Continuing our colour theme blogs about the different tones of foliage available to the gardener to provide interest and contrast throughout the seasons, I write this week about the anomaly of variegated foliage. The term refers to any foliage that has multiple leaf pigments and thus, in effect, a multi-colour scheme on the same plant. So, as usual, we’ve compiled a list of five plants that fit the bill and a segment for each on how to care for them and the benefits such care will reap.
Floral & Hardy’s Top Five Variegated Foliage Plants:
Actinidia kolomikta is a fruit bearing deciduous climber that, throughout the spring months, will exhibit a combination of green and white foliage to be followed in summer by an unusual and stunning mixture of pink, white and green leaves with small white blooms. The cultivar’s two genders will grow exclusively to one another, however, both are needed in order to produce the yellow fruits that will follow the summer flowering period.
The kolomikta has a penchant for full sunlight and therefore should be planted in a southern facing aspect, ideally against a wall in well-drained soil, though the content and acidity of this soil is largely inconsequential.
Arum italicum ‘Pictum’
Also known as ‘Lords and Ladies’, this is a tuberous perennial, possessed of glossy, arrow head foliage that appears a deep, emerald green with cream coloured veins at the centre of each leaf. Unlike most perennials, this foliage will remain year round and be highlighted by blooms of pale green spathes surrounding a spike of tiny yellow flowers in the summertime. The bright red berries subsequently produced are poisonous, but the blackbirds love them! Division of the plant’s clumps or tubers should take place directly after flowering to ensure healthy propagation. That aside this cultivar is very adaptable to wet, dry, sunny or shadowed areas of the garden and holds no particular preference to ph level or soil structure.
Aucuba japonica ‘Crotonifolia’
Aucuba, which also goes by the handle ‘Japanese Laurel’, is an evergreen shrub with large, glossy emerald leaves dappled in bright yellow, whose colours are off-set by the pairing of small purple flowers it produces in the springtime and the red berries it will bear post-pollination. A word to the wise though, all parts of this cultivar are toxic to humans and so they are not recommended planting for a family garden. If however, you’re willing to risk exposure to this plant, Aucuba is a very hardy and easy-to-look-after shrub and happy in dry, shady areas, well-drained soil and a rich loam.
Cornus alternifolia ‘Argentea’
This is a multi-stemmed deciduous shrub with mid-green foliage rimmed in white or cream and an abundance of small white flowers that grow in clusters along its horizontal limbs through June and July, giving a very attractive tiered effect. Following the flowering period the foliage will turn to a combination of deep red and purple in autumn. Due to its size and spread rate, this cultivar requires little shelter from the elements, nor a particularly sunny planting position, however, it is partial to an acidic soil, preferably composed of loose soil components like sand and chalk.
Hedera colchica ‘Paddy’s Pride’.
‘Sulphur Heart’, as this variety of ivy is also known, is classified as an evergreen climber with potential for large growth – within 5-10 years reaching dimensions up to eight by four metres! It gains its laconic name from its foliage which takes the form of a broad green arrow head divided through the middle by vivid yellow veins. However, it is important to note that the ingestion of this plant can cause severe discomfort, while contact with the skin may cause milder irritation. Fortunately the silver lining of this toxic addition is that it is largely indifferent to the environment it occupies whether the soil be acidic or alkaline, dense or loose, in sun or shade. The only thing I would say is to provide it with a fair amount of a shelter and support by planting near a wall rather than relying on canes to aid to its habit, as the weight of foliage would be too much for them.
Hopefully you’ll find this list useful when selecting new planting, as it is always important to remember that, while foliage is not always the star of your garden, it is largely around for most of the year and can provide an interesting foil for the more exotic colours that flowers provide. Having said that, as we’ve seen there are so many different coloured foliage plants around, there might not be any need for flowers at all!
By Josh Ellison