Coastal Gardens

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Part 3 – Chapter 12
Stunning foliage for colour

Plants with attractive leaves, whether they are silver, gold, red or yellow, are good ‘rent payers’. This means that they give a good account of themselves for several months of the year, unlike those grown just for their flowers, which may last just a week or two – or less.

Stunning foliage plants for colour 
Many gardeners select plants because of their flowers or fruits, or to a lesser extent bark. The foliage is often not considered as a decorative feature. But there are plenty of plants that are grown for their leaves rather than anything else. All of the plants chosen in this chapter are well suited to coastal gardens and have been segregated into four different colour groups.

First there are the silver-, grey- and blue-leaved plants, which are amongst the most useful and beautiful of all garden plants. They serve as accent plants to enhance stronger-coloured plants around them, and most are evergreens, so even on the bleakest of winter days they shine like beacons in dull, lifeless borders. Silver leaves are actually green leaves covered with a mass of fine, silky hairs, which protect the leaves of plants living in arid areas from intense sun and drying winds. This makes them, in general, excellent coastal plants.
Then there are plants with gold and yellow leaves, many of which are evergreens. They are popular and familiar plants as they are often chosen by municipal landscapers for their year-round appeal and ease of maintenance. As with the silver plants, the evergreen forms will add a touch of sunshine to a winter garden.
Red-, purple- and plum-leaved plants form another group. These plants can transform a border with their warm colour tones. More of these are deciduous by nature, so in the autumn the maroon and plum tones often turn to fiery reds and orange.
Then, finally, are the variegated plants. In most cases these have been bred from normal green-leaved species, to give more interest in the border. The leaves can be beautiful in their own right, and the plants with proportionately more creams or yellows in the leaves can be stunning.

Silver, blue and grey foliage
Arctotis (Arctotis x hybrida) This South African genus is well known for its orange daisy flowers from the annual species Arctotis fastuosa. But it also has a perennial species, and a good one for coastal gardens is the silver-leaved A. x hybrida and its cultivars, which includes ‘Wine’ with pale, reddish-purple flowers. USDA Zone: Z9
Baldmoney, or spignel (Meum amathanticum)This is a perennial, thistle-like plant grown for its attractive, aromatic leaves. Thistle-like flowerheads, in white or purplish white, appear in summer. It is fully hardy, but needs a well-drained soil and a position in full sun. USDA Zone: Z7
Blue fescue (Festuca glauca) Festuca glauca ‘Blaufuchs’ AGM (or ‘Blue Fox’) is one of the best blue-leaved grasses. It reaches just 6in (15cm) in height and is perfect in containers or the front of a border. USDA Zone: Z5
Butterfly bush (Buddleja spp) Many buddleias have a silvery sheen to the stems and leaves, which is probably best exemplified in the hybrid ‘Lochinch’ AGM. The leaves are grey-green, white beneath, and the late summer flowers are mauve, with an orange centre. USDA Zone: Z5
Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus AGM) This stately, thistle-like plant is a deciduous perennial. Large, violet-blue thistle flowers appear in summer and early autumn, but the large leaves are the main feature, offering structure to a border. USDA Zone: Z6
Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens) This conifer can reach 100ft (30m) in the wild, but its garden cultivars are closer to 10ft (3m) after 10 years or so. Mostly grey-green, with sharply pointed prickly leaves, its new growth each spring is bluer and softer. It also has light brown winter buds. Give it a position in full sun. The form ‘Blue Mountain’ has more intense blue colouring. USDA Zone: Z2–8
Dead-nettle (Lamium galeobdolon) This perennial is generally grown as a ground cover plant. It spreads by creeping stems, and its most commonly seen form is ‘Variegatum’ with pink flowers and leaves marbled silver-grey. Even better is the form ‘Hermann’s Pride’, with mainly silver leaves and green veining. USDA Zone: Z6
Euryops (Euryops pectinatus AGM) The grey-green foliage of this shrubby perennial is very attractive. Up to 4in (10cm), the leaves are deeply lobed, with very narrow individual segments (the Latin pectinatus means comb-like). In summer, the solitary, buttercup-yellow daisy flowers appear. It is an excellent container and patio plant. USDA Zone: Z8
Lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina) This must be one of the best-loved of silver plants. The best time for it is late spring, when the fur covering the leaves is at its most dense. The flowers, which come in upright spikes in mid summer, are of secondary value, which is why the flowerless form ‘Silver Carpet’ is so popular. USDA Zone: Z5
Lawson cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana) The straight species has given rise to a multitude of cultivars, many of which are in the 40 shades of green. One or two are notably blue/silver – arguably the best is ‘Chilworth Silver’ AGM. Look out also for ‘Bleu Nantais’ and ‘Blue Surprise’. These all grow to a height of 5ft (1.5m) or so. USDA Zone: Z6–8
Penstemon (Penstemon hirsutus var. pygmaeus) This popular genus of perennials is not generally known for its silver foliage. However, there is one form, which makes an excellent low plant for the front of a border: Penstemon hirsutus var. pygmaeus. The hirsutus is Latin for ‘hairy’ and pygmaeus means ‘small’. The plant reaches just 6in (15cm) or so, and produces violet flowers in summer. USDA Zone: Z3
Rue (Ruta graveolens) This herb, with its deeply divided, grey-green leaves, which are almost evergreen, looks good in beds and containers. But the strong coconut smell of the foliage is disliked by some. It reaches a height of 2–3ft (60–90cm). The variety ‘Jackman’s Blue’ has leaves of a stronger blue-grey. USDA Zone: Z5
Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) With silver, mint-scented foliage and tiny blue-purple flowers growing along stalks, rather like lavender, this low shrub is a sun-lover. It is even better on a chalky soil. The hybrid ‘Blue Haze’ has lavender-purple flowers, whilst ‘Blue Spire’ AGM is a deeper violet-blue. USDA Zone: Z6
Seakale (Crambe maritima AGM)The common name of this easy-to-grow perennial indicates its ability to grow in sandy soil, near the sea. It also likes full sun. It has a central crown surrounded by a mound of large, textured, blue-grey leaves. In summer, the plants are also covered with small white flowers. USDA Zone: Z5
Shrubby convolvulus (Convolvulus cneorum AGM) This evergreen, silver-leaved shrub reaches a height of 2–3ft (60–90cm). Small, white and very pale pink trumpet flowers appear throughout summer. It is not completely hardy and can be cut back in cold winters. It will thrive in a spot protected by a sunny wall. USDA Zone: Z8
Silver thistle (Onopordum acanthium) This, it is said, was the original thistle brought back from the Holy Land by the Crusaders, and which was adopted as the emblem of Scotland. It looks magnificent at the back of a summer border; it grows to about 5ft (1.5m), so will usually be seen towering over shorter plants further forward. The leaves are silvery and the stems nearly white. USDA Zone: Z6
Trailing helichrysum (Helichrysum petiolare AGM) This plant, with silver, heart-shaped leaves in (1cm) across, appears white rather than silver, and its main charm is in the arching habit of the branches, which always curve towards the ground. It is probably best in a container, as it trails nicely. USDA Zone: Z10
Wormwood (Artemisia arborescens AGM) This shrub, which is arguably the most beautiful of all the silvers, needs good drainage and a light, sandy soil. In summer, the silky foliage has a silvery sheen. The flowering stems, generally few and far between, have no decorative value and should be cut off. ‘Faith Raven’ has very finely cut leaves. USDA Zone: Z8

Yellow and gold foliage
Bowles’ golden grass (Milium effusum) This perennial grass reaches just 12in (30cm) or so in height, with a similar spread. In the straight species (wood millet), clumps of soft-green, grassy leaves are produced, but in the form ‘Aureum’ AGM, they are bright yellow. USDA Zone: Z6
Escallonia (Escallonia laevis ‘Gold Ellen’) These shrubs make good windbreaks. In the form ‘Gold Ellen’, the bright yellow leaves are the main feature and the pink flowers are somewhat surplus to requirements. USDA Zone: Z7–9
Golden caryopteris (Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Worcester Gold’ AGM) Caryopteris is both late-blooming and blue-flowered (see page 134). In this form it is also golden-leaved. It reaches a height of 5ft (1.5m) and is a good plant for a windy, sunny spot by the sea. USDA Zone: Z7
Golden elder (Sambucus nigra ‘Aurea’ AGM) This shrub can reach 10ft (3m), but it responds well to pruning to keep it small. The leaves usually have five leaflets and are golden yellow (mid-green in the straight species). Fragrant cream-white flowers, with flattened heads, appear in early summer, followed by black fruits in autumn. USDA Zone: Z5
Golden juniper (Juniperus x pfitzeriana ‘Gold Star’) This low, prostrate, flattish conifer, bred in Canada, has almost wholly juvenile foliage. It is bright, golden yellow in summer and much more green-gold in winter. Look out also for ‘Gold Coast’, ‘Carbery Gold’ and ‘Golden Saucer’. USDA Zone: Z3
Golden marjoram (Origanum vulgare) This is a tender perennial, but is best grown fresh every year, as an annual. The normal species has grayish-green, slightly hairy leaves and small, round heads of cream-white flowers. The golden-leaved form ‘Aureum’ AGM is much more ornamental. USDA Zone: Z10–11
Golden mock orange (Philadelphus coronarius ‘Aureus’ AGM) Unlike many golden-leaved plants, this form of mock orange does well in shade; here the leaves remain fresh, whereas in full sun they can scorch. It is more compact than most other Philadelphus. The leaves turn greener as they age. USDA Zone: Z5
Golden privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium ‘Aureum’ AGM) Some of the best coastal hedges comprise the golden privet, or the golden and plain green privet alternately planted. This semi-evergreen species has leaves that are golden yellow at the margins and a pale green-yellow in the centres. Tiny, white, fragrant flowers appear in summer. USDA Zone: Z5
Golden small-leaved lonicera (Lonicera nitida) The straight species makes a good low hedge. Its green leaves are small and the branches become quite dense, making a good barrier. It can grow to 10ft (3m) in height, but is best kept to around 3ft (1m). ‘Baggeson’s Gold’ AGM is a slow-growing, golden-leaved variety. USDA Zone: Z7
Hardy fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica var gracilis ‘Aurea’ AGM) With bright yellow leaves, this hardy fuchsia will reach a height of 4ft (1.2m), but can be cut back almost to ground level at the end of winter. The flowers are red and red-violet. It is not such a hardy plant as the green-leaved parent, but it is still worth trying in a mild, coastal location. USDA Zone: Z6
Lawson cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Ellwood’s Gold’ AGM) This was the first form of Lawson cypress with golden foliage, but the colour is pronounced only in summer on new growth and is more evident on younger plants. In winter the foliage is decidedly green. After 10 years this conifer reaches 5–6ft (1.5–1.8m). USDA Zone: Z6–8
Shrubby veronica (Hebe ochracea ‘James Stirling’ AGM) This is one of the so-called ‘whipcord’ Hebes, where the leaves are held tight to the stems and are rather scale-like. It has deep golden foliage and white flowers in summer. It reaches 18in (45cm) in height and can be short-lived. USDA Zone: Z6

Red, purple and plum foliage
Barrenwort (Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ AGM) This evergreen perennial, originally from North Africa, makes a good ground cover plant. It is grown for its leaves, which turn, through the season, to various shades of red. The pale yellow flowers give rise to the cultivar name. USDA Zone: Z5
Shrubby veronica (Hebe ‘Caledonia’) Unlike the whipcord hebes (p145), this is one of the large-leaved types, which has maroon-green leaves and violet-blue flowers, each with a white eye. USDA Zone: Z8
Castor oil plant (Ricinus communis) This annual has attractive summer foliage and makes a good accent plant with low-growing bedding plants. Its leaves are large with maroon or bronze tints. ‘Carmencita’ AGM has dark brown foliage and ‘Impala’ is bronze-maroon when young. The seeds are poisonous. USDA Zone: Z9
Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ AGM) A deciduous, spreading shrub or small tree, it can reach a height of 30ft (10m) if left to its own devices. It has heart-shaped, reddish-purple leaves. In mid-spring, small, whitish flowers (that are pink in bud) are carried in profusion. USDA Zone: Z4
New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax) We have already seen that phormiums are incredibly tough plants (p119). There are several that are grown for their red or purple leaves, including ‘Bronze Baby’, Amazing Red’ and ‘Black Edge’. Phormium ‘Platt’s Black’ is useful in contemporary planting schemes. USDA Zone: Z8
Purple elder (Sambucus nigra f. porphyrophylla ‘Black Beauty’ or ‘Gerda’ AGM) Similar to ‘Aurea’ (p144) this shrub can reach 10ft (3m) or so, but can be pruned. The lobed leaves are blackish purple. USDA Zone: Z5
Photinia (Photinia fraseri ‘Red Robin’ AGM) This is one of the most frequently planted shrubs for parks and public spaces. It is easy to maintain and is a real spectacle in spring when its new growth emerges as bright red, glossy leaves. As these mature they turn green, and being evergreen will last for several years. It can reach a height of 20ft (6m), but can be easily trimmed. USDA Zone: Z8
Red-leaved spurge (Euphorbia x martini ‘Helena’s Blush’) This hybrid has petite green-and-cream variegated foliage with a hint of pink on the undersides. It produces chartreuse and apple-green bicoloured bracts on airy stems. It prefers partial shade and moist but well-drained soil. Its milky sap can cause skin irritation, and pain if ingested. USDA Zone: Z7
Red ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) This is an underrated genus of deciduous shrubs, distantly related to the rose. Arching branches are clothed in oval, toothed leaves; these are mid-green in the straight species, but deep plum in ‘Diabolo’. Clusters of tiny, white, sometimes pink-tinged, flowers appear in early summer. USDA Zone: Z2
Red sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’ AGM) Sage is a wonderfully fragrant garden plant. The red sage (actually more bronze-green) is a handsome variety with leaves that are even stronger in flavour than the green form. Plants grow to a height of 24–32in (60–80cm). USDA Zone: Z5
Cabbage palm (Cordyline australis) The plain green form makes a slow-growing bushy tree. Sword-shaped leaves up to 3ft (90cm) long are borne in large clusters, either centrally in a rosette (in young plants) or at the end of stiff branches (in older plants). Cream-white fragrant flowers in loose, branched heads appear in early summer. There are a number of reddish-leaved cultivars and ‘Torbay Red’ AGM is one of the best. USDA Zone: Z10
Smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ AGM) This cultivar of the popular smoke tree has deep wine-purple leaves all season; in this respect it is very similar to ‘Notcutt’s Variety’. Plants have a filmy, pinkish grey inflorescence partly covered in silky hairs in mid summer. USDA Zone: Z5

Variegated foliage
Goldheart ivy (Hedera helix ‘Oro di Bogliasco’)Hedera helix is the common ivy. Although to many people it is a pest, there are some very fine variegated forms. The best is probably ‘Oro di Bogliasco’. USDA Zone: Z5
Luma (Luma apiculata ‘Glanleam Gold’ AGM) This is a strong-growing, upright, evergreen shrub, reaching 30ft (10m) when mature. However, it can be clipped to keep it small. It has sturdy stems with peeling brown and white bark. The leaves are bright green with cream-yellow edges. USDA Zone: Z9
Shrubby veronica (Hebe x andersonii ‘Andersonii Variegata’) Unlike the whipcord hebes (p145), this is a large-leaved type, and has probably the strongest variegation of any hebe. It has violet flowers in summer. USDA Zone: Z9
Silver hedgehog holly (Ilex aquifolium ‘Ferox Argentea’ AGM) Ilex aquifolium is the common holly, and there are dozens of varieties – all are excellent for coastal gardens. One of the most intriguing is the silver hedgehog holly which, like its green counterpart, has spines all over the leaf surface. USDA Zone: Z6
Variegated century plant (Agave americana ‘Variegata’ AGM) The Agave is a spiky, architectural plant, but is frost-tender, so keep in a pot and move to a greenhouse for the winter. The variegated form has a central grey-green band. USDA Zone: Z9
Variegated false castor oil plant (Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’ AGM) The plain green Fatsia is big, glossy, evergreen and quite hardy. It is better in dappled to dense shade and under the protection of a wall. ‘Variegata’ has a very subtle variegation: the grey-green leaves are tipped with creamy white. USDA Zone: Z8
Variegated fuchsia (Fuchsia ‘John Ridding’)This lovely variegated fuchsia may be sold under this name or ‘Firecracker’. It is an upright deciduous shrub with an arching habit. Its leaves are grey-green and cream variegated, flushed pink and with pink undersides. It is frost-tender, so should be overwintered under cover. USDA Zone: Z9
Variegated Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium caeruleum ‘Brise d’Anjou’) Just like its green counterpart, the plant makes a hummock and the foliage is set like the rungs of a ladder along the stalks. Blue or white flowers appear in early summer, but the silver-green and white foliage of this plant is outstanding. USDA Zone: Z2
Variegated lily of the valley bush (Pieris japonica ‘Carnaval’) Straight Pieris japonica has a height and spread of some 6–10ft (1.8–3m) and, being a relative of the Rhododendron, is best in a semi-shaded situation and in an acid or peaty soil. There are several variegated forms; one of the best is ‘Carnaval’, with white margins and pink flushes. USDA Zone: Z6
Variegated oleaster (Elaeagnus spp) As we saw on p124, these are tough plants suitable for windbreaks, hedges and shelter belts. The variegated forms brighten a winter garden with their bright yellow blotches, patches and splodges. Four of the best are E. x ebbingei ‘Coastal Gold’, ‘Gilt Edge’ AGM, ‘Gold Splash’ and E. pungens ‘Goldrim’ AGM. USDA Zone: Z2–10
Variegated Chinese olive (Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Variegatus’ AGM) This is a slow-growing, evergreen shrub with holly-shaped leaves that have half-green and half-cream blotches. The shrub will reach a height and spread of 6–8ft (1.8–2.4m), and it produces tubular flower clusters in early autumn. USDA Zone: Z6
Variegated pittosporum (Pittosporum eugenioides ‘Variegatum’ AGM) All pittosporums are good subjects for the coastal garden. This is a columnar, evergreen tree that will possibly reach 30ft (10m) or so when mature. Narrowly oval, wavy-edged leaves are glossy, dark green with a narrow white margin. USDA Zone: Z9


First published 2009 by Guild of Master Craftsman Publications Ltd, Castle Place, 166 High Street, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 1XU
Text © John Bickerton and Graham Clarke 2009 © in the Work GMC Publications 2009 ISBN: 978-1-86108-636-5 All rights reserved
The right of Graham Clarke and John Bickerton to be identified as the authors of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, sections 77 and 78. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior permission of the publisher and copyright owner. This book is sold subject to the condition that all designs are copyright and are not for commercial reproduction without the permission of the designer and copyright owner. The publishers and authors can accept no legal responsibility for any consequences arising from the application of information, advice or instructions given in this publication.

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