Somehow I have been fascinated by leaves other than green.  Variegation with white is quite common but the ones with darker hues make the green show up best.  My most aggressive one is the original PERILLA (Perilla frutescens). Once you have it, there it is! It is an annual capable of many seeds.  The herbalists call it shiso and us it in cooking. It is used in Japan to sweeten tobacco as it is listed as 200 times sweeter than sugar.  To me it is a 2 foot tall ruffly leaved purple plant that makes everything around it look better. The newest PERILLA (Padilla plus several exotic names by different seed companies) looks like a COLEUS but does not go to seed as easily and is usually planted in pots. I start a cutting in the fall and by spring have many new plants to set out.

          I would like to have more shrubs, especially ones that are thick in branches 6 to 10 feet above the ground to make a safe place for birds to nest.  As I sit here in front of a big window there are a pair of cardinals building a nest in the HENRY LAUDERS WALKING STICK (Corylus avellana “Contorta”) which is a FILBERT 10 to 15 feet tall and about as wide with twisted branches crossing each other.  Each winter when the leaves are gone I try to remove enough of the branches to see the contortion.  After a snow the shrub is fantastic to see. 

          The Cardinal comes in with long, straw like objects landing on a trellis nearby, then to a lower branch and up to the construction site, but she always leaves from the back side of the shrub. Another bird has a nest in the tangle of the WISTERIA VINE (Wisteria chinensis) that grew up a pole by wrapping itself around and around.  We built four arms at the top of the pole and it has taken over all of them making a somewhat solid platform under the dense canopy of leaves.  This spring was its best blooming year with several hundred long chains of purple blossoms.

          Another shrub that is just now getting big enough to show off its purple foliage is “DIABLO”, a NINEBARK (Physocarpus opulifolia) also called (Spirea opulifolia). It is supposed to grow to 15 feet wide and 10 feet high.  As usual for a new plant it just sat there its first year and grew very little the second but this year it jumped! And it also bloomed. Backed up against an unstained board fence the color shows up nicely. By next year it should be a proper place for a bird to nest.  It is supposed to have suckers to make the shrub more dense. 

          Next to it is the “different” BUTTERFLY BUSH.  This is Buddleia alternifolia, sometimes called THE FOUNTAIN BUTTERFLY BUSH. This one blooms several weeks earlier than the other Buddleias and has arching branches that sometimes arches so much the branches touch the ground.  Around mine I have a section of wire in a half circle that holds the top branches about 3 feet up.  The blooms have silvery leaves and smell good. This plant blooms on last years branches, so must be pruned as soon as possible after the blooms are finished. The flower is much lighter than the Buddleias with light lavender flowers. Eventually it will be between ten and 20 feet tall. 

          “CRIMSON PYGMY”, a Japanese BARBERRY (Berberis thunbergii) is a dwarf about 2 feet tall with dark red/purple leaves.  It contains spines and yellowish wood.  When used as a hedge, the spines will retard any traffic. It is another plant that likes hot and dry. Mine is planted in the parkway and in 20 years has had only one offset from the root. It is backed up by a red lava rock, has a mounded shape that never needs pruning.

          VARIEGATED FALLOPIA (Fallopia variegatus) has an almost white leaf with green ribs and some have pink coloring.  It comes up a brilliant 2 inches of red tips. I started out with a small plant and put it close to a path.  By fall I couldn’t find the path so had to move it back so that now it is in front of an unpainted board fence.  Now I cut it to the ground every fall and find most plants in its genus are climbers.  The encyclopedia describes them as frequently rampant and difficult to control.  Mine is a shrub form with almost entirely white leaves and a few green spots. Some of the leaves have a pink rim. They are very pretty in a bouquet of red or pink flowers.

          My dogs have a pen ten foot wide and 30 foot long and complete with a house. Pepper (60 pounds) likes to dig sleeping holes that are cool.  She digs a new one every night or so to get to damp earth. Snoopy (20 pounds) sleeps in the old one.  A wild grape vine has moved in and completely shades the west end, climbing the chain link fence and into branches of a neighbors tree that hangs over. On the other end I have a variegated honeysuckle Vine (Lonicera variegatus). It has never bloomed for me in fifteen years but the leaves are silver and green and looks superb in a vase of flowers. Since they grow all summer I don’t need blooms.

          The HEUCHERA species have become so popular in the last few years that one can get one of nearly every color but blue. Most of them like semi shade and moist soil. Some have variegated leaves and others range from nearly white leaves to almost black. Also called CORAL BELLS “Palace Purple” is the first one I bought many years ago and it still makes a clump 18 inches high by 24 inches wide every spring of large, jagged leaves of deep purple tinted with red.  If you save the seeds you probably will not come up with “Palace Purple” the next year.  They can change so much and this gives us all the varieties. Some can even take full sun. My almost black leafed one lives by a rock on the south side of the house, another has been in a pot (20 inches) against the south side of a brick house.  It keeps its leaves during winter even when under inches of snow.

          I am always hunting for different colored leaves, different shapes, or leaves that do something different.  For example, TILLIANDSIA (Bromeliad) leaves have silvery grey “spots” that do the work of roots on other plants.  Known as air plants the roots do nothing but cling to a rock, side of a tree, etc. One can glue them to a trunk, mist every day or so, and have a happy plant. The whole article next week is on Bromeliads. Look for it.

          You can see one of Gladys’ Bromeliads at “The Mill on Prescott”, 4736 Prescott in Lincoln. This one has a pink flower with small blue drops and usually stays in bloom until Halloween.

Copyright 2006