Foliage contrast for shade
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.