Over the year, I save these every morning, and by spring, have a covered bucket full of grounds, which are then applied just as the first signs of leaf buds are appearing. Predators are coffee averse.

Thirdly, the potted plants must be well watered and fed during the growth season. Don’t let the pots dry out at any time. It’s almost a case of apply the coffee grounds, water and feed well and regularly, stand back and enjoy.

Having them in pots means that they can be moved about, although with seriously large plantings of hostas, this isn’t easy and is probably best avoided! From season to season, the clumps benefit from being divided. This has the advantage of providing more hostas, and extra plants can be given away as gifts. In fact, several substantial pots of hosta in the garden originated in a gift from Patricia, our next door neighbour. Her gift hosta has thrived, been divided, has multiplied, and next season will provide some useful clumps to give to our daughter-in-law for the garden in their new house.

The other foliage plant which I enjoy is the acanthus. There are three clumps in the garden, one in a large pot. The clump at the eastern end of the south facing border is adjacent to a stand of yellow bamboo, and is interspersed with loosestrife. These make an interesting combination. The large pot on the patio near the house is grouped with a big pot of lime coloured hostas, and a very large pot of day lillies (hemerocallis). So, there are three very different forms and colours of foliage and, in due course, very different types of flower as well.

The hemerocallis, like the hostas and the acanthus, are refugees from the border, where they didn’t really thrive. In their new homes, they have all performed with exceptional vigour and provide a profusion of foliage and, ultimately in the case of the hemerocallis, of flowers. The fact that they last only a day is part of their appeal, and with a good sequence of flowering, they provide a fine display over a couple of weeks at least.

The ephemeral nature of flowers intensifies the enjoyment that can be gained from them. Only the good old faithfuls like the wargrave pink hardy geranium and some of the salvias maintain a lengthy flowering period. For most of the rest, there is a peak period, and the awareness that their flowers are only providing temporary delight is, in fact, a significant part of the reward obtained from cultivating them.

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