Keeping Up Appearances

ornamental bed

I confess that I’m pretty demanding on my plants. I only buy and care for plants that offer something in return like food for native fauna, food for me, or maybe a beautiful display I can cut and bring inside to enjoy. Better still if it offers more than one of those goodies. Seriously, I don’t understand the raison d’être of flowering fruit trees. Yes, flowering cherry trees are spectacular, but cherries that produce kilos of yummy fruit aren’t exactly a blight in your back yard. Which all means that when I’m in the garden, there’s some end game.

Then there is the exception that proves the rule. Our yard has a lot of areas that are really shady. When we moved in most of those had a few plants; some highly inappropriate (azaleas), some pretty good (bromeliads). Over the years Frank and I have tried spreading the plants that do well and ignoring those that don’t as they’ve slowly died. Yesterday I decided it was time to tackle another shady dead zone and I’ve spent a good part of the last 2 days at it. The spot I renovated runs along the eastern fence line, under a large, dense variegated Japanese pittosporum tree (I think). As if that wasn’t bad enough, it’s blocked from the morning sun by the fence, the afternoon sun by the lemon tree and the orange tree does its share of light stealing all day long.

A few years ago we jammed a philodendron left in a pot by the previous owners into the ground under this tree and it’s now happily climbing the tree trunk. A couple of other weed-like beautiful green leaf/red stem plants also did well when pulled up from a veggie bed and placed there. Finally, we stuck our lemongrass in this dead zone and it’s recovering from its harsh transplant. It was improving, but still mainly dusty dirt with bits of grass dotted around.

not a coleus?Yesterday I made a full assault on this sad patch with the goal of turning it into a beautiful leafy bed rather than a stunted weed pit. I dug in a bunch of compost, sand and water crystals. Then I stuck in a bunch of what I’ve always thought were coleus plants (but now I believe are iresine or Bloodleaf thanks to seeing Africanaussie post about hers and then doing a bit of sleuthing on the internet myself). These plants all sprouted from cuttings I made a few months ago from plants that are overgrowing near the rainwater tanks. They grow well from cuttings so I’m making more. I also planted a couple of types of what I believe to be ctenanthe plants (prayer plants) These things are spreading well in other shady spots and look fantastic against a fence. The tall ones grow to be about 2 metres high and so provide a nice green wall.

I’m pretty pleased with the result and I’m sure this will look fantastic next spring. The added bonus is those iresines are beautiful cut and put in a vase. Maybe I haven’t abandoned my principles after all.


About Laura Rittenhouse

I'm an American-Australian author, gardener and traveller. Go to my writing website: for more. If you're trying to find my gardening blog, it's here.
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2 Responses to Keeping Up Appearances

  1. Laura,
    my sentiments exactly! I have noticed lately though that I don’t pick the flowers as often to bring inside. I find they last longer on the bushes and all of our rooms open right up to the garden, so there is no need to bring them inside as they are essentially there all the time. That is going to be a very pretty little shady corner, and I have grown quite fond of that iresine.

    • I have iresine in 3 different places in my garden and some in a vase on the pass-through between my kitchen and lounge. Like you I cut fewer flowers these days because my windows bring the outside in on their own, but also because I’ve now covered nearly every level surface with potted plants. Some might say this is an obsession, I prefer to stress the health qualities of indoor plants 🙂

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