Green your garden for St Patrick’s Day


Cape Town – March 17 is St Patrick’s Day, when it is customary for those with Irish roots to be “wearing of the green”.

For those in northern hemisphere countries, green can be seen when the new leaves of spring open, and later, as spring turns to summer.

Green is a secondary colour, made when blue is mixed with yellow. It is found in the centre of the colour spectrum. In colour psychology, green is associated with balance and harmony and is emotionally calming.


Garden green

In a garden, green is usually seen as a background colour, or one that unifies a garden. Its value is often overlooked as a colour to create a beautiful and restful garden. Green plants add freshness and coolness, shadows and shade in gardens on hot days. Green foliage plants are useful in shady places where the choice of flowers can be limited.

Green was the predominate colour of 17th century gardens of the wealthy in Europe. These were built on a grand and lavish scale, with vast expanses of lawns, hedges of clipped evergreens, statues and water fountains laid out in formal patterns. Clipped evergreens give an orderly and disciplined year-round appearance that is the hallmark of a formal garden.

The success of a predominately green garden relies on layering from canopy to ground level and making sure that filtered light reaches the lower layers. A garden of green foliage also suits contemporary gardens, where the plantings are secondary to the design.

In small gardens, simplicity is the key to success. Standardised shrubs, such as Ficus “Millennium” and indigenous holly (Ilex mitis), are especially useful as they free up space at ground level.

Shape and texture

A garden is made up of many shapes and textures. There is the hard landscaping of paths, pergolas and paving, the smoothness of concrete, coarseness of gravel, rough brick and smooth wood grain, and plants to soften the hard landscaping.

Plants in a garden come in many shapes – vertical (bamboo), fan (palm), arching (grasses), horizontal (thyme), and weeping, like weeping sage (Buddleja auriculata). Even a single genus, such as conifer, may vary in form, from pencil-like, to spreading, mounds and horizontal.

Leaf shapes can be round (bergenia), narrow (iris), wide (arum), lance-shaped (strelitzia), heart-shaped (elephant’s ear), lacy (maidenhair fern), finger-like (helleborus), feathery (fennel) and needle-like (rosemary). The texture of leaves always plays an important role in a garden and can be rough, smooth, waxy or downy.

Shades of green

Equal amounts of blue mixed with yellow give the true green of camellia and citrus leaves. When more blue than yellow is used, the colour becomes glaucous, as in the blue-green leaves of the giant honey flower (Melianthus major), low-growing, clump-forming ornamental grass blue festuca (Festuca glauca) and some conifers.


Mixing green with other colours dilutes or deepens the palette. Olive tree foliage and some desert roses (Echeveria) are grey-green; the mature leaves of the African dogwood (Rhamnus prinoides) are a glossy dark green.

Chartreuse in the garden

The colour chartreuse, the name of a French liqueur, is fresh, vibrant and very trendy in modern design, on walls, doors, cushions and in the garden. Chartreuse, greenish-yellow or yellowish-green foliage, adds brightness among plain green leaves and is the perfect accent in a predominately green garden. In a shade garden it stands out.

Hostas are favourite foliage plants for shade gardens, providing they are given rich moist soil, regular watering and protection from snails and slugs. Hosta has green-and-gold variegated leaves in spring and summer. Surround chartreuse hostas with green or blue-green varieties. Similar conditions suit the tropical foliage plant coleus or flame nettle (Solenostemon scutellarioides), with leaves in richly patterned shades, as well as chartreuse.

Plants with chartreuse foliage sometimes come with a bonus of seasonal flowers. Coral bells (Heuchera) have scalloped or frilly foliage in cinnamon, peach, plum, purple and chartreuse, Heuchera “Electric Lime”. Grow in semi-shade as an edging or in groups. The new leaves of dwarf Spiraea japonica “Gold Flame” are bronze-red turning to yellow then mid-green. It needs regular summer watering and some shade in hot summer gardens to prevent leaf scorching.

The chartreuse sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas) can be grown in filtered shade as a groundcover and is perfect for trailing over the edge of pots and hanging baskets. For a dramatic contrast, combine with the purple-black variety.

Green foliage plants can be the foundation of a garden or the stars; they can be a background colour, a foil to brightly coloured flowers or take centre stage.

Kay Montgomery, Weekend Argus


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