Thursday, April 10, 2014

Focusing on Foliage

 Although this time of year is all about showy flowers, I have to give some space to the month-in, month-out performers that look good all year round with little or no care. In this case it is ligularia. An old fashioned perennial that is grown more for its foliage than the tall yellow flowers that I actually cut off as soon as they appear. I grow three varieties including the white variegated one in the top picture that was just divided and spread throughout the Moonlight Garden where it does very well. It thrives with early morning sun and stays about 12 to 18 inches high and is very sweet. It rarely flowers and needs the least amount of water of all of the ones I grow.

 The middle picture is the one that most people are familiar with, often called the leopard plant. The yellow splotches on the leaves are a part of the natural variegation pattern and will vary depending on how much light it gets. This one is planted on the side of the house, but in the middle of summer it gets direct sunlight the last part of the day and will actually wilt on hot days until the sun goes down and then it perks up again.

This is the largest of all the ligularia and I have seen it referred to as big-leaf ligularia. The leaves are about 18 to 24 inches across and quite dramatic. These I grow in deep shade and rarely ever bloom. They all get a little compost occasionally, but that is about it as far as an special care goes.

There are other types of ligularia other there, like a ruffly variety that I have seen in our area. If you don't find them at any of the big nurseries try some of the smaller, independent nurseries around.  I find they carry some interesting old fashioned plants that you don't always see in the nurseries that all get their stock from the same growers. Ito Nursery in San Juan Capistrano is one that carries some different varieties that you might not find elsewhere. 

Ligularia require regular water and are not considered drought tolerant plants. You can tell by their big, glossy leaves. They are easy to grow in the shade and good for spots that don't dry out and stay cool and damp, like the north side of a building. They are surprisingly durable and the only issues they have are with slugs and snails that also like cool damp conditions and big tasty leaves.  I don't have any problems with snails in my gardens, but they are easily controlled with iron phosphate. 

It is hard to have an interesting garden without some good foliage plants that give the eye a place to rest in the chaos of color this time of year. Consider ligularia like a palette cleanser for the eye!

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