Coloured foliage can certainly make a statement but like anything in the garden that isn’t green it can be overdone. Too many gold leaves can be glaring in strong sun light and could even create the look of a bed full of sick underfed plants. Variegated foliage overused can create a hectic look that has the eye flitting disconcertedly all over the place. Large swathes of silver foliage may well glitter in the English light but for me it can look dry and Mallee scrubbish in our hot weather and harsh sunlight, a look I’m not usually in favour of!

Pseudopanax ferox, toothed lancewood
Pseudopanax ferox, toothed lancewood

Too much bronze foliage can create black holes in the garden especially if the leaves aren’t glossy, as they tend to absorb light. This is even worse if the plants are placed in the shade to start with.

You could in fact be the first in your neighborhood to create a gothic garden. If you are a Goth then I guess I should say go for it, as a garden should reflect the personality of the gardener!

Foliage in this colour range can be used in almost any combination so there in lies the risk of over doing it. There are also different shades that work better with some colours than others.

Bronze and red garden at Ellerslie Flower Show 2009. Design Miles Warren and Alan Trott
Bronze and red garden at Ellerslie Flower Show 2009. Design Miles Warren and Alan Trott

Leaves in the truly bronze, brown and tan tones are ideal mixed with strong hot colours like reds, yellows and oranges and will turn these into a rich Persian carpet effect, where as those leaves with a bluish undertone like the burgundies and plum shades and these look at their best when mixed with pinks, whites and pastel shades. This will take out the sugary Barbara Cartlandesque look!

So if used with discretion these plants will create all sorts of wonderful effects in your garden and remember that non-green foliage can give colour in a garden for far longer than almost any flowering plant can, all year round if it happens to be evergreen, or should I say ‘everbronze’!

Haloragis erecta 'Wellington Bronze' in Hillandale Nursery and garden
Haloragis erecta ‘Wellington Bronze’ in Hillandale Nursery and garden

It is a fact that New Zealand has a huge range of plants in shades of brown and bronze and one of the theories for it is that the giant Moa birds which where the major plant eaters couldn’t see these colours as well as they could green, so many unrelated plants took on this disguise to fool them. The small size of many leaves especially when the plants were young is also thought to be a Moa beater as they had to peck not browse as mammals do.

The leads me neatly into a segway as I will be taking a tour to New Zealand from the 11th to the 29th of November 2014 for Australians Studying Abroad. So if you are interested in the following plants then perhaps you might check out the web site. If for some reason you prefer France then the trip to North Western France from the 7th to the 27th of June could be the go. Just look up ASA Tours and I’ll hopefully see you there, or there!

Haloragis erecta 'Wellington Bronze'
Haloragis erecta ‘Wellington Bronze’

A plant I find indispensible in my hotly coloured perennial border is the ever-bronze sub-shrub Haloragis erecta ‘Wellington Bronze’. It will grow to about a metre both ways and I find that it kindly sends up an odd self-sown seeding that is nearly always of use somewhere in the garden. The glossy saw edged leaves are a lovely shade of rich chocolate if grown in full sun and it will flourish with minimal watering and a hard cut back is about all you will need if and when it gets a bit straggly. The flowers are tiny and of no real interest but the plant is.

Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Tom Thumb'
Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’

I am not usually an advocate of the Pittosporums, as it would be hard to find a more overused plant unless it is the Iceburg Rose! But far be it from me to dam a whole Genus unfairly. I couldn’t live without using Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’ and yet it is rarely offered for sale due to the unfortunate characteristic hated by nursery owners world wide of being hard to strike from cuttings. This does of course mean that those of us lucky enough to own a plant or two won’t see it in everyone else’s gardens.

It will eventually grow into a lumpy dumpling of about 1.5 metres each way and its wavy edged, very glossy leaves start out green with black spots in spring and turn to a glossy deep burgundy that is almost black. It always elicits comment in my garden which means that I must have made a good choice!

Pseudopanax ferox
Pseudopanax ferox

Before I start writing the definitive book on bronze leaves I feel I should finish with a favourite of mine called Pseudopanax ferox which will definitely create comment wherever it is planted! Some of the sentiments may even be positive!

For the first few years it will be a ridged stick with hard chocolate brown hacksaw like leaves hanging down the trunk. Planted against a blank wall or around very modern minimalist buildings it looks seriously sexy to those of us that know it isn’t dead!

Eventually it will branch at about 3 metres or so (presumably above Moa reach) and the leaves will reduce in length, lose the teeth and go greenish. What you then end up with is a beautifully fluted trunked lollypop.