Geoff Stonebanks: Beautiful foliage is just as important as pretty flowers

Last week I shared a picture of the stunning mangave moonshine shooting up an impossibly tall flower stalk about to bloom, and this week I have an Echeveria Red Sea Monster doing the same.

This plant is a real gem and lives up to its name, it wants to grow! The leaves are thick, dark green and ruffled at the edge, turning bright red in good light. The flower stalks are tall (they can grow up to 50-60 cm tall) and topped with red/dark pink flowers at the ends. Mine spends summers in the yard and winters on the back porch. While echeverias prefer bright light, placing them in direct full sun during the summer months can be stressful and cause sunburn.

You need to gradually acclimate them by placing them in an area that only gets morning sun for a few hours a day, increasing this over a week or so until they are in full sun. Try to avoid the afternoon sun altogether, as this will burn the foliage and stress the plant. In winter, the lightest window you can supply is fine.

Two old favorites of mine this time of year are mahonia x media winter sun and fatsia japonica spider web. The former is a medium-sized, erect, evergreen shrub with long, spiky, pinnate leaves. Its flowers are small, light yellow, fragrant, in clusters of upright racemes, followed by blue-black berries. They are great plants for a woodland environment in a sheltered or exposed location, with full sun or partial shade. It generally flowers from November to March. This hardy shrub forms rosettes of sharply serrated leaves to 45cm long with glossy, bottle green leaflets that resemble holly leaves in appearance. It is the perfect architectural shrub for a shady spot that is a visual delight all year round. Mine sits behind some tall railroad ties reaching for the sky.

Fatsia spider web

Fatsia spider web

The latter is a bushy, evergreen shrub that grows up to 2 m tall. Its dark green leaves are heavily mottled with white, especially on the edges, but the white variegation can sometimes spread throughout the leaf. Terminal clusters of white flowers are produced at this time of year, followed by black berries. They grow best in partial shade, in moist but well-drained soil with protection from cold, drying winds; They also tolerate full shade. That said, I have one that may be getting more sun than it should be, but is doing fine. Also known as Japanese Aralia, it is prized for its glossy, palmate foliage that adds a lush, tropical feel to planting plans. Fatsia ‘spider’s web’ is a particularly intriguing variety with speckled markings spreading inward from the outermost edges. The overall effect is an unusual frosted look and despite its exotic appearance this evergreen shrub is fully hardy and a superb choice for those demanding shady locations.

One plant I’m growing in the beach garden is Senecio Cineraria ‘Silver Dust’, technically it’s a tender shrub usually grown as a semi-hardy foliage annual. I’ve managed to keep mine outdoors for a number of years. Its young leaves are slightly lobed, a bit like oak leaves, but as the plants mature they become deeply dissected, much paler in color and are covered with a silver-grey fleece. She is perfect for growing at the front of a bed and also as part of a container display. It works particularly well with brightly colored plants that its foliage contrasts well with. For best results, grow in moist but well-drained soil in full sun. The experts say to encourage new basal growth, flowering should be prevented by periodically removing elongated stems. I tend to leave the flowers for their gorgeous color! This is a versatile foliage plant with great drought and wind tolerance.

A new plant recently purchased for the new pond patio area is a Eucalyptus Gunnii. Few species of eucalyptus are reliably hardy and this is the most popular. Like many eucalyptus trees, it is grown primarily for its lush, rounded juvenile foliage. It can be grown in moist but well-drained soil in a sheltered spot. The experts recommend an annual heavy cut to maintain the small growth habit and youthful foliage.

Unlike many of its stout cousins, this compact Cidre Gum, as it is also known, has a naturally compact and bushy growth habit. Oddly rounded, the blue-grey foliage reflects the light with its silvery hues, adding evergreen color and interest to mixed borders. It beautifully blends silver-leaved shrubs and blue-flowered perennials and is prized by florists as an addition to floral arrangements. Eucalyptus gunnii is exceptionally hardy, tolerant of temperatures as low as -20°C and is perfect for smaller gardens where most eucalyptus plants would be unmanageable

Read more about Geoff’s garden HERE and at Geoff Stonebanks: Beautiful foliage is just as important as pretty flowers

Fry Electronics Team

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