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Garden Diary: Mixed Leaves

By Matt Collins, Head Gardener

Last week we celebrated British Flowers Week, so it seems fitting that leaves ought to get a moment in the limelight also. The Museum’s newly designed Sackler Garden boasts many floral surprises; carpets of purple-white violas, tall red trumpets of Canna ehemanii and the raceme spires of Actaea simplex, to name a few, but the large variety of leaf forms on display are, in turn, one of the garden’s great charms.

Canna ehemanii

With the towering plane trees above us well and truly in leaf, wonderful dappled shadows now highlight the many architectural plants in the courtyard. Largest and most prominent is the Taiwan endemic, Tetrapanax papyrifer (rice-paper plant) whose enormous, umbrella-like leaves occupy one whole corner of the garden. Similarly tall and stately are our Fatsia polycarpa, thriving in the shade below the Museum’s ageing mulberry tree. Mixed within the central planting you can find the soft textured, Persicaria virginiana var. filiformis, with its distinctive and attractive mauve-variegated markings. These stand out against the striking dark foliage of Actaea ‘James Compton’, which – if you look closely – hide sheeny disks of dark green Asarum europaeum.

Tetrapanax papyrifer (rice-paper plant)

Fatsia polycarpa

Persicaria virginiana var. filiformis

Asarum europaeum

Japanese shield ferns (Dryopteris erythrosora) splay delicate fronds ranging in yellows, oranges and greens, contrasting dramatically in form with the linear structure of our Japanese horsetails (Equisetum ramosissimum var. japonicum). Perhaps my favourite of all, however, are the soft, blue-green leaves of Melianthus major, a South African native that, having taken a while to re-establish following the snow last winter, now beautifully adorns the base of William Bligh’s tomb.

Japanese shield ferns (Dryopteris erythrosora)

Japanese horsetails (Equisetum ramosissimum var. japonicum)

Melianthus major

Fragrance plays a role too – not only in the Citrus pots, but also Geranium ‘White Ness’, the many clumps of which waft a summery scent close to the open orangery doors. When it rains the fragrance is almost overpowering; a musty smell I’m quite fond of but often divides opinion!

Geranium ‘White Ness’
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