Fantastic Foliage!

How a garden can still look stunning without flowers. Also this week: Discovering Chicory; Finding out about the ornamental attributes of this traditional salad crop.

Is it possible to have an interesting and attractive garden with very few flowers? Well, we all have different likes and dislikes and ideas about which plants would grow in our ‘perfect garden’. Have a look at the photograph, I think it shows how beauty and interest can be achieved in the garden without flowers. Consider each of the different leaf shapes, compare the textures and acknowledge how the plants compliment and contrast with each other. Appreciate the cooling effect and the lushness of the different shades of green.

The plants in the photograph do, of course produce flowers. But when you consider the length of the flowering period for most plants I think it is very important to make foliage impact a high priority when selecting plants.

The secret to growing such plants with big leaves and large surface areas lies in the soil. Large-leaved plants usually need soil that holds on to moisture for long periods of time. Evaporation from large leaves occurs at an alarming rate so a constant supply of water is required at root level. The photograph was taken in East Anglia last week during a sustained period of drought and 32C on the day. But the soil has had so much organic matter dug into it over many years that it retains moisture from the spring rains.

The plant on the right hand side of the photograph with the umbrella-like rounded leaves is Darmera peltata (sometimes known as Peltiphyllum peltatum). More details about this plant can be found on the plantadvice Plant Database in the Perennials section.

The other plants are:

  • Matteuccia struthiopteris (Shuttlecock fern)
  • Kirengeshoma palmata

I was working in a customer’s garden last week when I noticed some beautiful sky-blue flowers dancing on tall flower stems in the breeze. Unsure about the identity of this plant, I asked the owner and was surprised to find out what it was; I know about the qualities of Chicory as a winter salad plant but I was naïve to it’s potential as border perennial. (Take a look at those sky-blue flowers by looking up Chicory (Cichorium intybus) in the Perennials section of the plantadvice Plant Database).

As gardeners I suppose we are often guilty of pigeon-holing plants and their uses. How many gardeners know about the qualities of Chicory as a border perennial? Having seen those lovely ice-cool sky-blue flowers on a hot summers day I will certainly be aiming to add Chicory to my herbaceous border.

If you want to stick to tradition and grow Chicory as a winter salad crop, it is probably best to obtain a variety specifically cultivated for the purpose. There are specific varieties best for blanching such as Witloof or Normanto. You can also grow Chicory in the same way as lettuce, with no blanching process. Crystal Heart or Sugarhat are best if you want to grow it this way, just bear in mind that the leaves will be slightly more bitter compared to the blanched types.

Blanching involves growing the plant outdoors in garden soil until Autumn, the plant is then dug up and the foliage is cut right back, a centimetre or two above the roots. The roots are then plunged in boxes of moist peat, the peat is tightly packed around the roots. After about a month the foliage stump that had previously been cut hard back will have developed into a white-blanched shoot or chicon. It is this chicon that we see for sale at the greengrocers or supermarket.

Jobs I have been doing over the past couple of weeks:

  • Cutting down spent Delphiniums to encourage a second flush of flowers
  • Harvesting various crops in the vegetable garden including Garlic, Spinach, and Raspberries
  • Continue dead-heading
  • Regular feeding and watering, especially container grown plants

For more information see:
PlantAdvice Plant Database - Perennials section


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