Tag Archives: Edible

Fine Fragrant Foliage

the silvery-grey foliage of lavender cotton highlights the white markings on the fluffy Blue Shag pine.

the silvery-grey foliage of lavender cotton highlights the white markings on the fluffy Blue Shag pine.

It is usually the intricate shape or fabulous color of a leaf which make us scramble over rocks or slither under bushes to get the perfect shot of fabulous foliage for you.

Yet there is another attribute that we often forget to mention – that of fragrance. The leaves of many trees, shrubs and perennials release a scent when brushed or bruised and while this may be impossible to capture in a juicy photograph these plants have something beyond their good looks to offer the designer and homeowner alike.

Of course not all garden aromas are desirable! One of my lecturers insists that boxwood smells like cat pee (!) and that Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternata) is little better. I can’t say that I find them offensive but I certainly don’t use boxwood for its fragrance.

I am interested in leaves that have it all – good looks and a pleasant fragrance. As a bonus many of these plants are deer resistant and usually pest free. My design mantra is that gardens should be experienced and not just observed and that means involving all the senses not just sight. Let’s look for leaves that can be explored with the finger tips, taste buds and nose as well as having exceptional good looks! Here are a few of my favorites.

Incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens)

The beautiful foliage of incense cedar. Photo credit; Missouri Botanical Gardens

The beautiful foliage of incense cedar. Photo credit; Missouri Botanical Gardens

This is an elegant slim conifer that typically grows 40-60′ tall yet only 8-10′ wide. Native to the western United States it is hardy to zone 5 yet is not found in many home gardens. Although not a true cedar it does have a cedar-like fragrance both from the crushed foliage and the resin. Where privacy is needed this may be a better choice than the ubiquitous arborvitae.  It also keeps a healthy dark green color throughout the year.

Goldcrest Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest’)

The bright lime green foliage of Monterey cypress is a great contrast to shades or purple and orange

The bright lime green foliage of Monterey cypress is a great contrast to shades or purple and orange

Bright chartreuse foliage makes this slender conifer an easy winner for landscapes and containers but what makes it extra-special is the heady citrus scent that is released when the foliage is touched. Pair this with deep purple spurge (Euphorbia hyb.) for a bold backdrop to orange foliage and flowers. Or keep a crisp contemporary look by adding silver and white.

This dwarf beauty is hardy in zones 7-10 where it will grow 6-8′ tall and 2′ wide.

Lavender sp. (Lavandula)

It's not JUST about the flowers

It’s not JUST about the flowers!

When I worked in a nursery I would find every excuse to  walk by the lavender display and casually brush my fingers through the highly aromatic foliage! Somehow that heady fragrance would make me slow down, breathe in deeply and relax – which is why of course it is so popular as an essential oil in aromatherapy.

There are many species, hybrids and colors of both flowers and foliage as well as variability in the hardiness. They all need full sun and exceptionally well drained soil – ask at your local independent garden center for advice on those best suited to your area. Is any garden really complete without at least one lavender plant?

Lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus)

Grey, aromatic foliage of lavender cotton

Grey, aromatic foliage of lavender cotton

Tough, evergreen, deer resistant and drought tolerant – four reasons to look for this silvery-grey leaved shrub. Yellow button flowers in summer are a bonus. It may need whacking back every couple of years to stop it getting too leggy but if like me you have some areas that need bullet proof plants check this out.

The fragrance is hard to describe – somewhat medicinal but not in a bad way!

At 1-3′ tall and wide it can be used to edge herb gardens and pathways or set as an informal evergreen groundcover. See it paired with Blue Shag pine at the start of this post and read about the beautiful combo (“Easy on the Eyes’) on pages 62-63 of Fine Foliage

Fuzzy fragrant foliage - meet Lemon Fizz lavender cotton

Fuzzy fragrant foliage – meet Lemon Fizz lavender cotton

Last summer I discovered its relative Lemon Fizz lavender cotton (Santolina virens ‘Lemon Fizz’). This was an outstanding tender perennial with bright chartreuse foliage forming tidy cushions and smelling of pine. I’m definitely getting more next year.

Catmint (Nepeta sp.)

Walkers Low catmint mingling with Byzantine gladioli

Walkers Low catmint mingling with Byzantine gladioli

My first introduction to this herbaceous perennial was the variety Six Hills Giant which I allowed to scramble at the base of climbing roses in my English garden. Soft grey leaves were topped with blue summer flowers all of which exuded a wonderful herbal smell.

Today I favor Walker’s Low which despite its name is not a dwarf variety but rather takes its name from of the garden where it was originally found. Although it is less straggly than Six Hills Giant I still shear it back by half in early summer – within two weeks it  bounces back into a tidy cushion.

Limelight catmint behind Chocolate Drop sedum. Design by Terra Nova Nurseries Inc.

Limelight catmint behind Chocolate Drop sedum. Design by Terra Nova Nurseries Inc.

Limelight is a newer introduction from Terra Nova Nurseries Inc. with attractive lemon and lime foliage – watch out for this one.

Hyssop (Agastache sp.)

Apricot Sprite peeks out of the hanging basket while a coral colored haze of Apricot Sunrise  fills a container in the background

Apricot Sprite peeks out of the hanging basket while a coral haze of Apricot Sunrise fills a container in the background

The foliage of this perennial is somewhat reminiscent of  catmint although the habit is typically more upright. There are many varieties available today with heights ranging from the dwarf Apricot Sprite to the much taller Blue Fortune. Flower colors range from blue to orange and pink and they all attract hummingbirds which get positively giddy with excitement. Even without the flowers this is an easy plant to enjoy in the garden for the drought tolerant, deer resistant foliage alone. I have grown Apricot Sprite as the centerpiece of a succulent hanging basket, as well as in containers and the garden.

Curry plant (Helichrysum italicum) – while it does smell like curry it is not recommended for eating and does not in fact taste like curry at all. At first glance you might mistake this for lavender since the foliage is almost identical but the small yellow flowers are quite different.

I love the texture of this perennial (hardy in zones 8-11) and it is fun to include in designs as a talking point for garden visitors.

Other favorites

  • Rosemary, sage, mint, thyme and lemon verbena all assault the senses with their aromatic leaves as do so many other culinary herbs
  • Wormwood (Artemisia sp.) comes in many shapes and sizes some better behaved than others! My personal favorite is Silver Mound (Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Silver Mound’) featured in our book (Purple Waves, p52) This is another plant whose fragrance is rather hard to describe – somewhat musky yet medicinal. Not unpleasant yet perhaps not one you would want in great quantities.
  • Scented geraniums and citronella for keeping those pesky mosquitoes away!

What’s your favorite fragrant foliage?

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Lettuce Use Beautiful, Edible Foliage Too

June 2012 Containers 053Team Fine Foliage has been quite active in the arena of discussing, designing and writing about “Foodscaping” lately. Why not? It’s not only a hot, hip, trendy thing that everyone wants to know about right now, but it’s just good sense. It is the most base use of gorgeous edible foliage. Why shouldn’t our edible gardens be every bit as sexy and meaningful as our ornamental gardens? In fact, why can’t we have both at the same time and in the same place if possible, right?
Even with the added bonus of having to deal with the deer and rabbits, our protected areas and raised beds have lots of opportunity to feature gorgeous edible foliage as well as ornamental.

Karen Chapman's beautiful containers seated outside of her Vegetable Garden featuring dark brooding Dahlia foliage on a hot summer day.

Karen Chapman’s beautiful containers seated outside of her Vegetable Garden featuring dark brooding Dahlia foliage on a hot summer day.

Beautiful greens like lettuce and chard are incredibly easy edibles to grow either in beds or containers. There are SO many wonderful cultivars to try like the ‘Bright Lights’ Chard with a rainbow of bright colors running from the veins to the base of the stem. OR the vast selection of lettuce from heirloom to new hybrids and some that boast that they won’t bolt in the heat.
July 2011 Longwood 321

One of the beautiful things about lettuce in particular, when it comes to using it for its lovely design qualities is its flexibility.
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How about in a container of mixed lettuce combined with edible flowers like organically grown violas?
Lettuce Combo Pots 9-15-09 001 copy

Or in a mixed container of ornamental’s and herbs like lemon thyme where you can harvest your lettuce a few leaves at a time while you appreciate your fragrant flowers like jasmine and mini daffodils.
March 2011 Flowers and Foliage 081

Here in Shawna Coronado’s front yard garden, she is using every opportunity to grow her greens in the shade of a few mature trees. You might not think that its possible, but Shawna has had such incredible success, she was able to donate a serious quantity of food to the food bank last summer from it. And it was beautiful too!
Front Lawn Vegetable Garden August 2012 2

Leaves are valuable in design as well as in our new “Foodscaping” culture. Here are two of my favorite resources for lettuce and many other beautiful plants with edible foliage. Both are wonderful companies. I even bought lots of seeds for Christmas gifts last year!
1) Renee’s Garden Seeds
2) Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Try growing a number of different types, they are SO incredibly easy. Maybe they will take the place of one or two of the flowers you might have thought of designing with in your garden before Fine Foliage came into your life. :-)

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More Than Just Pie

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Why fill up your vegetable garden with rhubarb when you can use it as an ornamental plant in the garden border?

The idea of combining edibles and ornamental plants in the border is not new but we tend to think in terms of frilly lettuce, colorful Swiss chard or jewel like cherry tomatoes. Yet good old fashioned rhubarb provides some seriously dramatic foliage – like a hosta on steroids.

Nothing wimpy about these leaves!

Nothing wimpy about these leaves!

I have a large garden which means that I am often viewing foliage combinations from quite a distance.  No subtle miniatures for me! When I say I need bold foliage I mean BOLD foliage – and rhubarb delivers. Certainly there are fabulous ornamental cultivars  whose color may be rosier and leaves might be sharper, but when you need to fill up a big space on a small budget it’s hard to beat the simple edible variety.

Need more reasons to use it? Here’s a BIG plus – deer and rabbits ignore it which earns it major points in my garden and explains why I don’t need to enclose it within my fortified vegetable garden. (Slugs and unexpected hail storms can do damage but that goes for most leafy plants).

How to use it

Use it to frame a sculpture

A bold sculpture needs something equally dramatic

As a focal point near a seating area or sculpture.

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As a trail marker to indicate the start of a pathway

To balance the scale of a large container

To contrast with the finely cut foliage of plants such as astilbe and bugbane (Cimicifuga).

To provide a backdrop for smaller flowers

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Let it go to seed to create a stunning rhubarb sculpture!

Or….just make pie.

When is a Cabbage more than a Cabbage?

cabbage close upWere you one of those children who didn’t want to eat their ‘greens’? Turned your nose up at the smell of cooked cabbage? Well now that you’re all grown up let’s take a fresh look at this vegetable and see what else you can do with it!

This is the diva of cabbages – just look at that flirty blue foliage with magenta  ribs. Surely it would be wrong to just eat it (unless you’re a slug). Just think of the possibilities in the garden though. Such big succulent foliage would be a perfect side dish to finer textures such as hardy fuchsias as shown below using the soft variegated foliage of Fuchsia magellanica ‘Versicolor’.

A perfect lesson in color echoes and scale.

A perfect lesson in color echoes and scale.

Note how the tall purple alliums repeat the color of the bright veins in the cabbage leaf and how the height and scale of the metal sculpture is balanced by the hefty vegetable foliage.

Red leaf barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Atropurpure’a) would add depth to the color palette. If they are invasive in your area you could try darker leaved weigela or fringe flower (Loropetalum),

Balance the soft blue with rich purple companion foliage. A stray branch of Homestead Purple verbena draws the eye to the ribs of the cabbage foliage.

Balance the soft blue with rich purple companion foliage. A stray branch of Homestead Purple verbena (Verbena canadensis ‘Homestead Purple’) draws the eye to the ribs of the cabbage foliage.

Then just build on the idea. Put the cabbage in a fat, round pot, echo the blue tones with blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens), throw in some bold yellow accents and you have the makings of a fabulous foliage-inspired border!

cabbage in pot

A skirt of yellow Sedum ‘Angelina’ brings sparkle to the composition and repeats the color of the mounding conifers (Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Fiifera Aurea’).

Maybe cabbage isn’t so bad after all?

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