It’s a long time since I wrote about foliage in the garden and yet it is such an important element. I use it a lot, not just as a foil for my flowers but to create an atmosphere of its own. I love to use green to make enticing paths like this ancient brick path which is lined with ferns and earlier in the season tall angelica. Overhanging the path is an old mulberry tree on one side and an ancient apple tree overhangs the wall on the other side. The red rose is a jarring note and I will probably move it.
You approach it through this gate at the other end.
Half way down the path this Kalopanax septemlobus looks quite exotic with its spiny bark and big leaves..
But today I want to talk about my Henri Rousseau, jungle garden. I have made a little path of stepping stones leading in to it and I like the green tunnel effect tempting you in to what looks like a hidden path.
The jungly effect of this part of the garden is enhanced by the bright, bold colours of the dahlias and other flowers, but more importantly, it is the foliage which is even more effective and eventually it will probably create too much shade for the dahlias. But that is fine because I love the jungly effect of interesting foliage. The leaves of this Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’ are enormous and it is suckering and spreading so it is clearly happy here. Behind it is the hardy banana Musa basjoo which is forming a nice clump. Even though it is reasonably hardy, I give it a fleecy jacket in winter. To the right is the black bamboo, Phyllostachys nigra.
I have another type of hardy banana relation called Musella lasiocarpa or the Golden Lotus banana which is supposed to have spectacular golden lotus type flowers. It is still young but it survived last winter outside.
The foxglove tree, Paulownia tomentosa has huge leaves too if you cut it down in the spring. You sacrifice the flowers this way but I grow it for the bold leaves.
More height is provided by this tall reed Arundo donax var. ‘Versicolor’ another present from the jetty garden.
I love it with the fingers of Schleffera taiwaniana next to it
When I made a video of the garden a month or two ago, I said that the next shrub is a Shleffera but I made a mistake, it is actually an unusual Castor Oil plant called Fatsia polycarpa ‘Green Fingers’. I love the shiny, pointed leaves.
Giant plants add to the jungly effect and I have quite a few of these wonderful rare tree dahlias you see in the next picture. The seeds came from New Zealand and they are the result of crosses between the tree dahlia Dahlia imperialis and hybrid garden dahlias. They were produced by Dr Keith Hammett who sent seeds to Matthew at Riverside Bulbs who gave them to me to grow on and he kindly let me keep some. As they are new to this country we don’t know whether I will get any flowers before the first frosts. Dahlia imperialis blooms in the autumn. But never mind I like the size of the plants and it is amazing they have grown so big in their first year from seed.
Next to it is the Eucalyptus gunnii which I chop down each year because I don’t want it to get too big and I like the round, juvenile leaves.
Nearby there is the golden bean tree Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’ which can also be stooled each year to get huge leaves.
Next to the bean tree there are grasses, the evergreen Pittosporum tenuifolium and the grey foliage of Euryops pectinatus. I have found that this is hardy and it produces its yellow daisy flowers early in the spring.
I have a variegated Pittospermum tenuifolium ‘Elizabeth’ here too which is lovely for flower arrangements.
An unusual shrub which is much admired in this part of the garden is Rubus lineatus. It is a lovely plant with pleated leaves and nobody believes it is a member of the blackberry family. I have read that it has edible fruit but mine is three years old now and has never fruited. But I love the foliage.
Quite a few of the foliage plants here are are grown from seeds I have picked up on my travels. The loquat, Eriobotrya japonica came from Italy. I don’t think it will flower or fruit in this country but I love the foliage. Next to it is a cistus which I grew from a seed from Corsica. It has shiny pink flowers in June but I would grow it anyway because I love the silvery grey foliage.
The olive tree in the above picture was a present from my son as it had grown rather too big for its pot on his jetty garden.
On holiday in the Peloponnese in Greece I found the seed for this pretty Melia azedarach tree. I have never seen it growing in the UK so I thought that perhaps it isn’t hardy, but it has lived outside for two years now. So far it has not flowered but it doesn”t matter as I love the foliage.
I like the lacy leaves with the stiff upright foliage of the variegated yucca.
Cannas provide good foliage too. They are easy from seed, or they would be if the seeds weren’t like ball bearings with incredibly tough skins which you are supposed to sand paper before sowing. I managed to take the skin off my finger tips without making much impact on the seeds. Still I did grow this Canna musifolia which has banana type leaves.
I have several red leaved and stripey leaved cannas but my favourite is this variegated one called ‘Stuttgart’.
At ground level I have hostas and ferns and to my amazement a couple of caladiums which I had forgotten I had and they survived outside over winter.
When I first made this jungle garden three years ago the dahlias were the main feature and last year I had an enormous number of additional dahlias which I grew from seed to add to the dahlia delight. I still love them as they bloom from June until the first frosts and are wonderful for picking too. But now that the foliage plants have matured I love them just as much, if not more than the dahlias. Colour comes and goes but the shapes and texture of leaves are a constant joy. And they are so tactile; they can be woolly or silky, shiny, wrinkly or waxy. I can’t remember who wrote that without foliage, flowers just look like colourful hay but I agree with that. Of course, interesting foliage sets flowers off beautifully. But interesting foliage is interesting and beautiful in its own right. I’m not sure if a love of foliage is an acquired taste like oysters which comes to us in maturity. But I love it more and more and I am even contemplating a foliage garden with no flowers at all for my next project. But we will see.