Painted plants

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Ageing head of a white Hydrangea macrophylla

Much as I would love to be able to paint, I have no artistic talent. This fact was impressed upon me in high school art classes, when my ghastly daubs were panned by my teacher. Painting, however, has been very much in my thoughts lately, and I started to observe that there are some plants in my garden that really do look like works of art in themselves, as if created with a brush by a skilled artist. Today I walked around my garden to find and admire these plants, and to pay tribute to some of them for their amazing beauty.

Calathea lancifolia

One which always elicits comments from garden visitors is the foliage plant Calathea lancifolia (syn. Calathea insignis, ht 40 cm), a gift from a kind friend who is downsizing. All Calathea are lovely specimens, with attractively patterned foliage, but this one is quite outstanding, with purple undersides to its elegant long leaves, the top bright green sides of which look as if they have been adorned by someone painting a picture of a leaf frond with two shades of dark green! Like all Calathea, it thrives in dry shade, steadily making a sizable clump. It also looks spectacular in a pot.

Coleus cultivar

All coleus plants look as if they have been hand-painted by some sort of Fauvist devotee; there seems no end to the colours and patterns that can be found on the myriad cultivars: spots, splashes, margins, chevrons and random splodges. I love them all, for the vibrancy they bring to shaded areas and their potential for creating colour echoes with flowering shade-lovers. My very favourite one (pictured above) has big lush green leaves with edges that are smudged in purplish-brown, like some sort of ink painting done on wet paper. I can gaze and gaze at these leaves for ages, admiring their beauty. They look sumptuous with nearby monochromatic purplish-brown foliage plants such as Alternanthera dentata.

Canna Striata with a mature head of Kniphofia ensifolia

Canna often have wonderfully exotic leaves; 'Tropicanna' with its striped foliage marked in orange, red, green and bronze, and 'Striata' with its yellow-lined green paddle leaves are two well-known ones. Both look as if they have been hand-painted by a meticulous artist - and like coleus, they lend themselves to making colour echoes. I captured 'Striata' today providing an apt background for a green-tinged, yellow-bloomed Kniphofia ensifolia - past its pristine best but still looking good..

Dahlia Moonfire

Amongst flowers, I think multi-hued Dahlia are perhaps the most artistic. Last year I was given a particularly beautiful one (name unknown; pictured at the start of my blog two weeks' ago) with rough brush strokes of pink on white petals. The cultivar 'Moonfire' has golden-yellow petals with deep orange tones at its centre that merge to form an exquisite bloom, as if a skilled watercolourist has been at work.

Euphorbia cyathophora

An unusual annual, Euphorbia cyathophora, has tiny central clustered flowers with a surrounding vivid orange pattern on the green leaves, looking as if it has been applied using some sort of matt folk-art paint. The overall effect is like a miniature poinsettia, and it lasts for ages. This interesting plant is an enthusiastic self-seeder!

Ageing heads of some mophead Hydrangea shrubs can show gorgeous washed, muted colours like a living painting. Not all of my Hydrangea flower heads age as well as the one pictured at the start of the blog: it lasts for months and is a medley of pinks, and has actually been depicted in a painting by an artist friend.

Who knows how or why plants have developed these lovely painterly forms. All I know is that it lets me have art in my garden without my having to wield a brush!

Reader Comments

  • By Barbara 2580 (Zone:8-9 - Cool Temperate to Alpine) Monday, 01 May 2017

    I have Tropicanna growing in both full sun and shade. Those in the shade don"t flower but the colours are much more vibrant than the full sun clump and really stand out amongst the greenery. A great observation, as we normally think of them as sunloving. And Tropicanna is a wonderful foliage plant - doesn"t need the flowers! Deirdre

  • By Barbara 2580 (Zone:8-9 - Cool Temperate to Alpine) Monday, 01 May 2017

    One of the offspring (no gardener) recently acquired an ornamental pond with his house purchase and left me to do what I wanted with it. It was only reading up on pond plants that I learnt that cannas will grow in water. So I potted up a few, including Tropicanna, and put them in the water and they flowered! The hard frost here will cut them to the ground. Time to take the pots out of the water to holiday under a shrub until growth starts again in spring and put them back in the pond. Great to know that too about them growing in water. Deirdre

  • By Maureen 2118 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 01 May 2017

    You didn"t use a brush but you created a beautiful picture in this blog as you took us on this journey around your garden. Thanks a mill-not only informative but urges one to get out into the garden on a "seek and find" mission of the real beauty we oft ignore. Cheers Thanks so much, Maureen. Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 01 May 2017

    I agree with all your mentioned patterned leaves and flowers - nature is surely marvellous. May I add ligularia, with varieties including leaves of green/white and yellow spotted; aspidistra, "galaxy", with white spots and dashes on leaves, another,with white/green leaves and a huge variety of begonia plants, mainly rhizomes, including "Anita", listada and "Connee Boswell", three of the most stunning, but many others with attractively patterned leaves. All wonderful plants that you have listed, Margaret. Begonias are one of the best for artistic leaves. Deirdre

  • By Robyn 3134 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 01 May 2017

    As a Botanical artist/illustrator, I can assure you that you only need to a desire to learn to paint plants. Then find a good teacher. There are some wonderful botanical art schools around. You obviously had bad art teachers in the past! Botanical painting is simply practice and observation. You already have the observation part down to perfection. And on the plant side - I just have to mention Caladiums. That plant from the 70s that fell from favour in now thankfully coming back. Perhaps there is hope for me after all! And I agree Caladiums are stunning with their intricately coloured leaves. I am only just starting to grow them in my garden. Deirdre

  • By Rosemary 2320 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 01 May 2017

    I am intrigued that you apparently have kniphofia and canna growing side-by-side. I had always thought that the former preferred moist feet and the latter drier feet. Yes cannas do like moisture and will even grow in ponds, as Barbara mentions above, but they are tolerant of drier conditions. Amend the Kniphofia, though liking well-drained soil, can also put up with some moisture. The spot where these two plants are is not very moist but the soil has had quite a lot of organic matter added, which holds some moisture, and the soil is mulched with cane mulch - and both plants thrive quite well there together. Deirdre

  • By Bren 2540 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 01 May 2017

    I also love Calatheas! They are lovely! Deirdre

  • By Janice 2780 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Tuesday, 02 May 2017

    As always a very informative blog, thankyou for that & the pics. of your beautiful plants, Janice. Thanks for your kind feedback, Janice. Deirdre

  • By Anton Hong Kong Wednesday, 03 May 2017

    Are Calathea hardy in Sydney?! That surprises me. Is that name correct? Just I thought C. crotalifera is that giant green paddle leafed one so ornamental in the tropics. It has huge stacked yellow flowers like a heliconia. All the ones I"ve tried have vanished over winter except Calathea loeseneri. My absolute favourite, the white flowers are unbelievably charming. Thrived for three years then was hit by a freakish cold week (Arctic vortex) and was no more. Interested in this one of yours. Thanks for your feedback; I do think I have made a mistake here - sorry! - and will change the name of the one pictured in the blog to C. lancifolia. I have grown a few like it for a number of years in a sheltered spot with tree cover overhead, which seems to help protect them in winter. They go a bit ratty in winter but come good in spring. I cut the shabby leaves off then. Deirdre

  • By Anton Hong Kong Thursday, 04 May 2017

    Thanks Deirdre. We"re in Brisbane"s gardening "zone", so anything that will do in Sydney is automatically included as exciting. I have Calathea obifolia for many years, however it is more or less deciduous and only manages the odd leaf. However in a park in the city they have C lancifolia, thick clumps that have been flowering and doing well for a long time. All that surrounding concrete keeps them nice and warm as the city is a good 5 -10 %C warmer than us in the forested hills. Will try (:

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