Stephen RyanBronze medallists

Coloured foliage can certainly make a statement but like anything in the garden that isn’t green it can be overdone. Too many gold leaves can be glaring in strong sun light and could even create the look of a bed full of sick underfed plants. Variegated foliage overused can create a hectic look that has the eye flitting disconcertedly all over the place. Large swathes of silver foliage may well glitter in the English light but for me it can look dry and Mallee scrubbish in our hot weather and harsh sunlight, a look I’m not usually in favour of!

Pseudopanax ferox2

Pseudopanax ferox, toothed lancewood

Too much bronze foliage can create black holes in the garden especially if the leaves aren’t glossy, as they tend to absorb light. This is even worse if the plants are placed in the shade to start with.

You could in fact be the first in your neighborhood to create a gothic garden. If you are a Goth then I guess I should say go for it, as a garden should reflect the personality of the gardener!

Foliage in this colour range can be used in almost any combination so there in lies the risk of over doing it. There are also different shades that work better with some colours than others.

Bronze and red garden at Ellerslie Flower Show 2009

Bronze and red garden at Ellerslie Flower Show 2009. Design Miles Warren and Alan Trott

Leaves in the truly bronze, brown and tan tones are ideal mixed with strong hot colours like reds, yellows and oranges and will turn these into a rich Persian carpet effect, where as those leaves with a bluish undertone like the burgundies and plum shades and these look at their best when mixed with pinks, whites and pastel shades. This will take out the sugary Barbara Cartlandesque look!

So if used with discretion these plants will create all sorts of wonderful effects in your garden and remember that non-green foliage can give colour in a garden for far longer than almost any flowering plant can, all year round if it happens to be evergreen, or should I say ‘everbronze’!

Haloragis erecta 'Wellington Bronze' in Hillandale Nursery and garden

Haloragis erecta ‘Wellington Bronze’ in Hillandale Nursery and garden

It is a fact that New Zealand has a huge range of plants in shades of brown and bronze and one of the theories for it is that the giant Moa birds which where the major plant eaters couldn’t see these colours as well as they could green, so many unrelated plants took on this disguise to fool them. The small size of many leaves especially when the plants were young is also thought to be a Moa beater as they had to peck not browse as mammals do.

The leads me neatly into a segway as I will be taking a tour to New Zealand from the 11th to the 29th of November 2014 for Australians Studying Abroad. So if you are interested in the following plants then perhaps you might check out the web site. If for some reason you prefer France then the trip to North Western France from the 7th to the 27th of June could be the go. Just look up ASA Tours and I’ll hopefully see you there, or there!

Haloragis erecta 'Wellington Bronze'

Haloragis erecta ‘Wellington Bronze’

A plant I find indispensible in my hotly coloured perennial border is the ever-bronze sub-shrub Haloragis erecta ‘Wellington Bronze’. It will grow to about a metre both ways and I find that it kindly sends up an odd self-sown seeding that is nearly always of use somewhere in the garden. The glossy saw edged leaves are a lovely shade of rich chocolate if grown in full sun and it will flourish with minimal watering and a hard cut back is about all you will need if and when it gets a bit straggly. The flowers are tiny and of no real interest but the plant is.

Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Tom Thumb'

Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’

I am not usually an advocate of the Pittosporums, as it would be hard to find a more overused plant unless it is the Iceburg Rose! But far be it from me to dam a whole Genus unfairly. I couldn’t live without using Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’ and yet it is rarely offered for sale due to the unfortunate characteristic hated by nursery owners world wide of being hard to strike from cuttings. This does of course mean that those of us lucky enough to own a plant or two won’t see it in everyone else’s gardens.

It will eventually grow into a lumpy dumpling of about 1.5 metres each way and its wavy edged, very glossy leaves start out green with black spots in spring and turn to a glossy deep burgundy that is almost black. It always elicits comment in my garden which means that I must have made a good choice!

Pseudopanax ferox

Pseudopanax ferox

Before I start writing the definitive book on bronze leaves I feel I should finish with a favourite of mine called Pseudopanax ferox which will definitely create comment wherever it is planted! Some of the sentiments may even be positive!

For the first few years it will be a ridged stick with hard chocolate brown hacksaw like leaves hanging down the trunk. Planted against a blank wall or around very modern minimalist buildings it looks seriously sexy to those of us that know it isn’t dead!

Eventually it will branch at about 3 metres or so (presumably above Moa reach) and the leaves will reduce in length, lose the teeth and go greenish. What you then end up with is a beautifully fluted trunked lollypop.

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Stephen Ryan

About Stephen Ryan

Stephen Ryan grew up and still lives at Mt. Macedon in Victoria where he has run his nursery Dicksonia Rare Plants since 1980. He was for 3 years host of Gardening Australia on ABC TV and is a regular on Melbourne’s 3CR. Sunday garden program. He has written 4 books and innumerable articles for magazines both in Australia and abroad and is also a sought-after speaker at garden clubs.

8 thoughts on “Bronze medallists

  1. Craig Thompson on said:

    Managed to obtain a pot of Haloragis erecta ‘Wellington Bronze’ a few years ago from a nursery at one of the open gardens in Berry – south coast NSW. It really appealed to me because of its form and colour and the fact that it was unknown to me at the time. However after a year I discovered that it had the unfortunate tendency to stray – and by that I mean potential weed. It had quickly self-seeded itself down the length of our gravel driveway. I figured that the seed probably got transported via water and gravity, but as we back onto bushland I reluctantly removed the plant(s) just in case it became the new weed of the area. It has unfortunately still decided that it likes the gravel driveway as its repeat occurrence attests. My fears of its weed potential – at least in frost free areas – has since increased as I have spotted it coming up in the garden some 50m away from its original planting. I now suspect some other vector like ants to be the prime mover of its seeds. I still like the plant but it must be treated with caution.

    • Dear Craig,
      You are right it is a plant that needs watching in certain climates,I have to say I’ve had it some years and only had a few seedlings come up. I guess it’s a similar case with things like Lantana, it is a weed up North and I can’t grow it!
      Regards Stephen.

      • I’ve had Haloragis in my Sydney garden (which I go from an open garden in Nowra) for about 2 years now with no self seeding at all. But then it’s growing with no irrigation so maybe that’s keeping it in check.

        • Craig Thompson on said:

          @ Stephen – I just so wish that Lantana didn’t grow so well down here. @ Catherine – Perhaps we got the plant from the same nursery. I don’t water my driveway but we have had lots of rain (and we have lots of ants). Perhaps the plants like blue metal mulch and baking sun.

  2. Charlotte Webb on said:

    We are lucky to have a 10 metre long hedge of Pittosporum Tom Thumb, but have enormous difficulty striking it from cuttings. If there are any tricks I would love to hear!
    At Busker’s End in Bowral NSW, the wonderful garden of the late Joan Arnold, there was a wonderful hedge of this plant. Unfortunately it has been removed in recent years by later owners who obviously don’t value this absolutely wonderful plant (in my opinion).
    We have late winter flowering yellow spears of Bulbinella (looks like a winter yellow hot poker without the boldness) which arise from the back of the almost black winter foliage creating a strking picture in the garden.

    • Dear Charlotte,
      Great to hear from you and you aren’t the only one struggling to propagate Tom Thumb which is the reason it is rarely available in the trade. You either have the knack or you don’t with this one! Yamina rare plants may be able to help if you need stock.
      Regards Stephen

      • Charlotte Webb on said:

        Then I will just have to develop the knack! It is such an eye catching plant. I love the way the new lime green growth overlays the almost black older foliage.

        • Charlotte Webb on said:

          This year the stars were aligned and I have managed to propagate about 30 of these lovely little plants. No idea what was different but all cuttings struck. Feeling very pleased.

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