Tag Archive: leaf colour

Sedum 'Chocolate Drop'- the foliage as attractive as the flower- and what a combination!

Sedum ‘Chocolate Drop’- the foliage as attractive as the flower- and what a combination!

We tend to think a lot – some of us almost entirely – about flower colour when we consider planting in the garden. Leaves last far longer than blooms, so why not go for a combination of flower and foliage that will add texture to flower colour and shape?

Some leaves are striped, others marbled or speckled, while others range from purple, silver and blue, to butter-yellow or lime-green. Geranium (Cranesbill) and succulent-leaved Sedum are good examples of plants that pack a punch with their leaves, as do Hostas and Lamium.

Stipa gigantea- wonderful

Stipa gigantea- wonderful

You can creat a soft, billowing effect with plants that have feathery foliage, such as Bronze Fennel, or those with masses of leaflets, such as Aquilegia and many of the ferns. Ornamental grasses can also be used to soften displays; many are particularly useful because they are drought tolerant. I grow several here at Old School Garden, and I love the variety they add to a herbaceous border with an evergreen structure of shrubs; Stipa gigantea is especially lovely when the late afternoon sunlight catches its stalks and waving awns.

From flower to seedpod- Agapanthus

From flower to seedpod- Agapanthus

To sum up….

  • Blend foliage plants with flowering ones to keep the border looking at its best over the longest possible time.

  • Combine foliage and flowers that contrast with each other in colour,shape and texture.

  • Use plants with ornamental seed pods, such as Agapanthus, Feathery grass heads, such as Pampas grass and evergreen foliage.

  • Use plants with variegated leaves, such as striped, blotched and marbled, to their full advantage.

  • Choose flowering plants that have attractive foliage, such as Alchemilla mollis and geranium so that they add interest to the border over several months.

Hostas are usually grown for their foliage- which comes in all sorts of patterns and hues, but the flowers can also be very attractive

Hostas are usually grown for their foliage- which comes in all sorts of patterns and hues, but the flowers can also be very attractive

Source: ‘Short Cuts to Great Gardens’- Reader’s Digest, 1999

Old School Gardener


1280px-Rowan_tree_20081002b by Eeno11This wonderful tree, native to the U.K., is often associated with Scotland. It certainly suits bird life as the profuse red autumn berries provide a lot of autumnal sustenance. As they are not regular in shape,  the parent Rowan can be grown as a multi-stemmed specimen to achieve more uniformity of shape, or alternatively one of it’s clones, such as Sorbus aucuparia ‘Rossica Major’ can be used.

Common name: Rowan , Mountain Ash (due to the fact that it grows well at high altitudes and its leaves are similar to those of the ash, Fraxinus excelsior – however, the two species are not related). It’s latin name is composed of Sorbus for ‘service tree’ and aucuparia, which derives from the words ‘avis’ for “bird” and ‘capere’ for “catching” and describes the use of the fruit of S. aucuparia as bait for fowling. 

Native areas: The Rowan can be found in almost all of Europe and the Caucasus up to Northern Russia and Siberia, but it is not native to Southern Spain, Southern Greece, Sardinia, the Balearic Islands, the Azores, and the Faroe Islands. The species was introduced as an ornamental species in North America.

Historical notes: Fruit of S. aucuparia were used in the past to lure and catch birds. To humans, the fruit are bitter but they can be debittered and made into compote, jelly, jam, a tangy syrup, a tart chutney, or juice, as well as wine and liqueur, or used for tea or to make flour. The robust qualities of S. aucuparia make it a source for fruit in harsh mountain climate and Maria Theresa of the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy recommended the planting of the species in 1779.

The colour red was considered to be the best colour for fighting evil, and so the rowan, with its bright red berries, has long been associated with magic and witches. Its old Celtic name is ‘fid na ndruad’, which means wizards’ tree. In Ireland it was planted near houses to protect them against spirits, and in Wales rowan trees were planted in churchyards. Cutting down a rowan was considered taboo in Scotland. The wood was used for stirring milk to prevent it curdling, and as a pocket charm against rheumatism. It was also used to make divining rods.

The tallest S. aucuparia in the United Kingdom stands in the Chiltern Hills in South East England. This exceptional specimen is 28 m tall and has a trunk diameter of 56 cm.

Features: Sorbus aucuparia occurs as a tree or shrub that grows up to between 5 and 15 m in height. The crown is loose and roundish or irregularly shaped but wide and the plant often grows multiple trunks. The trunk is slender and cylindrical and reaches up to 40 cm in diameter, and the branches stick out and are slanted upwards. The bark of a young S. aucuparia is yellowish grey and gleaming and becomes grey-black with lengthwise cracks in advanced age; it descales in small flakes. Lenticels in the bark are elongated and coloured a bright ochre. The plant does not often grow older than 80 years and is one of the shortest-lived trees in a temperate climate.

6092500778_965c21d14d_bUses:   Rowans are planted in mountain ranges to fortify landslides and avalanche zones. It is also used as an ornamental plant in parks, gardens, or as an avenue tree. It is well suited to wildlife gardens. Cultivars are vegetatively propagated via cuttings, grafting, or shield budding. Ornamental cultivars include:

‘Asplenifolia’, which has divided and sharply serrated leaflets

‘Blackhawk’, with large fruit and dark green foliage

‘Fastigiata’, an upright columnar form

‘Fructu Luteo’, orange yellow fruit

‘Michred’, brilliant red fruit

‘Pendula’, which is a weeping tree

‘Sheerwater Seedling’, upright and slender, has vigorous growth, good-sized leaves and reliable and plentiful berries. It has been used as a street tree and is ideal for sites with little sideways space 

‘Xanthocarpa’ has orange yellow fruit

Growing conditions:  S. aucuparia is an undemanding species and can withstand shade It is frost hardy and can tolerate winter dryness and a brief growing season.  The plant is also resistant to air pollution, wind, and snow pressure. S. aucuparia mostly grows on soil that is moderately dry to moderately damp, acidic, low on nutrients, sandy, and loose. It often grows in stony soil or clay soil, but also sandy soil or wet peat. The plant grows best on fresh, loose, and fertile soil, prefers average humidity, and does not tolerate saline soil or waterlogging. It can be found in light woodland of all kinds and as a pioneer species over fallen dead trees or in clear cuttings, and at the edge of forests or at the sides of roads.

Mature S. aucuparia autumn colour

Mature S. aucuparia autumn colour

Further information:


RHS- Sorbus aucuparia

Sorbus aucuparia- the Woodland Trust

Growing S. aucuparia ‘Sheerwater Seedling’- Daily Telegraph

Barcham trees directory- Sorbus aucuparia

Old School Gardener

rhus typhina trio


This is a small tree (which can also be grown as a shrub) that can be a bit of a thug, as it spreads freely by root extension, but it’s lower growth is thin enough to allow other plants to live alongside it. I have a few here at Old School Garden and it is a great tree for adding an oriental feel, has interesting foliage (especially in the autumn) and some unusual flowers.

Common name: Stag’s Horn Sumac

Native areas: It is primarily found in Southeastern Canada, the Northeastern and Midwestern United States and the Appalachian Mountains, but is widely cultivated as an ornamental throughout the temperate world.

Historical notes: Introduced to the U.K. in 1620’s it won the R.H.S. Award of Garden Merit in 2002. Some beekeepers use dried sumac bobs as a source of fuel for their smokers. The fruit of sumacs can be collected, soaked and washed in cold water, strained, sweetened and made into a pink lemonade. The leaves and berries have been mixed with tobacco and other herbs and smoked by Native American tribes. All parts of the Stag’s horn Sumac, except the roots, can be used as both a natural dye and as a mordant. The plant is also rich in tannins and can be added to other dye baths to improve light fastness. In both French and German, the common name of the species (Sumac vinaigrier, Essigbaum) means “vinegar tree”.

Features: Rhus typhina is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 5 m (16 ft) tall by 6 m (20 ft) broad. It has alternate, pinnately compound leaves 25–55 cm (10–22 in) long, each with 9–31 serrate leaflets 6–11 cm long. The leaf petioles and the stems are densely covered in rust-colored hairs. The velvety texture and the forking pattern of the branches, reminiscent of antlers, have led to it’s common name. The Sumach is dioecious (male and female flowers produced on separate plants), with yellow-green flower clusters, followed on female plants by dense crimson fruiting heads. 

Rhus typhina 'Tiger Eyes'

Rhus typhina ‘Tiger Eyes’

Uses:  Rhus typhina provides interest throughout the year and is spectacular in autumn when its foliage turns fiery orange, gold, scarlet or purple. The effect is greater when set against the dense cones of red fruit borne by female plants. To get the best from this autumn colour plant it in a sheltered position away from strong winds; otherwise, as here in Old School Garden, you won’t see the leaves for very long! It’s vigorous, suckering habit makes it unsuitable for smaller gardens. Some landscapers remove all but the top branches to create a “crown” effect in order to resemble a small palm tree. There are about 200 species of Rhus and numerous cultivars have been developed for garden use, of which ‘Dissecta’ (syn.’Laciniata’ or Cutleaf Stag’s Horn Sumac) has deeply cut leaves. ‘Dissecta’ will survive winters as low as minus -12°C and then regain new growth the following season. 

Growing conditions:  It can grow under a wide array of conditions, but is most often found in dry and poor soil on which other plants cannot survive. Some species can be pruned hard to the ground every other year in early spring to produce handsome foliage plants. The inner sections of the trees are woody and pithy . It is advisable to wear gloves because the sap is potentially harmful.

Picture by Alain Delavie

Picture by Alain Delavie

Further information:


RHS- Rhus typhina

RHS- Rhus typhina ‘Dissecta’

Horticulture Week- ~Rhus typhina

‘Thorny Problems: How can I get rid of Sumach suckers?’- Daily Telegraph

Barcham trees directory- Rhus typhina

Old School Gardener

Appalachian Red Oaks-picture Jason Hollinger

Appalachian Red Oaks-picture Jason Hollinger

There can’t be many trees with a botanical name beginning with Q, but the Oaks provide plenty of variety and what for the U.K. (or maybe just England?) is probably the ‘people’s choice’ as our national tree (Quercus robur).

I’ve chosen a rather large variety, which will not fit easily into smaller gardens, but I just love it, especially for its autumn foliage…

Common name: Red Oak, American Red Oak, Northern Red Oak or Champion Oak

Native areas: North America, in the eastern and central U.S. and southeast and south-central Canada.

Red Oak early in the year

Red Oak early in the year

Historical notes: The Red Oak is one of the most important oaks for timber production in North America. Quality red oak is of high value as lumber and veneer, while defective logs are used as firewood. It’s bark is also rich in tannin, making it valuable in tanning leather. It was introduced to the U.K. in 1724 and has won the R.H.S. Award of Garden Merit in 2002 (and before this in 1971). There are 3 well known, very old specimens in the U.S.:

  • Ashford Oak – A very large Northern Red Oak in Ashford, Connecticut. The tree has suffered falling limbs because of its great age. However, this tree is still a sight to behold; the trunk is 8 m (26 ft) in circumference and the root-knees are also particularly impressive.

  • Chase Creek Red Oak – This forest tree is located on a very rich steep slope in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. The circumference at breast height is 6.7 m (22 ft), the height 41.5 m (136 ft) and the spread 29.9 m (98 ft)

  • Shera-Blair Red Oak – This majestic red oak tree is located in the South Frankfort neighbourhood of Frankling County, Kentucky. The circumference at breast height is 6.4 m (21 ft), with the trunk reaching higher than 40 feet before the branches begin and an estimated height of 130 feet.

Red Oak specimen Tortorth Arboretum. Picture by Velela

Red Oak specimen Tortorth Arboretum. Picture by Velela

Features: A large, broadly oval tree which does best in deep fertile soils, but tolerates most others. Under optimal conditions, Red Oak is fast growing and a 10-year-old tree can be 5–6 m (16–20 ft) tall. Trees may live up to 500 years and a living example of 326 years was noted in 2001. Red oak is easy to recognize by its bark, which features bark ridges that appear to have shiny stripes down the centre.  Young growth emerges almost yellow in the spring befoe expanding into large, broad green and lobed leaves by May. It’s autumn foliage is a rich red, turning dark reddish grey brown before falling. The acorns mature in about 18 months after pollination. Its kernel is white and very bitter. Despite this bitterness, they are eaten by deer, squirrels and birds. It appears to tolerate polluted air well.

Uses:  As a large tree the Red Oak is best used in parks and large gardens as specimen tree.

Growing conditions:  Red Oak is not planted as often as the closely related Pin Oak as it develops a taproot and quickly becomes difficult to transplant. Acorns should either be sown in the location where the tree is intended to be planted or else moved to their permanent location within the seedling’s first year. As the tree gets older, the taproot gradually shrinks and the lateral root network expands. Red Oak is easy to start from seed, however the acorns must be protected from animal predation over the winter months. As with other oaks, germination takes place in late spring when all frost danger has passed. The seedling grows rapidly for its first month, then pauses for another month, and sends out more new shoots until September when growth stops for the year. If the weather stays favorable, a third burst of growth may occur.

Mature Red Oak, autumn foliage

Mature Red Oak, autumn foliage

Further information:


RHS- Quercus rubra

Barcham trees directory- Quercus rubra

Old School Gardener

olive potsThe ‘O’ in my A-Z of garden trees is a tree that has grown in popularity in the UK in recent years, though is a little tender. I have an olive tree growing in a pot in the courtyard here at Old School Garden. It’s a couple of years old and though producing fruit, these have not yet developed into anything edible….

Common name: Olive

Native areas:  found in much of  Africa and the Mediterranean basin, the arabian peninsula, southern asia and has been naturalised in many other places.

Olive characteristics from the Kohler Medicinal Pflanzen

Olive characteristics from the Kohler Medicinal Pflanzen

Historical notes: The olive tree as we know it today had its origin approximately 6,000 -7,000 years ago in the region corresponding to ancient Persia and Mesopotamia. It later spread from these countries to nearby territories corresponding to present-day Syria and Israel.

Olive oil has long been considered sacred. The olive branch was often a symbol of abundance, glory and peace. The leafy branches of the olive tree were ritually offered to deities and powerful figures as emblems of benediction and purification, and they were used to crown the victors of friendly games and bloody wars. Today, olive oil is still used in many religious ceremonies.

 Features: Olives grow very slowly, and over many years the trunk can attain a considerable diameter. One was recorded as exceeding 10 m (33 ft) in girth. Olive is an evergreen tree or shrub. It is short and squat, and rarely exceeds 8–15 m (26–49 ft) in height, and are generally confined to much more limited dimensions by frequent pruning. The yellow or light greenish-brown wood is often finely veined with a darker tint; being very hard and close-grained, it is valued by woodworkers. 

Uses:  As a small tree with a rounded form, the olive can take on an attractively gnarled appearance as it develops and is a good choice for small gardens. It has small, but attractive leathery grey-green leaves and small,  fragrant white flowers. They can be grown as half standards pruned to the classical Tuscan shape, or as full standards as well as more natural forms. They can benefit from a severe biannual prune in April, but as the fruit develops at the tips of the previous year’s growth you’ll sacrifice one year’s crop. These look especially good in teracotta pots and in Mediterranean style gardens.

An Olive Tree in a garden setting

An Olive Tree in a garden setting

Growing conditions:  If you have a protected city garden or live in a mild area, olives can be grown outdoors as long as you give them a sunny position and plant them in well-drained soil, for example, against a warm wall would be ideal.  In cold or northern regions winter protection in a conservatory for example, will be required.

Once established they are extremely drought-tolerant, but plants will do better if watered regularly in dry spells during the growing seasons. To encourage strong growth, it’s a good idea to feed each spring with a general fertiliser, such as Vitax Q4. Olives naturally shed their older leaves in spring (April in the UK) as new growth begins.

Olives are not entirely hardy in the UK, and will be damaged by temperatures below -10°C (14°F). So, in colder areas of the country, you can grow olives in large (60cm, 24ins) diameter and depth) containers. Plant in a well-drained mix of compost, such as loam-based John Innes No 3 with 20 percent by volume added horticultural grit. You can place containers outdoors in summer and then move into a cold conservatory, porch or greenhouse over winter.

Olives ready to eat- Picture by K'm

Olives ready to eat- Picture by K’m

Although they can cope with dry periods, olives in containers need regular watering and feeding to produce fruit. During the growing season keep the compost moist and feed with a balanced liquid fertiliser such as Phostrogen or seaweed, every month. In winter, you can reduce watering, but don’t let the compost dry out completely.

Olive trees can live for several centuries and can remain productive for as long if they are pruned correctly and regularly. 

The Olive Tree of Jerusalem mural

The Olive Tree of Jerusalem mural

Further information:


RHS- Olea europaea

Barcham trees directory- Olea europaea

‘The Olive Branches Out’- Daily Telegraph

Old School Gardener

Sizergh Castle, Cumbria- picture via National Trust

Sizergh Castle, Cumbria- picture via National Trust

Picture by Famartin

Picture by Famartin

 I see its been some months since my last post in this series, so it’s about time I got going and finished the alphabet! The ‘N’ in my garden trees series is Nyssa sylvatica, introduced to the UK 250 years from the U.S. and considered by many to be the finest of that country’s native trees.

Common name: Tupelo, black gum tree, common tupelo tree, cotton gum, pepperidge, sour gum tree

Native areas: Nyssa sylvatica grows in various uplands and in alluvial stream bottoms in eastern north America, as far south as florida and locally in central and southern Mexico Optimum development is made on lower slopes and terraces in the South eastern U.S.

Historical notes: Introduced from America in 1750, Nyssa sylvatica’s genus name (Nyssa) refers to a Greek water nymph; the species epithet sylvatica refers to its woodland habitat. On Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts it is called “beetlebung”, perhaps for its use in making the mallet known as a beetle, used for hammering bungs (stoppers) into barrels.

Features: Nyssa are deciduous trees with ovate leaves colouring brilliantly in autumn; inconspicuous flowers are followed by small, dull purple fruits. N. sylvatica is small (generally 15-25 metres tall), slow-growing and with an elegant, broadly conical habit with a maximum spread of 6-10 metres. Ovate leaves to 15cm in length turn brilliant red and yellow in autumn. It has a trunk diameter of around 50–100 centimetres. These trees typically have a straight trunk with the branches extending outward at right angles. The bark is dark grey and flaky when young, but it becomes furrowed with age, resembling alligator hide on very old stems. Though insignificant to look at, its flowers are an important source of honey and its fruits are important to many bird species. Hollow trunks provide nesting or denning opportunities for bees and various mammals. It is the longest living non-clonal flowering plant in Eastern North America, capable of reaching ages of over 650 years.

Uses:  Nyssa sylvatica gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM) in 2002. It is an architectural tree requiring little or no maintenance. Useful in parks and large gardens, it is often used as a specimen or shade tree. The tree is best when grown in sheltered but not crowded positions, developing a pyramidal shape in youth, and spreading with age. The stem rises to the summit of the tree in one tapering unbroken shaft, the branches come out at right angles to the trunk and either extend horizontally or droop a little, making a long-narrow, cone-like head. The leaves are short-petioled and so have little individual motion, but the branches sway as a whole. The spray is fine and abundant and lies horizontally so that the foliage arrangement is not unlike that of the beech (Fagus). Its often spectacular autumnal colouring, with intense reds to purples, is highly valued in landscape settings.

Growing conditions: Grow in moist, humus-rich, fertile soils with shelter from cold, dry winds. Resents transplanting so grow from small containerised plants. They do not tolerate lime soils.

Autumn colour- picture by Jean pol Grandmont

Autumn colour- picture by Jean pol Grandmont

Further information:


RHS- Nyssa sylvatica

Barcham trees directory- Nyssa sylvatica

Old School Gardener


‘Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.’

Albert Camus

Picture by Bob Osborn

Picture by Bob Osborn

The ‘E’ in my A-Z of garden trees is a star autumn performer and can also be grown as a deciduous shrub. As I write this, my own (shrub) example of Euonymus (the alatus or ‘winged spindle’ species) here in Old School Garden has just lost all of it’s new leaves – possibly a virus or scale attack? Still, I have gathered some seeds from hedgerow examples of europaeus and the small seedlings seem to be doing well, so maybe I shall- in a few years- have a replacement or two!

Common name: ‘Spindle’, ‘European Spindle’, ‘Common Spindle’

Native areas: native to much of Europe, where it inhabits the edges of forest, hedges and gentle slopes, tending to thrive on nutrient-rich, chalky and salt-poor soils. It is a decduous shrub or small tree.

Historical notes: European spindle wood is very hard, and can be cut to a sharp point- it was used in the past for making wool spindles (used to spin the wool into thread).

Features: Euonymus europaeus grows to 3–6 m (10–20 ft) tall, rarely 10 m (33 ft), with a stem up to 20 cm (8 in) in diameter. The leaves are opposite, lanceolate to elliptical, 3-8 cm long and 1-3 cm broad, with a finely serrated edge. Leaves are dark green in summer. Autumn colour ranges from yellow-green to reddish-purple, depending on environmental conditions. Flowers are produced in late spring and are insect-pollinated; they are rather inconspicuous, small, yellowish green and grow in cymes of of 3-8 together. The capsular fruit ripens in autumn, and is red to purple or pink in colour and approximately 1-1.5 cm wide (opening, when ripe, to reveal orange seed cases).

Uses:  Spindle is a popular ornamental in gardens and parks due to its bright pink or purple fruits and attractive autumn colouring, in addition to its resistance to frost and wind. It has been introduced to North America where it has become an invasive species in some areas. Grown as a shrub it is useful for hedging and screens, is relatively low maintenhance and as a tree looks good in ‘Cottage’, informal and wildlife gardens.

The cultivar ‘Red Cascade’ has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM).This is a small arching tree (mature height 3-5 metres), and produces an abundance of rosy red fruits which open to reveal vivid orange seed cases. The foliage display in autumn is fantastic with green leaves turning to rich red by November. This variety is one of the best forms for gardens, parks and resticted spaces.

Growing conditions: Grow in well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. propagate by sed or semi-hardwood cuttings. A good choice for even chalky soils, it will thrive in most soils, but avoid waterlogged ground. Prone to caterpillars and vine weevils and may suffer from powdery mildew.

640px-Illustration_Euonymus_europaea0Further information:


RHS- Euonymus europaeus

Barcham trees directory- ‘Red Cascade’

How to grow Euonymus europaeus ‘Red Cascade’

Old School Gardener

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