Kapiti Coast

The large grow­ing bromeli­ads Al­cantarea vini­color and a green form of Al­cantarea im­pe­ri­alis are easy care fo­liage plants which brighten a tough, north-fac­ing spot be­neath cordy­lines and puka, which offer frost pro­tec­tion and also take up a lot of soil moi

NZ Gardener - - Contents -

Why Ju­lian Matthews just can’t pick a favourite ev­er­green

But I did ad­mit to a weak­ness for

Ligu­laria reni­formis, the so-called trac­tor seat ligu­laria with its mas­sive, shiny green leaves. This is one of those dense grow­ing fo­liage plants which gar­den writ­ers ex­tol as be­ing per­fect for low main­te­nance gar­dens.

But lately it has oc­curred to me that this needs some qualification, for al­though it’s won­der­ful at pre­vent­ing weed growth,

Ligu­laria reni­formis is actually a bit needy. First of all there’s the fact that snails regard the leaves as a gourmet treat, leav­ing small holes after a night’s snack­ing. Then there’s the need to be trim­ming off old leaves as they turn yel­low, or black if you leave them too long, and a re­quire­ment for some nice ni­troge­nous fer­tiliser such as sheep ma­nure once a year. Not to men­tion the po­si­tion­ing – too much sun and the leaves will wilt in a dis­tress­ing (al­though tem­po­rary) fash­ion on sunny af­ter­noons, so a lit­tle morn­ing sun and lots of af­ter­noon shade is to be strived for.

But all that is for­given when a clump gets going well, pro­vid­ing years of lux­u­ri­ant fo­liage plea­sure.

I’ve en­thused pre­vi­ously about Lo­belia ab­er­dar­ica.

That bold fo­liage plant with the crisp green rosettes of fo­liage makes a re­mark­able ground­cover if you have the room. It has a very spread­ing habit and, pro­vid­ing the ini­tial plant is in good soil (nei­ther too dry nor too wet and lots of sun is the rule when choos­ing a site), it will grow wide over a cob­ble­stone path or a lawn, cre­at­ing a strik­ing ef­fect.

I have a patch of it which spreads over the edge of the drive­way at a wide point, cre­at­ing a pleas­ing con­trast with fo­liage plants on the op­po­site side of the drive­way. It’s only once caused a prob­lem for driv­ers, when one of the wife’s best friends drove over sev­eral of the rosettes.

I told her what I thought of her driv­ing, she told me I should re­move the plants, and within weeks these tough cus­tomers had shrugged off the in­sult, sim­ply shed­ding a bunch of dam­aged leaves and re­plac­ing them with new ones.

But it’s not just the beauty of this favourite plant which has me rav­ing about it again. It’s also that I noticed Gus Evans Nurs­eries (gu­se­vans.co.nz) in Waikanae is sell­ing the plant. This is sig­nif­i­cant be­cause it has been hard to find in re­cent years, al­though Green­leaf Nurs­eries in Hawkes Bay (green­leafnurs­eries.co.nz) are usually able to courier plants and Gar­den Post some­times offer it in their mail or­der cat­a­logue.

Fo­liage plants def­i­nitely look bet­ter when planted in groups. The gar­den de­sign rule which goes some­thing like if one looks good, three or more will look amaz­ing, def­i­nitely ap­plies here.

We have grad­u­ally added to our plant­ing of Al­cantarea vini­color.

It is a fea­ture in one of the dri­est and poor­est spots in the gar­den, where there’s lots of sun and some big pukas, limbed up to pre­vent them get­ting too dense, to cre­ate a frost-free haven.

Vini­color is a smaller ver­sion of the gi­ant al­cantarea bromeli­ads that have be­come so fash­ion­able in re­cent years. It re­tains the glossy, cherry-red fo­liage colour all year. When they even­tu­ally flower, the show isn’t spec­tac­u­lar, un­like the flam­boy­ant Al­cantarea im­pe­ri­alis.

The main plant dies after flow­er­ing, but I’ve found that be­fore you know it, there will be four or five new plants grow­ing strongly away from the base of the old plant which can be re­moved to pro­vide a big­ger patch of bromeliad ground­cover. Whereas you can buy the large-grow­ing

Al­cantarea im­pe­ri­alis at some gar­den cen­tres such as Palmers at Plim­mer­ton,

Al­cantarea vini­color is usually only seen for sale on Trade Me. It’s well worth the time and ef­fort.

I’ve grown a pinky-grey aeo­nium suc­cu­lent around one of the Al­cantarea vini­color.

The com­bi­na­tion of fo­liage colours and shapes has been an ab­so­lute de­light.

The aeo­ni­ums, many of which are in soft blues and grey blue shades, are easy to grow and easy care in sunny, well-drained, poor­ish spots.

I reckon they have the sort of fo­liage shapes which con­jure up all sorts of im­ages, from dec­o­ra­tions on an­cient Greek ar­chi­tec­ture to rosettes pinned onto the chests of win­ners at A&P shows in times gone by.

Lo­belia ab­er­dar­ica.

Ligu­laria reni­formis.

Echev­e­ria ‘Domingo'.

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