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
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.