Going for gold

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Golden heliotrope

I have previously written a blog about golden leaves in the garden, but I had to omit many of my favourite plants - and since that time, I have acquired some new specimens that are doing well. The longer I garden, the more enamoured I have become of decorative foliage. Unlike flowers, which come and go, foliage remains (more or less) all year round. There are so many attractive colours and patterns in foliage plants that grow well in Sydney: an interesting garden could be created using these sorts of plants alone.

Xanthosoma Lime Zinger with Colocasia esculenta Black Magic in the background

I particularly like golden leaves because they light up the garden (especially those that will tolerate shade) and plain gold foliage has great potential for making colour echoes with other plants: emphasising the colour of flower petals or stamens, or spots or stripes of variegated leaves - as well as being a feature in itself. Many so-called golden plants are lime-gold, especially when grown in shade - a colour I really like in the garden. My most recent acquisition is limey-gold 'elephant's ear' type of plant with huge dramatic arrow-shaped leaves. Often called Alocasia 'Lime Zinger', it seems to be more correctly Xanthosoma 'Lime Zinger' (ht 1 m). I grow mine in a pot in part-shade but it can be grown in the ground with the protection of an overhead canopy - to prevent sun scorch in summer and shield it from frost in winter. It grows from a rhizome and needs moisture to do well. I have mine nearby to a potted specimen of its cousin Colocasia esculenta 'Black Magic' and I like the striking contrast of leaf colour yet the close similarity of form: the dark one being almost like a textured shadow of the other!

Coleus cultivars (Solenostemon)

This past summer I obtained a very bright lime-gold coleus, which has grown well in a shaded part of my garden, really brightening up the area with an incandescent glow. I have paired it with another new delightful coleus that has dark red leaves with a golden edge, and I enjoy this combination. Some coleuses do not survive our winters - I try to remember to take cuttings around this time of year of my special favourites and keep them sheltered in winter. I also grow a gold version Talinum paniculatum (ht 60 cm) in shaded spots in the garden to enliven the areas. This is a perennial that dies down in winter then reshoots in spring. It self-seeds very enthusiastically, so I have a number of them dotted around my garden, but I like finding these unexpected patches of gold.

Coprosma repens cultivar

Several years ago, I obtained a gold-variegated Coprosma repens (ht 1 m), but alas I have forgotten its cultivar name. I have never had much luck with these evergreen shrubs in the past and this one seemed to suffer a fair bit of dieback at the end of its stems at first. However, it has now settled in and forms a striking mound of glowing, shiny foliage. Some stems have reverted to plain gold, which I don't mind. In summer it forms a background to a variety of bright yellow Rudbeckia daisy plants, and in winter it partners with the fluffy yellow heads of Justicia aurea. It is also effective with blue flowers, such as the self-sown Browallia americana that have popped up around it.

Golden oregano in the kitchen garden at Heide II in Melbourne

Other easily grown plants with golden leaves include the golden form of oregano (Origanum vulgare 'Aureum', ht 30 cm), which forms a wide mat of tiny rounded leaves. It grows best in a dry, sunny spot and needs to be reined in every so often to stop it taking over too much territory. The golden form of heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens 'Aurea' ht 75 cm, pictured at the start of the blog) is also a useful foliage plant. It is more chartreuse in colour when grown in semi-shade, as mine is. It doesn't flower a lot but I grow it for the pretty, textured leaves. Grassy-looking Acorus gramineus 'Ogon' (ht 30 cm), which actually belongs to the same family as the Xanthosoma, is one of my all-time favourite golden plants. It has soft, gold-striped leaves and will grow in sun or shade, as long as the soil is not bone dry, and gradually forms a nice clump, but it is not invasive. It is an excellent contrast to any broader-leaved gold-leaved specimen and looks good every single day of the year. What more could we ask of a plant?

All keen Sydney gardeners will be looking forward to the annual Collectors' Plant Fair on 12 and 13 April at Clarendon, NSW. Visit the website for information about stallholders, speakers, facilities and transport options. Out of town, the lovely country garden of well-known writer Densey Clyne will be open on 12 April 2014 from 9 am to 5.30 pm at 43 Secombe Lane, Wauchope NSW.

Reader Comments

  • By margaret 2067 Monday, 17 March 2014

    I agree with you Deirdre that gold is wonderful in the garden. A gardening friend from Toowoomba gave me a gold privet known as "lemon , lime & clippers". It makes a delightful little shrub which really brightens up a dull spot. Powis garden in Wales makes good use of golden oregano around the base of trees. It looks brilliant. Best wishes Margaret That sounds a cute shrub, Margaret. I think the golden oregano is a great plant for groundcover. Deirdre

  • By Anne 2518 Monday, 17 March 2014

    Yes I agree too! I esp like the contrast of the golden lime Alocasia against the black variety. thanks for another interesting blog Deirdre. Hope you had some of that rain over the weekend. Down in the Illawarra we seem to have a lot of bang and bluster without much result :) Anne Thanks, Anne. We did get two huge storms here at the weekend nd a fair bit of rain. Hope you will get more rain soon. Deirdre

  • By Steve 2230 Monday, 17 March 2014

    I found that the dieback on the tips od my variegated coprosma was due to a grub or borer, I never actually saw it but it bored inside the stem near the tip. It was also sheltered a bit. I put cuttings in an exposed site and it is fine. The more wind and sun and harsh conditions it gets the better it likes it. Thanks for that information, Steve. Deirdre

  • By Melissa 2120 Monday, 17 March 2014

    I have a Neon Pothos that has been in a pot for 28 years supplying cuttings to many people and beautiful bright foliage in various parts of my garden. I agree, the brightness of the golden leaves is very refreshing in shaded areas. I had never heard of this plant till now, Melissa - must investigate it! Thanks for telling me about it. Deirdre

  • By Gillian 2073 Monday, 17 March 2014

    That golden alocasia is definitely one I will look out for. My heavily shaded back garden is enormously brightened by gold foliage. I particularly like the golden Duranta to light up the space and have several. Thanks for the blog Deirdre - I look forward to it every Monday! Thanks, Gillian. I agree golden Duranta is wonderful and I have several in my garden, one in quite heavy shade. Deirdre

  • By Chris 4034 Monday, 17 March 2014

    The lime zinger grows well in Queensland too. I must look for the Neon Pothos that Melissa mentioned. The cherry pie plant looks interesting, one to look for. Your ideas are very inspiring and creative. Thanks Thanks, Chris. I too am intrigued by Melissa"s plant. I think the heliotrope should grow well in Qld. Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 Monday, 17 March 2014

    I agree, gold lifts a garden, and all the plants you mentioned look great. A couple of plants to add are Begonia "Golden Girl", and a yellow coleus, splattered with red "dots" (name unknown). X "Lime Zinger", with its huge leaves, looks spectacular. Thank you for your list, lots of plants to acquire! I love that begonia, Margaret, and your specimen is magnificent. The yellow coleus sounds great. Deirdre

  • By Carole 2230 Monday, 17 March 2014

    My gold garden light is a duranta, Sheena"s Gold, and I love the delicate pale blue flowers too. However I will say that for me that is enough and I would never choose to have the leaves above flowers. Because we have tree canopy over all of our block sunlight is in short supply so every flower within my green jungle is greeted with delight whatever it is and on the ground I am working on other plants to provide foliage colour like bromeliads.Loving my purple ginger at presentMany thanks Deidre. Thanks, Carole - yes I probably wouldn"t give up flowers really! Bromeliads are great for shaded, difficult spots. I use them a lot these days. Deirdre

  • By Peta 2758 Tuesday, 18 March 2014

    Totally agree about gold. Right now the deciduous Autumn colour is giving me heaps of glitter....a gold leaved Dogwood and most precious of all a gold leaved oak, even the acorns reflect the leaves! We also have golden fruit and berries...Oh and my gold laced Wyandotte bantam is getting in on the act. Wonderful to be able to grow those cool climate treasures. Great that the hen is colour-coordinated to the season! Deirdre

  • By John 6055 Tuesday, 18 March 2014

    Beautiful imagery. Thanks for this lovely blog. John. Thanks so much for your feedback, John. Deirdre

  • By Patricia 2100 Friday, 21 March 2014

    What a wonderful blog to fall into while stumbling through the web jungle in search of salvia info. Your blog even answered the recent pondering of what had become of our suburban wildlife guru, Densey. It would be most interesting to know if the friendship with wildlife has become somewhat strained. If there"s room for Sydney northern beaches bandicoots in Wauchope we will relay the message to them. Many thanks for such an informative and inspirational blog. Patricia Thank you, Patricia. I think there is more wildlife in suburban gardens in recent times - in our case, brush turkeys, which we had never seen before a few years ago. Also, birdlife has changed a lot too - the little birds are not so commonly seen in my garden these days - mainly mynah birds and lorikeets. Deirdre

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