So I forgot. Today’s the day that the London Evening Standard publishes a feature on neon-coloured foliage and I am not even in London to pick up a copy. They say that if you want a job doing, give it to a busy person, but it you want something remembering, definitely don’t. I have a brain like a sieve, except at 5am when I wake up with gazillion ideas and ‘to dos’ boiling in my head. In tonight’s piece, which features my garden at The Watch House, garden columnist Alex Mitchell writes with verve about plants that look ‘more like velvet cushion covers attacked with a highlighter pen’. I had to giggle at that bit, but it’s so true. Those plants we sniggered at through the noughties are coming back with a vengeance – begonias, caladiums, crotons, coleus, tradescantia – all of them dazzling us with their brilliant foliage and endless variety once again.
The brilliant thing about half-hardy and tropical foliage plants is that the majority will flourish outdoors during summer, freeing your windowsills for whatever you like to keep on your windowsills in summer (for me, it’s more plants, which becomes a problem when the tropicals come back inside again!). Most foliage plants prefer a semi-shaded, well-sheltered spot, as well as a warm, humid summer to do really well. They can be prone to attack from slugs and snails, especially coleus, tradescantia and begonias. One should be vigilant at all times, but particularly when the plants come back indoors in autumn. I had the misfortune to step on snail in the shower this morning, the blighter having crawled stealthily from the crown of Aechmea ‘Blue Rain’ on the edge of the bath. With 15 stone of wet, naked man on top of it, the snail did not come off well from the encounter. If you’ve tried flanneling snail slime off your foot in the shower you will know that it’s not the easiest task.
I digress, so here, without further ado, are my Top 10 colourful foliage plants for summering outside and overwintering indoors:
Tradescantia ‘Purple Sabre’ – a superb trailing plant with the most lustrous, velvety leaves which sparkle like mica in bright sunlight. Propagates with ease so you will soon have more plants than you know what to do with. Often employed as groundcover in subtropical gardens. Lovely in a lead tank allowed to drape over the edge, planted beneath orange fuchsias such as ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’.
Begonia ‘Martin Johnson’ AGM – a real thoroughbred of a ‘Rex’ begonia. Produces maple-shaped leaves with a picotee edge. The leaf is a pale grey-green with a pale mauve centre and margins. Slow-growing in my experience.
Solenostemon (coleus) ‘Henna’ – Regular readers of this blog know my passion for this plant well. A very fine flame nettle with Chartreuse-green leaves and henna-red markings and undersides. Grows tall, strong and neat. Will stop anyone with an ounce of interest in plants in their tracks. Roots with ease from cuttings placed in a glass of water.
Solenostemon ‘Pink Chaos’ – this may be a very petite coleus, but the strength and vibrancy of the pink flash at the centre of each leaf is electric. Fantastic planted with hot pink petunias, or, as here, with Angelonia.
Cordyline ‘Pink Fantasy’ – I can’t decide how much of a novelty this plant is, and I will be interested to discover how it fares in the winter. Surprisingly, considering the tough, strappy nature of cordyline leaves, snails find it utterly delicious. You have been warned! Hard to place, so embrace the fact that it’s going to stand out like a sore thumb and celebrate it.
Begonia ‘Gryphon’ – a large, architectural begonia which is blissfully happy either outdoors or in. Puts on tremendous growth even during cool weather and is excellent even in quite heavy shade. A good plant for a bathroom or a hallway if planted in a nice big pot and allowed to bulk up.
Colocasia ‘Maui Gold’ – I recall it being a toss-up between this and another colocasia at Hampton Court this summer, and I am so pleased my final choice was ‘Maui Gold’. The leaves are a clean, clear lime-green, perhaps yellower in sunshine. The stems are a luminous greenish-white, like the stuff that glows in the dark. My plant has grown and grown, and I love it so much that it’s had to come indoors to keep growing through the winter. Alternatively colocasias can be allowed to die down and be started into growth again in spring.
Hedychium ‘Verity’ – recommended to me by The Salutation’s Steve Edney, this ginger is a real find. Most gingers have very similar foliage, but ‘Verity’ has leaves arranged in a neat herringbone pattern and striped with ivory, verging on cream. I don’t really care what the flowers look like, but kept indoors over winter, slightly on the dry side, it may produce fragrant, peachy blooms.
Zantedeschia ‘Hercules’ – the size of this calla lily is something to behold. It’s a monster! An individual, silver-spotted leaf might measure 3ft in length and the fragrant, white flowers can be carried 6ft above the ground. I did not help mine by falling on it half way through the season (hence no photograph of my own) although it has recovered well now. Would be happy in an unheated porch or bedroom through the winter, provided it’s well watered.
Monstera deliciosa ‘Albovariegata’ – the mother of all naff 70’s plants, the cheese plant, only in variegated form. The foliage can vary from all-white to all-green with every variation in between, including half and half, splashed and freckled. Mine is still a small, 5-leaved baby, but it will grow steadily over winter and be able to fend for itself in the garden by next summer.
I’d love to hear which house plants you put outside in summer and how they grow for you. The bigger and brighter the better! TFG.
Lead Image – Plectranthus argentatus, Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’, Tradescantia ‘Purple Sabre’ and Begonia ‘Benitochiba’ in the Gin and Tonic Garden at The Watch House in 2016.