Sunday, May 4, 2008

Colour and Contrast in the Shade

And so I begin, on this autumn day in Melbourne I feel compelled to write of a wonderful little plant combination that is dwelling in my backyard.

To some putting together successful combinations of plants may come quite naturally to others the successful combination of plants maybe a bit less intuitive and I confess to being one of the latter.

Before my garden design training I struggled to create successful plant combinations in the garden and have found a few of the principles taught to me a revelation. One of the simplest plant design concepts was to use plants that have complementing and contrasting characteristics. The little grouping below works within this simple guideline. It developed over time as I acquired plants and cuttings from various sources. Living as I do in a rental property I have to be more circumspect on my garden spending than I perhaps would be if the garden was my own.

Anyway back to the plants - the star of the show at this time of year is the lovely native Plectranthus argentatus, with its delicious felty grey leaves and delicate white and purple tinged flowering stems. While it can get a bit leggy a trim here and there soon brings it back into line. An Australian native it is as easy to propagate as a succulent which gives it a big tick in my book.

It is complemented by the blue/green strappy leaves of the Renga renga lily as it is known in New Zealand (Arthropodium cirratum). In this case it is the variety called “Parnell”. In sunnier spots than mine, sprays of white flowers would appear in early summer. In damper conditions this plant is a favourite for snails – however this variety is pretty vigorous and easily survives the occasional onslaught.

Background: Aechmea fasciata “silver vase plant”
Middle: Plectranthus argentatus and Clivia miniata
Foreground: Arthropodium cirrahtum “Parnell”

Also in the grey palette is the bromeliad Aechmea fasciata, the silver vase plant which is most likely the home for the aforementioned snails. However this epiphyte’s tolerance of intolerable conditions keeps it in favour it lives at the base of the Silver Birch tree. This one has strange pink inflorescences which appear in winter. I have become a bit of a convert to bromeliads of late finding them happily tolerating my difficult garden conditions.

The contrasting colour in all of this is the fat dark green strappy leaves of the Clivia miniata, I think this one is a Belgian hybrid (it came from a client’s garden). In my view the Belgian hybrids are the showiest variety having the glossiest leaves and brightest flowers. I love their bright orange flowers but equally if not more love the contribution their foliage makes year round to the garden. Totally pest free and undemanding they are my heroes of dry shade. They also thrive as container plants and I have a huge pot of them that I shunt around the garden depending on the season.

My plan now is to add at the front of the bed the cascading form of the native Dichondra “Silver Falls” whose beautiful habit you can see in the photo below. Another shade/part sun lover which is drought tolerant once established it would look delightful spilling over the edge of the bed.

Of course in planting it is not all about aesthetics and the plants must all be compatible with the growing conditions. In this case these plants live in almost permanent deep and very dry shade exacerbated by our strict water restrictions here in Melbourne. They are planted beneath a weeping Silver Birch (the lovely silvery bark is in the background of the photo) and an Australian Frangipani Tree (Hymenosporum flavum) and next to a 3m high brick wall covered with the beastly (in my opinion) creeping fig (Ficus pumila) which grows year round in a relentless and determined fashion. They are quite content in these conditions and their silver tones give this dark little corner of the courtyard a lovely lift particularly at the gloomier times of year.

Plant Notes:

Plectranthus argentatus: This plant seems virtually indestructible and while it does wilt in hot summer sun it will survive in sun or shade and can be easily grown from cuttings. It is native to the north coast of New South Wales.




Arthropodium cirrahtum “Parnell” this variety has the bluish tinge to the foliage that works so well in this combination. In my experience in full shade it doesn’t flower so if you are after flowers I would suggest planting in slightly brighter conditions. As I mentioned it can be susceptible to snail damage.

1 comment:

Serena's Secret Gardens said...

I love your blog Tina ....so elegant and interesting. I'm a big fan of silver foliage too and in Melbourne its a lovely drought tolerant alternative.