Foliage contrast for shade

09. Juni 2018 von Isabelle Van Groeningen
Kategorien: English Blog, Jahreszeiten, Pflanzen, Sommer, Übers Gärtnern | Schlagwörter: , , , , |

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Podophyllum left of treefern - shade plants © Isabelle van Groeningen

Podophyllum left of treefern

I so love my little garden, my precious green patch. Right now more than ever as it is such a precious lush jungle. A welcome green lung that seems to help protect us from the heat and dust that hangs over the city. Whilst the south-western part of Germany gets hit by dramatic thunder storms accompanied by flooding rains and devastating hailstorms over and over again, Berlin continues to enjoy high-summer temperatures hovering around 30°C with the last rain seen last week Friday. Mai was the hottest month for 130 years. Consequently, the vegetation in the city looks like it normally does in August. The grass strips along the pavement, or in the centre of the streets are reduced to brown stubble, the lime trees turn their leaves „in-side-out” folding their silvery undersides to the surface to reflect the sunlight.


The flowering season continues to be irregular. The first roses have long finished flowering. ‘Mme Gregoire Staechelin‘ already has big rosehips. The climbing ‘Cecile Brunner’ is almost finished. In the borders ‘Darcey Bussel‘, ‘Harlow Car’ and others are reaching the end of their first flush. It makes me wonder what will happen at the end of the season, if they will give us a third flush or shall we generally just have a dry, brown landscape? We shall see how it unfolds.

Rosa 'Harlow Carr' 1 © 2017 Isabelle van Groeningen

Rosa ‘Harlow Carr’

Our bees

Busy bees © Isabelle van Groeningen

Busy bees

What does all this do with the bees? It makes them busy: Our bee keeper harvested 50 kgs of our two hives last week. We never had such a large, early harvest. Considering less than three months ago he had to feed them to keep them going through the cold March, this seems quite remarkable.

Paulownia leaves

Paulownia shoots - shade plants © Isabelle van Groeningen

Paulownia shoots

All these worries about what will flower next, seem far away in my green oasis: although there are always a few plants in flower, it never is much, but I don’t miss it. In the evenings, I sit on my lovely cool terrace and allow my eyes to rest on the different shapes and shades of foliage. The Paulownia is doing its annual party trick again, producing strong thick new shoots and massive leaves after we cut it back to no more than a 2 meter high walking stick. It has passed the 4 meter mark already, and is definitely not yet through with its mission.

Bamboo screen

Bamboo screen - shade plants © Isabelle van Groeningen

Bamboo screen

My screen to the neighbour’s house is growing strongly. Both the bamboos and the Magnolia grandiflora have been producing strong new shoots in this warm weather. They feel very much at home. Knowing they do not always stand up to severe winter weather, we had planted a mixture of different Phyllostachys cultivars together in the hope that some may prove hardier than others. This proved a wise move, as the black-stemmed Phyllostachys nigra did not like the late frosts we had during March and has died.  We had enclosed the whole area with a sturdy root barrier to contain the roots but allowing them to intermingle.

You win some you loose some

Leafing through my planting diary, makes me realise I have lost more plants here than ever. In part this is probably because I am also using this patch as an extreme experimentation ground. Seeing how much shade plants can really cope with, seeing how hardy things really are. Sometimes there are nice surprises, sometimes disappointments. That sadly belongs to the gardening life. I know I have lost plants to other creatures that have feasted on them, be it honey fungus, slugs, voles or vineweevil.

Little-know shade lovers

Trautvettia caroliniensis var. Japonica © Isabelle van Groeningen

Trautvettia caroliniensis var. Japonica

The surprise at seeing unkown, untried plants survive and thrive is therefore always a great delight. I went leafing through my notes as in the autumn I planted a little known woodland plant from North America Trautvettia caroliniensis var. Japonica which has just come into flower. Belonging to the ranunculus family it produces delightful, delicate white scented flowers. Apparently, it will reach up to about 1m, with large bold leaves. This it has not done yet, but then it is early days. It is also supposed to flower till late summer.


Next to this I planted one of my favourite shade plants: Aruncus. Less so the tall varieties, but the medium to smaller ones are excellent, elegant garden plants. Aruncus aethusifolius ‘Woldemar Meier’ grows to about 60cm in height, has fine feathery foliage and reddish stems, not dissimilar to Aruncus ‘Horatio’ which is a hybrid between A. dioicus and A. aethusifolius. It combines the greater height of the one parent, but delicacy and grace in foliage and flower of the other.  A. aethusifolius can also cope well with deep shade, and benefits from autumn planting so that it can get its roots down before the summer drought season starts. Once established it will cope with prolonged dry conditions.

The nicest grass for a shady spot

Hakonechloa macra - shade plants © Isabelle van Groeningen

Hakonechloa macra

In its fifth year, Hakonechloa macra has also developed well. It makes a good corner plant, and looks great when planted in clumps or drifts. Although the shorter, yellow variegated form H. macra ‘Aureola’ seems to be sold more widely, I find the taller ones so much more attractive as it brings stunning gently waving movement into the garden. Hakonechloa macra ‘Albostriata’ and ‘Allgold’ are both tall varieties with similar qualities. ‘Albostriata’ is green, striped with white, ‘Allgold’ is, as the name indicates, yellow, which is useful to bring a feeling of sunlight in shadier, gloomier areas.  Hiding underneath this grows a Cyclamen hederifolium that hardly sees any light, but seems very happy in its co-existence.

Impressive Arisaemas

Arisaema taiwanense left © Isabelle van Groeningen

Arisaema taiwanense left

I have planted several arisaemas in the past years, and this year they have suddenly all decided to show how much they appreciate it in my garden.  Arisaema draconitum stands defiant of slug damage, as does A. taiwanense. The reddish mottled stems carry very decorative foliage, which has brought much joy to my little garden. I shall explore further in the future with these fascinating plants.


podophyllum versipelle - shade plants © Isabelle van Groeningen

Podophyllum versipelle

The winner in my garden at the moment is a Podophyllum versipelle, the Chinese Mayapple.  This too is rarely offered for sale, but is a stunner. Large, glossy mid green leaves stand proud atop 60cm tall stems. The leaves are round but quite deeply lobed and completely intimidate a neighbouring Astilboides tabularis which just stands there shyly, almost apologetic next to this brute.

Whilst flowers come and go, most of these great foliage plants will be present for many months to come. I look forward to their reliable company.

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Isabelle Van Groeningen

Über Isabelle Van Groeningen

Dr. Isabelle Van Groeningen – Zur Person Isabelle Van Groeningen ist eine international anerkannte Gartenhistorikerin, -designerin und –beraterin, die ihre langjährige Erfahrung in diesen Bereichen sowohl durch Vorlesungen und Vorträge als auch durch schriftliche Beiträge in der Fachliteratur weitergibt. 1983 übersiedelte sie von ihrem Geburtsland Belgien nach England, um Horticulture an den Royal Botanic Gardens Kew zu studieren. Nach erfolgreichem Abschluss mit dem „Kew Diploma in Horticulture“ fertigte sie ihre Doktorarbeit im Fach historische Garten- und Landschaftsrestaurierung an der York University an. Ihr besonderes Interesse gilt der Anordnung von Stauden im Garten, von der traditionellen englischen Staudenrabatte bis hin zur lockereren ökologisch-orientierten Pflanzweise, wie sie in Deutschland und den Niederlanden praktiziert wird. Gartendesign 1992 gründete Isabelle Van Groeningen zusammen mit Gabriella Pape die Firma Land Art Ltd., deren Projekte seit Anbeginn einen weiten Bereich abdecken und sich – je nach Auftraggeber und Situation – mit historischen ebenso wie modernen Gartenanlagen befassen. Im Jahre 2000 gewann Land Art Ltd. bei der Hampton Court Flower Show eine Goldmedaille und die „Best in show“-Auszeichnung für den bis dahin größten Schaugarten mit dem Titel „Go Organic“. Dazu kam 2007 die zweithöchste Auszeichnung, eine „Silver Gilt“–Medaille, bei der weltberühmten Chelsea Flower Show für einen im Auftrag des Daily Telegraph geschaffenen Schaugarten: ein von Karl Foersters Senkgarten in Bornim bei Potsdam inspirierter Garten. Isabelle Van Groeningen hat sich schon frühzeitig dem biologischen Gärtnern verschrieben und sich zum Ziel gesetzt, umweltfreundliche Gärten schaffen. Dabei ist zum Beispiel der sparsame Umgang mit Wasser ein wichtiger Faktor sowohl bei der Gesamtgestaltung des Gartens als auch bei der Auswahl der Pflanzen.