Foliage cop-out club claims new card-carrying member
Posted: Tuesday, July 20, 2010 8:02 pm
By JIMMY WILLIAMS
Special to The Messenger
It is axiomatic in gardening — and garden writing — circles that appreciation of foliage and its value increases with the age, experience and (supposed) expertise of the gardener or author.
I have been known, in the past when I was younger, to berate that foliage claim as nothing more than a cop-out for those who experience failure at maintaining color in their gardens throughout the season. That was then and this is now.
My May and June garden burgeoned with excellent (ahem) foliage, while at the same time offering disappointment aplenty at its lack of bloom. I am joining the cop-out club.
Things (here meaning flowers) are looking up as we speak, and there will be no dearth (I hope) of blossom color from here on in until hard frost. Summer phloxes, woody hydrangeas, salvias and on almost ad infinitum, are in the wings, or already in flight, and there’s our color.
Those things weren’t around to help back in May and June. What did help were the unfurling leaves of hostas, specks of delicate fresh needles on conifers, some late azaleas (i.e. Gumpos and Macranthas), a few rhododendrons that hadn’t yet died, heucheras of maroon and chartreuse, the gray filigreed foliage of Powis Castle artemisia and some few early perennials.
Achillea, or yarrow, is valuable for its relatively early bloom, from May into June. Achillea millefolium is the best known species, with flat heads of flowers ranging from pink to yellow and red. My grouping of a pink one is some 20 years old now, never having been piddled with except to control its claim on new territory. It is adventuresome at the root and every spring must have outlyers pulled out. The specific epithet millefolium denotes its propensity to grow from one to one thousand as soon as possible.
My yarrow grows to two feet or more at the front of a border and flops. This can be mitigated by cutting the plant(s) back to a few inches when they are 18 inches tall, delaying bloom a little. Invariably, I chicken out and cut back too little and too soon, with the result being no result. It still gets too tall and flops. Well, wait until next year. I’ll do the deed or its gone.
Among the aforesaid foliage in that same border is one plant of Rose Glow (sometimes labeled Rosy Glow) barberry. It grows to about five feet and the young leaves are marbled with maroon and pink. Later they will settle down to more maroon, but with timely cutting back new flushes of the brighter leaves will continue.
Nearby is what used to be called tovara, but now is Persicara virginiana (I think), a foliage plant par excellence. It does flower, insignificantly, and the tiny red spikes should be removed before they cause mischief in the form of fecund seeding.
The variety Painter’s Palette is the one you will find, with yellow, green and grayish leaves and a maroon chevron on each. If the leaves get too burnt in late summer, they can be cut back for a secondary flush. They are never finer, however, than they are in May and June. It is totally winter hardy.
Related is Persicaria amplexicaulis in the variety Red Dragon. This too, is primarily a foliage plant but produces little white baby’s breath-type flowers late in the season.
Capable of growing to four feet and wider than that, it can be snipped back to half as much any time. The leaves are maroon (there it is again) with a darker chevron of brown. In shade the combination greens up, while in full sun the first flush of leaves is a fine deep red. It erupts in May and looks good until frost.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 7.20.10