GBFD The good, the bad and the downright ugly!

Every month on the 22nd is the time I ask you all to focus on foliage.  In spring and early summer most of our gardens focus many on flowers even though I think that without good foliage the flowers won’t be as satisfying as they could be; in autumn (and there is no negating the fact that autumn is here in the northern hemisphere) foliage often becomes the centre of attention.

If you are lucky enough to live somewhere that has vastly different day to night time temperatures you are likely to be enjoying some beautifully coloured leaves on trees and shrubs and even on some perennials.

In my part of Italy this doesn’t happen, sometimes by late November or early December if you drive up into the hills you’ll see some colour but nothing very exciting.  In my garden only the pomegranate has leaves that turn to a buttery yellow, but it hasn’t happened yet so I’m going to share with you what some of my foliage looks like, and it’s not a very pretty picture.

So let’s begin with a few things that are good.

Choisya ternata's foliage is always shiny and a lovely bright green

Choisya ternata’s foliage is always shiny and a lovely bright green

My readers in England will think Choisya the most banal plant.  Every municipal or roundabout planting will have at least one.  Almost every garden will also have either C. ternata or one of its various cultivars.  It is a plant that should like dry sunny conditions so you would expect it to be popular here too; but no!  It is considered a difficult shrub, needing very specific conditions to survive.  I didn’t know this when I planted one in the Left hand border, one of the first shrubs I planted in the garden and it has grown well and flowers twice a year; I have planted others – but by then I’d been told how difficult a plant it was and neither of them survived!  What does this tell us, I wonder?


The sword-like foliage of the Iris are looking wonderful this year

The sword-like foliage of the Iris are looking wonderful this year

The Wisteria may have stopped flowering but the foliage is still providing necessary shade and looking attactive

The Wisteria may have stopped flowering but the foliage is still providing necessary shade and looking attractive

I fear my Rosa rimosa may have died this summer, because we had a lot of rain the irrigation to the pillars was never turned on so the roses may have suffered from lack of water or from their foliage being completely denuded in August.

The Silver foliage in the Large Island holds its own most of the year

The Silver foliage in the Large Island holds its own most of the year

Even with all the rain this summer the fig's foliage has mostly fallen off and looks very tatty

Even with all the rain this summer the fig’s foliage has mostly fallen off and looks very tatty

My fig tree loses its leaves most summer and I often have to irrigate it – something that astonishes me as you see figs growing in the most arid conditions; it produces loves figs so I can forgive its ugly foliage as they brown and drop.

Luckily the tree has the force to put out some new foliage

Luckily the tree has the force to put out some new foliage

I am seriously considering removing the Walnut trees the foliage is never attractive

I am seriously considering removing the Walnut trees the foliage is never attractive.  They are last into leaf and the first to lose them and as they do they are ugly!

When we bought this property there were about 8 or 9 young walnut trees, most had their trunks ring marked from the strimmer so many were removed, they were much too close to each other anyway, but we left two in the back border as I like to eat walnuts and they provided a screen from the surrounding houses.  Realistically it is too hot and dry for them, they have a disease that all the walnuts around me have so don’t produce any edible nuts.  Add to this that walnut roots send out toxins that inhibit the growth of other plants and you will understand that I think I made a mistake in keeping them when there are other more attractive trees I could have included.  The jury is out – should I follow my gut feeling and take them out?  What would you do?

I hope you will join me this month in celebrating some beautiful foliage but I will be happy to know about any that is not pleasing you too.  To join, simply write you post with a link back to mine, then leave a comment here with the link to yours.  I’m hoping to see some lovely colour!

It is Monday so it is also the day to share a vase of flowers from my garden with Cathy over at Rambling in the Garden.  Yesterday my garden was the venue for celebrating the feast of the patron saint of gardening, San Fiacre (more about this tomorrow) so I put together a lot of vases for the tables.  So here’s the vase that decorated the table of food.  The beautiful pewter vase was a birthday gift this year from my MIL, I love its shape even when empty.  I was pleased with this very simple plonking of Helianthus tuberosus Jerusalem artichoke flowers (topinambour) and Aster Monch and Salvia Indigo Spires.

P1130137 blog

Do also visit Cathy to see other arrangements.


55 thoughts on “GBFD The good, the bad and the downright ugly!

  1. Yes, I too have a choisya! A bit paler than yours, but a choisya non the less. I actually like it quite a lot even though they are common over here. How strange that you only managed to grow one of yours.
    The only reason I would keep your walnut trees would be for the screening value, but I am sure you could find something else that wouldn’t take too long to grow. Those leaves look so depressing – I would have to remove the trees!
    I love your pewter vase.

    • Thank you Annette for your input about the walnuts. They are depressing almost all the time not just now, I’ve kept them because it is nice to have some mature trees and there is a white house that is very visible from my kitchen window without the tree there but actually an evergreen would be better and you’r eright I could find something that would grow quite quickly.

    • Thanks for joining in with GBFD this month Jessica. I am becoming more sure the walnuts’ days are numbered. Bearded Irises need very free draining soil and full sun to really perform well. They are one of the most successful plants in my garden but I don’t think they’ve ever looked quite as good at this time of the year before.

  2. I know the guilt felt when it comes to removing a tree but you’ve made a good case for doing just that. Give the space to another plant that will make the most of it. I, too, am impressed by the beautiful foliage of your bearded iris – very few of mine even bloomed this year and the foliage is always tatty by this time in any case. Your vase, as always, is beautiful – asters and sunflowers complement each other well.

    • Thanks Pauline, its great to have my feelings about the walnuts validated. I’ve been thinking this about the walnuts for a while but haven’t felt confident about voicing them, I’m so glad I did. Thank you for joining in again this month, I can depend on you for some lovely autumn colour. Christina

  3. Hi Christina, how wonderful to see your lovely Italian garden! I would love to have wisteria, so it is so nice to see what it looks like when it isn’t in bloom (beautiful). Is the disease of the walnut trees permanent? If so, I would probably also get rid of them. If not, I would try and treat them. I would love to have a walnut tree, to eat fresh walnuts. It is a very pretty “in a vase on Monday” arrangement; simple yet beautiful. Dana

    • Thank you for taking time to leave a comment Dana. The disease of the walnut is partly to do with it growing at too low and altitude for this latitude; all the trees in the vicinity have it. I don’t use chemical controls so I don’t think it is something I can cure. A little higher in the mountains not far away they grow wonderful walnuts so I can buy locally grown ones, albeit ones treated with insecticide!

  4. You have mastered foliage gardening I think Christina…so much to see and beautiful even with a few issues like the fig and walnut…too bad you do not get lovely yellow foliage with the walnut trees. I can’t wait to read about the feast and see more vases. Stunning one here which could be found here too with 2 natives in my garden. I promise to join in with GBFD and new foliage next month. I did link in with my post last week, but this week’s post has a bit more.

    • Thanks Donna, at least the fig tree produces wonderful fruit twice a year, so I can live with the problem of the foliage and of course it does put on new leaves quickly; the walnut on the other hand…………

  5. The wisteria looks gorgeous, Christina – I don’t remember seeing this view before. And the iris too – when did that one flower? Shame about the walnut, but if it’s not earning its keep I am sure you can find an alternative if you remove it. I like the idea of a pewter vase – it gives a different slant to the flowers somehow, and probably even more so when you have the real thing in front of you. Those Jerusalem artichoke flowers are amazing, aren’t they? Makes you wonder what other helianthus tubers would be like to eat… 🙂

    • Interesting point about the tubers of other Helianthus; I’ve never heard of any others that are edible. I probably usually photograph the wisteria on the pillars from the other end, not for any particular reason unless this time the sun would have been into the lens.

  6. went to look at our next garden, to see the holes after we had the trees removed. Was surprised by how kindly the neighbouring plants have shimmied their shoulders and filled the gaps.
    We do still have an issue of screening neighbour’s windows, but I have lists of plants!
    Still want to remove a few bottlebrush – Don’t LIKE those flowers, something against nature about them.
    Now that False Bay garden suffers from the green glooms – I need to add silver and variegated and dark and structural textured foliage. Yum!

    • I’ll be very interested to know what you choose for your structural plants. I think the walnuts need to be replaced by at least one dark green evergreen, maybe Arbutus and something with a silvery leaf, possibly Quercus ilex. Sounds like maybe I made my decision aleady, but there may be better options, I’m not going to rush into this.

      • the lists and the choosing is the fun bit. First will be Melianthus major for the dramatic blue leaves and tall burgundy spikes of flowers for the sunbirds. Then something silvery or pale to add light in the darkness.

        • I really don’t know why I don’t have a Melianthus, I grew seeds for a friend before I even had this garden and know it would be good here. I MUST order some seed. It would be perfect for the Large Island and the Slope; I agree with you, the list making is the fun part; and seeing the plan come to fruition is very satisfying too.

  7. I would cut the walnuts and never look back! Their early leaf drop and late flush would annoy me to begin with, and the disease would seal the deal. But they’re not one of my favorites to begin with.
    Nothing wrong with cutting them and then waiting a few years to replace. I’m sure the exposed feeling would pass quickly.
    Your ‘good’ foliage looks great, the views are still so nice even without flowers! Wisteria has never looked better, and the grays and silvers look perfect in your garden. Even the fig doesn’t look half bad…. as long as you keep its delicious harvest in mind. Surprising that it gets that way, my little fig has some of the nicest foliage in the garden, and like you said, most grow under dry conditions.
    As you’ve already discovered I’ve joined up this week. Not much fall color yet, but it’s moving along quickly!

    • Glad to have another positive for removing the walnuts. I think if I choose wisely I can achieve a better view. shame I didn’t decide earlier, but that’s gardening! Thanks for joining in this month, I really loved your colourful foliage.

  8. I’m glad you are enjoying your Choisya. They are very popular here and do very well and I love mine. I like the plants to be happy in the garden but I find it very difficult to get rid of ones I’ve badly placed or are not doing well. I have resolved to be firmer this year so I think I would say thumbs down for the walnut trees. Amelia

    • Thanks for your vote Amelia. No-one has suggested I should keep them so I’m happy I asked for everyone’s opinions, it helps to have confirmation for such an important decision.

  9. What an elegant vase – as well as the flowers in it! Those colours go so nicely together. I read recently it can take 30 years for walnuts to produce fruit, but this year I have adopted the attitude that my garden is now established enough for me to get rid of some unwanted shrubs that were here when we came. So if you don’t like them, get rid of them! 😉

  10. Your vase is beautiful Christina, I love the combination of colours and shapes, it looks very airy and modern. Your garden is looking immaculate, despite your decaying Walnut tree leaves. Its sad to remove any trees, does it have wildlife value, could you screen it or run a climbing rose through it?

    • I have tries growing a trumpet vine through it but even though the vine is usually very vigorous the chemicals given out by the walnut has meant that they haven’t grown much. My soil is really too dry and light for roses, I’m actually considering removing some of those too. There doesn’t seem to be any particular value to wildlife from the walnuts, the magpies and crows do take the nuts but then just drop them around the garden uneaten.

  11. Seems you have enough votes on the walnut, but I’ll just add we had to remove a beautiful and healthy maple because it was just too large for our lot and its roots were running into the meditation circle. It was a hard decision but every day I’m glad it’s gone. Your wisteria on the pergola is striking and your sedum has the richest dark color of any I’ve ever seen. You have a real knack for “plonking”–the flowers are befitting of a celebration. What a nice gift from your mother-in-law. She’s been very encouraging of your flower arranging. I have a small contribution for this month to share:
    Thanks for hosting Christina.

    • I often think we regret the things we don’t do much more than something we do that doesn’t work, so I will ow have to persuade my husband that the hard work will be worth it! thanks for joining in today Susie, you always have something interesting to share.

  12. I’m a huge fan of your garden! I put in three little tube-stock Choisya plants in late autumn (May/June here in Australia) and now it’s spring I am hoping to get their foliage as lovely and green as yours!
    We have walnuts growing around here too, and even on this side of the world, their leaves are always mottled and moth-eaten….but if they didn’t produce nuts, then I would surely vote for their removal – it will at least give you the opportunity to replace them with something that is suited to the area/climate and can be a real feature to boot.

    • Thanks for your input Matt, I hope your Choisya do well for you. I don’t believe they are difficult plants, just that is the consensus here. Where exactly in Australia are you Matt?

  13. Choisya is really like a weed around here and doesn’t need any pampering…even survived the very cold winter two years ago. Can’t get over the fab foliage of your iris, Christina. Your pergola is delight and I bet you love sitting in its shade. When did you plant the wisteria? PS: Tomorrow I shall have a go at the sorbet – again many thanks 🙂

    • Hi Annette, the wisteria was planted in October 2008, it grows very fast and is always a joy. Even in winter when it loses its foliage it means I have more light in the kitchen and the shade in summer is perfect, we couldn’t sit outside so much without it. Let me know what you think of the sorbet, I’m sure you’ll love it.

  14. What a lovely vase for your celebration Christina and I really enjoyed taking a look at all your September foliage. The jerusalem artichoke flowers are a surprise – I don’t grow it so have never thought of it as flowering. I fell in love with choisya on a holiday in Antigua a few years ago. It was used extensively in the hotel we were staying at mixed with ferns as an under planting to a very tropical theme. I now have a healthy hedge growing either side of my summer house, which reminds me of Antigua whenever I sit there. I will try to remember to join in with your GBFD next month and show you some photos.

    • this is the first year I’ve grown JA and as long as you have somewhere you can contain its spread I would recommend it just for the flowers. to keep it under control, I think you would have to lift a lot of the tubers either to use or give or throw away.

  15. Yes, Choisya is proof one person’s treasure is another’s trash…we have a relative here that is so rare, but scented so nicely…C. dumosa. Surprised at your fig foliage, too – never see that here, but rarely too wer even in our summer rainy season. The silver accents in the large island make it.

    • some plants seem to be valued by gardeners only because they are difficult; this seems crazy to me. If we all followed the maxim of right plant right place we would all have more beautiful gardens and there would be more, not less diversity.

  16. For what it’s worth, I like walnut trees though I sympathise with the state of your leaves. The poison from the roots doesn’t affect grass by the way. I have a lovely tree at one of my gardens and grass grows right up to the trunk. Dave

  17. Yes, ditch the walnuts and enjoy choosing replacements! I think choisyas are excellent shrubs, and that the rather snobbish attitude that says if it is widely used in municii planting it doesn’t belong in a ‘proper’ garden is ridiculous. Apart from anything else, as councils etc wise up to perennial planting being more cost effective in the long run than annual bedding we should start seeing a lot of our border stalwarts used in carparks and roundabout plantings. I doubt we will give up on growing Stipa gigantea, for instance! Those iris are wonderfully dramatic, I am looking forward to adding some to my garden when funds permit.

    • Irises are expensive to buy but if they are in the right position will reproduce and spread quite quickly. There is a huge choice of colours and forms. Newer varieties always cost more than older ones but doesn’t mean they are better. Next year when I come to England I could send you some (winter isn’t a great time to dig and split them).

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