In the limelight

Monday, 22 September 2008

In early spring, the whole landscape seems cloaked with a fuzz of luminescent, lime-coloured leaves.

Oak trees, magnolias, murraya, buxus, tallowwood, maples, golden philadelphus and native daphne (Pittosporum undulatum) are just some examples of these. The freshness of this foliage seems to embody the very essence of spring. The colour blue with lime can be one of the most pleasing combinations in the garden, and in spring these trees and shrubs can be under-planted with bluebells, forget-me-nots, ajuga or cineraria to create a zesty picture. All shades of purple flowers also provide winning combinations with lime leaves.

Lime-coloured flowers can also be found in early spring amongst the euphorbia tribe. Shrubby Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii (ht 1m) with its startling clusters of acidic lime-green bracts is amongst the best of these plants, thriving in full sun and well-drained soil. With a background of limey spring leaves to echo its bracts, or partnered by the huge architectural blue-purple spikes of frost-tender Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans, ht 1-2 m), or a deep purple iris or lavender, it is a stunning sight. The annual coral spurge (Euphorbia corallioides, ht 60cm) also gives this wonderful colour: it is a rather naughty weed that tends to self-seed enthusiastically, but it is easy to remove the surplus seedlings. Another annual with lime-coloured flowers is the tobacco plant Nicotiana langsdorffii (ht 1m) which has a multitude of small bells, and self-seeds gently from year to year.

Other lime-leaved plants retain their colour all year: many are actually brash, sun-loving, golden-leaved plants, which transmute to a far more alluring shade of lime if grown in a semi-shady position, where they can brighten up a gloomy spot. It is worth experimenting with almost any gold-leaved plant to obtain this effect, but I have had success with Acorus gramineus 'Ogon' (ht 30cm) with the softest green and gold striped grassy leaves); ferny-leaved golden feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium 'Aureum, ht 60cm; golden moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea', ht 8cm); glossy-leaved, shrubby golden duranta (Duranta erecta 'Sheena's Gold' (ht 3m or as pruned); gold-leaved zonal geraniums such as 'Anne Tilling' (ht 30cm); golden heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens 'Aurea' (ht 75cm); or succulent Sedum mexicanum (ht 10cm) which forms a crinkled carpet with its tiny leaves.

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