bulbs for foliage

Jim McKenney jimmckenney@jimmckenney.com
Mon, 07 Aug 2006 16:49:20 PDT
Joe Shaw asked about bulbs for foliage. 

Although it does not have grassy foliage, one I grow here in Maryland comes
to mind as soon as I hear the phrase "bulbs for foliage". It's the ginger
Kaempferia rotunda. It's worth growing as a foliage plant, and the fragrant
flowers are a nice bonus. It's marginally hardy here in zone 7; for Joe Shaw
it should be an easy garden plant.  

BTW, I saw Dietes iridiodes for the first time in Florida last winter. There
was a long (fifty or sixty feet long) bed of it planted in the parking lot
of a shopping center. I was with some rather conservative
non-botanists/non-gardeners, and they were mortified when I jumped a barrier
to run over and pick the one flower in bloom. I spent about an hour trying
to explain that it would wither in about an hour picked or not - to no
avail. I had committed a sin. 

There is another group of plants which I think make great foliage plants:
garden glads. If they are planted in thick clumps about two or three feet in
diameter, they are handsome as foliage plants. 

Earlier in the year, many of the Allium have very decorative foliage - but
it's typically on its last leg by May. The same is true of Tulipa greigii
and its hybrids with striped, mottled foliage. Many Arisaema have very
handsome foliage which remains in good condition for months. 

In climates like the one in which I garden, one of the most valuable foliage
plants for winter effect is a geophyte: Arum italicum. 

In my climate, there are plenty of irises which have good foliage throughout
the growing season. Many are in fact evergreen.

The list could go on and on, but it seems to me that the real difference
between good foliage and bad foliage is largely a matter of placement. A
grassy plant among other grassy plants makes no individual effect; but put
it among Hosta or other broad-leaved plants and it becomes a focal point. 

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where a rabbit infestation is
currently reshaping my carefully considered foliage placements. 

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