Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day: Problem Corner Mark 2

I mentioned at the end of my post on Plas Cadnant that I wanted to re-work what I call my Problem Corner in the front garden, paying particular attention to the foliage. It is a mostly shady corner of well drained good quality soil – apart from one area where it is still full of old gravel – and is exposed to the northerly winds in the winter. Large portions of it had been completely taken over by ‘Mind your own business’ (Soleirolia soleirolii), which the RHS describes as “…a fast-growing, mat-forming perennial with creeping, rooting stems…”. Yes, creeping. Worse than the buttercups that also infest that area. I can’t quite believe that this plant is sold, in pots, in reputable Garden Centres! It’s a thug! Yes, it can look quite pretty filling the gaps between slabs, or on steps. But take your eye off it for a couple of weeks and it gets everywhere!

mind-your-own-business getting everywhere

There’s a viburnum somewhere in there…

Anyway, I dug out loads of buttercup, grass and MYOB, got rid of the struggling hosta, and spent a lot of time staring at the area, plotting and planning. Even in winter, the sun cuts through the middle of this bed in mid to late afternoon, and I had already planted an Amelanchier there to catch the light. I decided to move the Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’ that had been languishing in the back border, hidden by the raspberry canes, and plant in where it too would catch that sun. You can just about see it, surrounded by lovely dark mulch, in the center of the photo below:

The problem corner after some sorting

I moved the three Tellima grandiflora that I had into a block (if you can have a block of three) in front of the Polystichum, and started to map out the other foliage contrasts I wanted to create. I loved the way they massed the ferns at Plas Cadnant, so I ordered two more Polystichum, each slightly different. These will go next to the one already there, between it and the path. I also have a bargain bunch of hellebores growing on in the greenhouse. I love the architectural quality of the foliage, so I placed two empty plant pots to make a triangle with the one already there.

Three Tellimas – which have lovely coppery foliage in winter – just didn’t make enough of an impact, so I added another two to the plant list, and then put my thinking cap back on. I wanted another block of plants with contrasting foliage to march alongside the Tellimas. Back in my last garden before I drastically simplified the pond border, I had a clump of Carex muskingumensis. It is a lovely, semi-evergreen sedge, with thin, bright green, divided leaves. I found a wonderful photo of it grown in a big block running alongside a path at Knoll Gardens (you can see it as one of the illustrations of the plant on their website). That got added to the list, bought from them, and rather wonderfully they had run out of 2l pots, which was what they were selling, so substituted my 3 pots for 6 x 9cm pots instead!

carex muskingumensis

The leaves make a wonderful contrast with the tellima, I just hope they get enough sun to be happy.

carex muskingumensis with tellima grandiflora
Back of my problem corner

Coming together. I planted the carex quite close together, but I should soon be able to lift and divide them, and extend the feature.

I am also determined to try again with more Epimediums. When I first planted this area up I had wanted a swathe of them, contrasting with ferns. I thought I had lost them, but as it turns out they are remarkably tough, and survived to pop up again, after a year completely hidden, despite the dense cover of forget-me-nots and MYOB etc. The two survivors are Epimedium perralderianum. The coppery foliage on these goes wonderfully well with the orangey-brown flowers of the Euphorbia mellifera, and with the Amelanchier foliage, both when young, and when it is on the turn, as it is now. And of course it would also complement the leaves and stems of the Amelanchier. So, more are on order, and I hope to create a little river of them, running through the middle of the bed.

The next piece of the puzzle was another carex, Carex testacea, which has wonderful coppery tones in the fronds at some times of year. You can just about see how well it picks out the colours of the changing leaves on the dogwood:

carex testacea with amelanchier

I already had one planted near the Euphorbia, again to pick up on the flower colour, so I decided, since it will grow in quite deep shade, to add another couple too. One to anchor the corner of the bed and contrast with the ferns, and another more centrally to pick up on the stems of the dogwood and contrast with the hellebores.

carex testacea between amelanchier and dogwood

I had thought about sticking to solid blocks of foliage plants, in larger numbers, but I also really like repeated patterns of plants through an area, interspersed with smaller blocks, and in the end I decided that this would give me more interest and movement through the year. We’ll see! I also have various bulbs to plant in and around, which I am waiting to do when the ferns and epimediums arrive.

The final lightbulb moment has to do with my favourite famuily of grasses, miscanthus. When I was tidying up an area further up this border I decided that I would really love to see a miscanthus, one with good autumn colour, growing with the phromium, cotinus and euphorbia. There is already an aster there, and if I add some more late summer perennials next year it will make a lovely focus, well in to the autumn. I drooled at the huge selection of miscanthus that Knoll Gardens sell. I nearly opted for ‘China’, which I have grown before, but then I came across Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferner Osten’. It is described as “Superb selection forming mounds of narrow foliage turning bright copper and red in autumn. Spectacular very dark red flower plumes.” Sold. And then I thought, rhythm and repetition… And then I thought, a miscanthus, catching the soft afternoon sunlight, dancing in front of Amelanchier… So ordered three.

The first is planted where it will help disguise the compost area, in front of the Fatsia and Amelanchier.

miscanthus sinensis Ferner Osten

It doesn’t look like much at the moment, because of course it was cut hard back for transport, but next year…

The second slots in between two large clumps of Cephelaria gigantea:

second miscanthus placement

And the third slots in right where it should make a good show against the other strong foliage plants, not to mention adding some movement where it is currently all a little stiff.

Phromium, cotinus and euphorbia with new miscanthus

I’m happy with how it is all coming together, if a little nervous about what a harsh winter might do.

My problem corner

As you can see, there is still plenty of re-working to do on this border, particularly slightly further up where I have deepened it. Fortunately there are plenty of forget-me-nots at the moment, and I plant to add in geums, erysiums and possibly some sanguisorba – more of Plas Cadnant’s influence!

I’m going to finish my foliage worship with some shots of the beautiful Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-Mai’, which is lighting up the whole border, and contrasting wonderfully well with the Hakonechloa macra.

Prunus incisa kojo-no-mai autumn leaves

Prunus incisa kojo-no-mai on fire

kojo-no-mai with hakonechlo macra

I am joining in with Christina’s celebration of foliage, and am off to get yet more leafy inspiration by reading the other posts contributing to the meme.

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37 Comments


  1. I can see you’ve given your new planting scheme and plant placement plenty of thought Janet. I wish I was as mindful as you. I plan to redress my shady bed in much the same manner as you have done next year hoping to add some cohesion .
    All looking good and well done! Oh, and before I forget nice new look to your blog. I suspect you posted previously on the changes but think I may have missed it.
    Angie recently posted Red and Green……


    1. Hi Angie, I think I spent more time planning this time because it went wrong first time round, but it taught me a lot too, about what grows here and what I want to aim for. Glad you like the new look!


    1. Hi Charlie, me too, I’m looking forward to seeing if it works out as I intend it to.


    1. Thank you Diana, I hope so!


  2. It’s filling out beautifully, Janet! I love your ideas with the grasses; I’ve been so encouraged with mine that I’m sure to add more (one Pennisetum already in), and it’s helpful to see how you’re working them throughout the bed. It’s lovely to see all the subtle foliage colours building up across your new plantings!
    btw, I don’t know how you found my comments, which seem to disappear (spam bin?) whenever I leave one here, but I appreciate your digging them out of wherever they went… :)
    Amy recently posted Garden Foliage: October


    1. Thank you Amy, I love grasses, they add so much movement as well as colour. I have a couple of pennisetums on my wishlist, and hopefully will get to try them out next year. Don’t know what happened to your comments Amy, I didn’t have to dig them out of anywhere, maybe they just had to have me approve them first time round? Not sure, but will check my spam folder for more…


  3. Janet you have put an amazing amount of thought and planning into this border, it looks like it already has a lot of contrast and texture, I look forward to seeing how it develops in the coming year.
    I like the new blog layout too, Frances


    1. Hi Frances, I do tend to get a little obsessed by it all! The epimediums and ferns arrived over the weekend but we had family staying, I am hoping to get to plant them out this afternoon.


  4. Goodness you have been busy . I’m sure that it’ll look really good next year and you’ll be pleased with it. xx
    Flighty recently posted An ordinary weekend


    1. Thanks Flighty, I hope so, though I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up moving thing around again come Spring, I do tend to tinker a lot!


  5. I like the way you use several of the same plant in groups or blocks as you say, and wish I could have the discipline to do the same! One day I will learn… The foliage of your kojo no mai is lovely and looks enormous compared to mine, so maybe I have a dwarf variety.
    Cathy recently posted In a Vase on Monday: Fancy a Cuppa?


    1. Hi Cathy, it has taken me years to persuade myself to limit my plant palette and buy/grow/plant in threes and fives, and I still get torn between the blocks of foliage ‘look’ and the more naturalistic rivers and dots of repetition. I do enjoy repetition though, even if, as with the miscanthus, it is repeating plants down a border with large gaps between them. I often wonder if anybody other than me even notices…


    2. P.S. ‘kojo-no-mai’ has taken a couple of years to settle in well, but seems to have put on loads of growth this year, and has larger leaves too. Maybe yours just needs a little more time?


  6. Oh this is coming together so nicely, Janet – and I am sure you are being very sensible ordering more than one of certain things to plant as a block when it is so tempting to get different things. I have added a number of grasses this year too so will be looking forward as you are to seeing them put on a show, although I have got a couple of russet spikes on my Ferner Osten this year!
    Cathy recently posted October Foliage: Yellow


    1. Thanks Cathy. Oooh, I am envious of your ‘Ferner Osten’ spikes, I had hoped to buy miscanthus from a garden center so that I could enjoy the foliage this year, but ho hum, at least these plants should get well settled in to what is still very warm soil before winter hits. I am far less inclined to the repetition in the back garden, it is where I allow myself to buy singletons of things I fall in love with and just can’t resist, though I am already wondering if I will be able to divide my Brunnera ‘Silver Wings’, it is so beautiful.


  7. I too like drifts of the same plant weaving through a border. I like how you are placing your plants, by next year it should look wonderful. Grasses will add movement to a border and any breeze will set them dancing! You have certainly been working hard and I look forward to seeing your border developing over the coming months.
    Pauline recently posted October Foliage, change is on it’s way.


    1. Thank you Pauline, I am looking forward to Spring already! Still lots of bulbs to plant…


    1. I think I could develop a serious addiction to epimediums, Donna, they are wonderful for the foliage alone, but the flowers can be so beautiful too. I think carex are often overlooked, but they add such valuable year-round colour and movement, and can set off other plants so beautifully.


  8. That garden section is filling in nicely. The Prunus sure is colorful, and the combination of plants really works well. Your MYOB reminds me of the Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea) we have here. It seems to prefer sunny spots, so I don’t have it in my garden, but it sure is prevalent and invasive where it gets going.
    Beth @ PlantPostings recently posted This Little Blog Is Five Years Old


    1. The prunus is a lovely plant Beth, this poor thing got run over in its previous home, on the corner of the drive of our last house, I think it is very happy to have a safer spot now, and is really beginning to put on some height.


  9. I use baking soda to kill Corsican mint so it may work on your mind your own business,it’s worth a try anyway.


    1. Oooh, interesting, thank you. Do you just sprinkle the powder over it or do you dilute it in water?


  10. Your border is looking wonderful. The tapestry of colors, forms, and textures shows your careful thought and planning. Hopefully the plants will behave and the weather will cooperate, but I doubt it! That is why we are always redoing and adjusting our gardens, which is the challenge and the fun.
    debsgarden recently posted California Costal Images


    1. Thank you Deb, and yes, you are absolutely right, the constant tweaking and adjusting is a big part of the fun!


  11. Love the kojo no mai, and your discussion on the process and decisions of your planting!


    1. Thanks Jayne, and thanks for dropping by!


  12. Wow, you have been busy and that looks quite a different border to the one remember seeing a while ago :) I’m so pleased you mentioned Knoll, I went there last year and Neil Lucas is so enthusiastic about – not just grasses – but everything. I have a fantastic Persicaria ‘Fat Domino’ as a souvenir of my visit. I see you and Kate are subliminally persuading everyone that they must visit Plas Cadnant by mentioning it frequently. It sounds a fab place! Thanks for your comment over at mine – you reminded me that I found a fab talk by Ken Thompson about alien plant species a while ago, so I’ve rootled around for the link and added it to the post to round things off nicely.
    VP recently posted A Seaside Walk, Foraged Vegetables and Garden Interlopers


    1. Hi Michelle, I love Neil’s blogging about grasses, and the website has so many gorgeous grasses – and other plants – to tempt me. My sil lives quite near the gardens/nursery, and we have a plan for us to go together next year when we visit them. Could be expensive…
      As for Plas Cadnant, a really magical place, next time you are over this way you should drop in, not sure Karen would like it, too many ferns, but hey, there are lots of herbaceous borders too!! Am off to check out the addendum to your foraging post…


  13. Hi Janet, seriously impressed with the goings on in what you call your problem corner. Dare I suggest, for the shady part an Aucuba! (joking) I have come across a cracker of a Skimmia though, in fact its unbelievable, I will tell you all about it in my next post. I see you have Amelanchier, I have just planted a couple at the bottom of the front garden, named Amelanchier Ballerina, main purpose is to sort of hide our neighbours window from view. I am also fond of miscanthus, they didn’t do that well in Aberdeen, here in Cheshire red chief looks amazing, I planted it in front of an apple tree last year, concerned that it may be too dry, but its worked out fine.
    alistair recently posted Rudbeckia fulgida early bird gold


    1. Thank you Alistair, it is coming together – without the addition of Aucuba ;-) There was a skimmia here when we moved in, but it was sickly, and I have neutral to alkaline soil, which is curious as most of the Island seems to be acidic clay. I know what you mean about hiding neighbour’s windows, I have planted a trio of birches in my front garden to do the same thing, though it will be a while before they offer much cover. Glad you are able to grow miscanthus now, they are such wonderful grasses.


  14. Roll on Spring when you will able to see the fruition of your hard work!


    1. Here here!


  15. This was really interesting Janet. I really appreciate the detail you give about your thought processes. I have had a real lesson in planting in quantity here because not everything wants to grow so when you find something that does you are inclined to split the plant up and make it a star of the show. I love the epimediums and have bought some but you are making me feel like having more! I think this will look very lovely indeed.
    elizabethm recently posted Making winter like the Danes


    1. Hi Elizabeth, thank you, good to know that you enjoyed reading the details of my ponderings, I’m never entirely sure that others find such things as fascinating as I do, but I always like to know WHY somebody planted as they did, and I do expend large amounts of brain-energy thinking about how I want my garden to look. I agree completely about seizing on things that enjoy your conditions with alacrity, makes perfect sense to me, plus it adds coherence. I think epimediums are one of those plants that you can never have too many of…

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