high-impact obsessions: utilizing gold and variegated foliage, with ken druse

EVERY GARDENER has their obsessions—or possibly a nicer technique to say that is perhaps to name it their “signature vegetation,” those that assist outline their backyard. I confess to a critical problem with gold-leaved issues. And final time I checked my buddy Ken Druse had various vegetation with variegated leaves of every kind of daring patterns and hues that catch your eye in his New Jersey backyard.

Right now’s subject is how these colourful leaves really do essential jobs in our landscapes past simply trying fairly.

Common listeners all know Ken Druse as an outdated buddy of mine, and the writer of 20 backyard books, together with “The Scentual Backyard” and “The New Shade Backyard,” and an earlier guide referred to as “The Collector’s Backyard” that figures into our topic in the present day. Ken can also be my co-creator of the Digital Backyard Membership on-line sequence of courses that’s marking its two-year anniversary this fall.

be a part of us within the digital backyard membership beginning 9/14/2023

OkayEN DRUSE and I are internet hosting one other semester of our widespread Digital Backyard Membership beginning September 26, with 4 stay classes each different week via October 26, 2023. Study extra concerning the membership, and what we’ll be masking this upcoming semester, from ecological fall cleanup, to uncommon bulbs (together with natives, and ones for forcing indoors), to preparing for winter sowing of perennials and far, rather more.

Learn alongside as you hearken to the Sept. 4, 2023 version of my public-radio present and podcast utilizing the participant beneath. You possibly can subscribe to all future editions on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) or Spotify or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts right here).

Above, Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ in fall, turned from brilliant chartreuse gold to butterscotch; beneath, Cornus sericea ‘Silver and Gold’ variegated twig dogwood.


utilizing gold and variegated vegetation, with ken druse



Margaret Roach: Hello Ken, are you prepared to speak about just a few of our obsessions?

Ken Druse: A couple of. Properly, I knew we had been going to speak about them. So I went across the backyard simply making a easy checklist…of 30 vegetation.

Margaret: Oops!

Ken: Thirty gold and variegated vegetation.

Margaret: Yeah.

Ken: O.Okay., I assumed I wasn’t going to buy anymore. It’s over. But when I see something bizarre, totally different, humorous shapes, zigzag leaves, gold, or a variegation I’ve by no means seen earlier than, or a pet or a kitten…

Margaret: Properly, and also you don’t plant the puppies, you undertake them and love them.

Ken: That’s appropriate. Properly, sure. I like all of them.

Margaret: Sure.

Ken: Horrible.

Margaret: Yeah. We just lately did a webinar collectively, I don’t know, a month or so in the past, I feel it was referred to as “Meet Your Subsequent Favourite Plant…and How you can Use It.” And one of many subjects—we form of went via a bunch of various form of thematically grouped sorts of vegetation—and one of many subjects was, I feel we referred to as it “Mild the Manner with Gold Foliage.” And we coated the gold-leaved vegetation and the roles they serve for us.

And since then, you and I’ve form of been speaking about this topic backwards and forwards after we chat on a regular basis and, “Oh, what about this one, what about that one?” However in your guide, “The Collector’s Backyard,” [affiliate link] you actually went across the nation and also you met heaps of people that have… effectively, once more, I hold utilizing the phrase obsession, which sounds damaging [laughter], and I don’t imply it to be damaging, proper?

Ken: Yeah. Properly, I’m attempting to think about a special phrase [laughter].

Margaret: In order that was that vacant spot, was that we couldn’t consider one other phrase. No ardour, true, proper? However accumulating, in a manner, it’s partly that, proper?

Ken: Properly, it’s harmful. And I keep in mind 30 years in the past, when individuals had been telling you the best way to design your backyard, they at all times mentioned collector’s gardens are unimaginable, they fail. And what they imply is a hodgepodge of numerous disparate issues with no sense of order or simply blatant accumulation of wierd issues. However the collectors that I discovered doing that guide, someone had 20 sorts of lavender or one thing like that, in order that they specialised. Perhaps “specialists” would’ve been a bit of higher. However I assume I concentrate on any plant that I see [laughter].

Margaret: Oh, that’s an fascinating filter [laughter]. So the factor that’s in frequent about, and we each have… I’ve much more gold vegetation I feel, than you do, however we each love gold-leaved issues, and we’ll discuss these. You most likely have much more variegated issues than I do, and I’ve just a few key ones.

However what do these two sorts of bright-colored leaves, whether or not it’s on a shrub or a tree or a perennial groundcover, no matter it’s, have in frequent—and that’s, like I mentioned, what we talked about, and we referred to as it “Mild the Manner” after we did it in our webinar, is that they catch the attention, proper? They’re “consideration, consideration” exclamation factors. Not columnar like your bodily exclamation factors in your lovely backyard, however these are one other type of exclamation, I feel, aren’t they?

Ken: Yeah. And I used to be eager about how typically I’ll plant one thing to misdirect the view, to seize consideration away from one thing like visitors or the neighbor eyesore, one thing like that. And I’ve lots of issues that terminate a view on the finish of a path. So it really carries you down the trail, so that pulls your consideration. And there’s numerous issues that I deal with as in the event that they had been simply vegetation [laughter].

Margaret: Completely. Yeah.

Ken: Once we began the backyard right here, we made a nursery mattress, and we made little nurseries across the backyard so we may plant issues that we hadn’t deliberate an area for, and simply have them develop a bit. And a type of, we referred to as the cloud mattress. Really, we had two. One had variegated vegetation and gold vegetation, so the variegation was yellow or gold on inexperienced, and the opposite one was white on inexperienced, which we referred to as the cloud mattress, this little nursery. And we simply stored plopping stuff in that was variegated. And it turned so lovely that it turned an space of the backyard that we nonetheless have in the present day.

So it was variegated vegetation, but it surely was additionally issues with white flowers. It form of all goes collectively. I want I deliberate extra, it’s rooster and egg in lots of circumstances. Typically I’ll get one thing variegated and just like the cloud mattress, the backyard will get planted round it. It turns into the very first thing, the impetus for a planting space.

Margaret: Proper. A very long time in the past, oh gosh, 20 years in the past, I think about, buddies from Seattle, and I’ve spoken about them earlier than, Glenn Withey and Charles Worth, who’re backyard designers, they came over. And we had been speaking about my making extra lengthy views, and establishing extra construction within the backyard, and serving to transfer the attention round. And so they gave me form of this… and I’m not going to do justice to their knowledge, however they talked about, “O.Okay., so we all know you wish to get pleasure from this axial view from right here,” from the patio or from a key spot inside your home much more essential, as a result of lots of instances of the 12 months we’re not at all times out within the backyard trying on the backyard. Quite a lot of instances we’re in the home, lots of instances of day and instances of 12 months, looking.

So these key axial views, and such as you mentioned, on the finish of it, you may choose an enormous variegated factor, or for that matter, it might be at the moment of 12 months, it might be a really giant white-flowering hydrangea, like a Hydrangea paniculata. I’ve some actually massive outdated ones, they usually scream throughout the yard fairly a distance away at the moment of 12 months. However the variegated foliage or the gold foliage on the finish of that axis.

However what they mentioned to me was, O.Okay., that’s good, however alongside the best way, on the bottom degree and the intermediate degree left and proper of that path, that roadway to that view, let’s give it some assist to drag the attention additional, additional, additional.

And so not actually flanking the entire visible pathway out to the screaming plant, however right here and there alongside the best way, there have been different hints of that coloration. And that actually helped quite a bit. And that’s one thing that I take into consideration quite a bit additionally once I place my seasonal pots. I’ve lots of massive pots. I’ve two massive pots which have, after which once I say massive, two and a half toes throughout, or extra, like whiskey barrel-ish measurement, however not product of wooden, which have variegated, pink twig dogwoods in them. And once I’m considering of the place to put these, I may use that to assist information you to a much bigger variegated view someplace within the distance, I may place them alongside the best way form of factor. So yeah.


Ken: Yeah. I’ve Heuchera villosa ‘Citronelle,’ which is a Heuchera with lime-colored foliage that doesn’t die-

Margaret: That’s a terrific one [above, in foreground].

Ken: As a result of some Heuchera simply form of croak. However this one, and I’ve used it similar to you’re saying. And as you’re saying that there’s an space that I made the trail get narrower and narrower because it goes away. So it actually appears lengthy and deep when it hits that variegated plant that isn’t gigantic, and makes you suppose it’s larger and additional. And there’s lots of what individuals name rooms right here, and I don’t know if we plan that precisely, however we’ve got areas that we over time have form of encased or closed. And once you stroll via the backyard, there’s all these sequence of surprises. And we’ve used variegated vegetation quite a bit for that. Typically to get your consideration earlier than you get to the subsequent place, to make the subsequent factor extra thrilling and stunning.

Margaret: Proper. John Gwynne and Mikel Folcarelli, two nice gardeners up in Rhode Island in Little Compton, you’re reminding me, they’ve a gardener of rooms, and really form of partitions of greenery that enclose the rooms—extra formal. And there’s one I feel you come into and also you don’t notice it’s going to be this screaming gold room, since you’ve come out of one other space and there’s these partitions of inexperienced, these hedges. After which all of a sudden you come to the entryway and it’s like, it’s simply gleaming on this place as a result of they’ve put all these gold and golden-green issues in there. And it’s such as you’ve come out of a darker spot right into a lighter spot accentuated by all this goldness. So it may be super-high drama.

What are a number of the ones that you just depend on? I simply talked about that I actually love the twig dogwoods, and I’ve each the variegated ones, like ‘Ivory Halo’ is a good one, a pink twig dogwood. And that stays extra compact and extra rounded, form of mounded in form. It’s not fairly as giant as a number of the others. And I’ve ‘Silver and Gold,’ Cornus sericea “Silver and Gold’ twig dogwood, with gold twigs, and inexperienced and white leaves. And that’s a bit of larger. And I even have one which has pink twigs and gold leaves, which is ‘Sunshine,’ Cornus sericea ‘Sunshine.’ So I’ve used these. Plus, you then get the bonus of winter pink twigs to steer your eye to a spot. However at any fee, I don’t know, what had been a number of the vegetation that you just discover are serving these functions in your backyard?

Ken: [Laughter.] Of the 30?

Margaret: Not the 30, a number of the massive payoff moments, I imply. The one’s which are… Like I do know after we did the webinar just lately, you had been speaking about that stunning ‘Celestial Shadow’ Korean hybrid dogwood [detail in flower at Ken’s, above].

Ken: That’s one. There are bushes like Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia,’ which has gold leaves, and it retains the gold via the season. That’s a tree. And the humorous factor about… it’s not humorous actually, however once you look out, that grabs your eye, and it’s form of like springtime, as a result of that shade is the colour of when the leaves first come on the market are lots of chartreuse coloured leaves on bushes. However this one doesn’t lose that shade. So it’s very refreshing.

Margaret: Proper. I’ve that ‘Tiger Eyes’ sumac [below].

Ken: Oh my gosh, which I’ve killed thrice.


Margaret: Cutleaf staghorn sumac ‘Tiger Eyes,’ which is gold, very, I don’t even know the best way to describe the foliage, however very-

Ken: Ferny, feathery.

Margaret: Yeah, it’s simply lovely, cutleaf because it says in its title. And that stays gold as effectively. In order that’s a extra intermediate top. It’s like a shrub and form of eccentric in form and suckers right here and there, however you’ll be able to management that.

Ken: We didn’t say that lots of issues that begin out gold and even keep gold until the start of August, go inexperienced. In order that’s one thing to strive to pay attention to.

Margaret: Proper. And so the pink twig dogwood ‘Sunshine,’ Cornus sericea ‘Sunshine’ [above] stays gold till it drops its leaves within the fall. You recognize what I imply? It’s gold, gold, gold. And this cutleaf staghorn sumac ‘Tiger Eyes’ stays gold. And I feel what you simply talked about stays gold, sure. And that’s what-

Ken: Robinia, proper?

Margaret: Yeah. And I feel your Korean hybrid dogwood does, too. It’s variegated gold and inexperienced.

Ken: It adjustments, but it surely does hold a gold solid to it. Within the spring, it’s a bit of brighter and extra outlined, but it surely’s nonetheless gold. And that’s humorous as a result of within the night, simply earlier than sundown, the sunshine round the entire backyard is form of yellow, or possibly it’s pink, however all the things appears yellow and this plant appears… you’ll be able to’t take your eyes off it.

Margaret: Proper. In order that’s one other level about these vegetation with these bright-colored leaves is the place we place them within the mild behind them, or at totally different instances of day can actually intensify it.

Amongst shrub-sized, however not shrubby vegetation, as a result of it’s a large herbaceous perennial. I like that gold Japanese, the spikenard, the Aralia cordata ‘Solar King,’ which will get to be this large… it dies to the bottom, but it surely will get to be this large perennial. Definitely 5 toes excessive and throughout or one thing, or 4 toes excessive and 5 toes throughout. It’s this massive, massive, massive factor, ‘Solar King.’ And that would function a seasonal visitors director [laughter]. You’d wish to stroll towards that plant, proper? You’d be attracted from a distance towards a plant of that substance and shade. [Above, a young plant at Margaret’s.]

Ken: Typically the gold or variegated issues are wimpy variations of the guardian plant, the species. And typically they’re not. However as you’re saying that, I’m considering of a few of my favorites. You might know Symphytum x uplandicum ‘Axminster Gold.’ [Below at Ken’s.]

Margaret: Now translate that into English for us. I don’t know that.

Ken: Comfrey. It’s a comfrey and it’s actually massive, and I noticed it at Wave Hill, oh, a few years in the past, and also you couldn’t get it anyplace. Now you’ll be able to, now you see it. Most likely from tissue tradition, as a result of it’s a humorous factor about propagating, which is true with a number of vegetation, like even snake vegetation, you’ll be able to’t make root cuttings as a result of it loses the variegation. And that plant loses its variegation, however now it’s in the marketplace, which is nice. And I’ve had the variegated horseradish for many years.

Margaret: And that’s a white and inexperienced variegation.

Ken: White and inexperienced and it’s totally different yearly, I feel by the temperature within the spring, really.

Margaret: So the sample is totally different, the mosaic on it, form of the-

Ken: Properly, it’s splashes of white.

Margaret: I see.

Ken: And typically a leaf is nearly utterly white, and it’s white, white. It’s actually bleach white, lovely.

Margaret: Plus you will get some horseradish [laughter].

Ken: No, you’ll be able to’t as a result of you then’re going to lose the plant.

Margaret: Properly, I do know, I’m teasing.

Ken: You’re most likely proper, you could possibly get some.

Margaret: Slightly piece.

Ken: Proper. And I’ve a number of redbuds, weeping redbuds, that’s Cercis canadensis. I’ve one, and I feel there’s multiple in the marketplace, however we’ve talked about it earlier than, ‘Silver Cloud,’ and that’s what it’s like. It’s like a cloud. As a result of it’s not tremendous blaring-in-your-eye variegation. It’s refined. And people leaves are at all times shifting. And that’s only a light factor. I really minimize some issues between the porch and that tree to make that the top of the view. And it’s similar to a cloud has landed within the backyard.

You’re speaking about Glenn and Charles, and we typically have visitors when we’ve got our Digital Backyard Membership webinars, and I feel design visitors, that is perhaps some individuals to herald for the webinar.

Margaret: Sure. They certain know quite a bit. What about, as I talked about earlier, they inspired me not simply to place that massive stoplight on the finish of the view shed on axis within the distance, however to assist gown it up alongside the best way right here and there to tease your eye in that route. And so what about some form of groundcover-y or smaller perennials or what different issues? You talked about the Heuchera, as an illustration. Let’s discuss just a few different ones and whether or not it’s variegated or whether or not they’re gold, like another issues. I exploit lots of Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold, ‘the Japanese forest grass.

Ken: Yeah, it’s lovely.

Margaret: And form of asserting the highest of the trail as you stroll as much as the home right here, it’s like there’s clumps on both aspect as you get towards the highest [top of page, in fall]. So it form of says, “come right here.”


Ken: I’ve a few, I assume they’re raspberries or blackberries, they don’t actually have fruit, however Rubus cockburnianus ‘Golden Veil,’ that’s one which, it doesn’t change shade. That’s yellow-gold within the spring, yellow-gold within the fall. And there’s a brief form of floor cowl when Rubus idaeus ‘Aureus,’ which is actually groundcover-y, the stems are about 12 inches excessive. And it’s a groundcover. [A gold Rubus cockburnianus, above.]

Margaret: Yeah. And the one factor concerning the Rubus is that we must always say, simply as a disclaimer, is that for those who’re in an space the place they fruit and set seed, they’re extra invasive, not simply spreading sideways. So it’s important to look these up; there’s sure areas that they’re not good to develop. Yeah, right here they don’t reproduce. Yeah. No, I’ve them, too, however they don’t reproduce right here.

Ken: Oh, yeah?

Margaret: Yeah. Don’t you’ve got Acorus possibly? Some Acorus?

Ken: Sure. Acorus and There’s numerous Carex, too. There’s numerous Carex. They’re grassy-looking vegetation that aren’t actually grasses. However Acorus is a plant that likes a moist scenario. And there’s lots of variegated ones which are gold and inexperienced and little strappy leaves. And one which I like that if yow will discover, it’s Acorus ‘Licorice,’ and for those who snap a leaf or tear it, a blade, it smells similar to licorice. And it’s about, I don’t know, six or seven inches tall. In order that’s one other nice groundcover.

Margaret: So we name it candy flag, Acorus, is that what we name a few of these [like Acorus gramineus, above]?

Ken: Yeah, I assume so, proper. You recognize me, I simply don’t know the frequent title.

Margaret: Yeah, no, I do know, I strive to think about them.

Ken: Such a snob.

Margaret: No, however I strive to think about them.

Ken: We didn’t say hostas.

Margaret: Properly, and true. So there we go. That’s another-

Ken: Numerous hosta.

Margaret: Proper, numerous hostas can do that job, too. However the thought of serving to transfer individuals via the backyard, serving to to create areas, serving to a pathway actually catch your consideration some extra.

And typically simply making a terrific massive assertion. Like, I’ve this one large apple tree. I’ve numerous them, however one which’s actually massive. It’s like 150 years outdated, and it’s simply so large, it’s I don’t know, 20 toes tall and 35 or so toes throughout. And form of beneath it, I put this actually massive, we talked about it earlier than, the Aralia, the gold Aralia, no matter that’s referred to as. And this massive herbaceous perennial as a result of it’s simply this monumental mound, and it’s sufficiently big and daring sufficient to stent to suit with that massive, lovely mound of a tree. And have you learnt what I imply? Typically you don’t need one thing little, typically you need one thing massive.

Ken: How a lot shade is below the apple tree?

Margaret: Quite a bit. Yeah.

Ken: In order that’s a plant rising in some shade.

Margaret: Oh, I virtually at all times develop that plant partly shade. Yeah, and it does advantageous, however right here within the north, it may well take… I’ve it in half solar. I don’t learn about full solar. I don’t know what it will do in full solar. I’m undecided.

Ken: There’s that Hydrangea quercifolia, I feel it’s referred to as ‘Little Honey.’ I don’t know for those who’ve seen that?

Margaret: Oh, sure.

Ken: Stunning. However for me, it wimps alongside and it has some black spots on the leaf. I don’t know what to do about that. As a result of my different oak leaf hydrangeas are improbable and the scale of Volkswagens. And this factor I’ve had for years. Marsha Donahue in Berkeley, California, I gave her one and it’s simply lovely in that good local weather. However mine is just not blissful. And I’ve tried it in two locations. Not lifeless, however not blissful.

Margaret: Not zaftig.

Ken: Have you ever ever grown that?

Margaret: No. I don’t have ‘Little Honey,’ I simply have two plain green-leaved ones. Attention-grabbing. We didn’t point out Spiraea ‘Ogon,’ which is-

Ken: Oh, there’s so many. Yeah.

Margaret: That’s a gold-leaf Spiraea [above, used to flank a path; photo by Ken]. And for me, even right here in zone 5, that has early white flowers, however as soon as it leaves out, it stays gold. It form of turns to a butterscotch shade, the foliage in late October and November. And I’ve footage that I’ve taken the place the winterberry hollies are hanging on naked twigs. So we’re speaking about November and past, and that factor hasn’t dropped its leaves but. In order that’s a extremely good one for a long-lasting little bit of gold within the backyard.

Ken: There’s lots of widespread Spiraea japonica. Properly, all of them have form of pink flowers, and a few of them don’t look so nice, so it’s important to be sure you get a pleasant one. You recognize what I’m speaking about, ‘Gold Mound’ and stuff? And a few of them simply, it’s an excessive amount of, too brilliant, but-

Margaret: Yeah, a few of them are too screaming. Yeah.

Ken: I feel mine’s referred to as ‘Gold Rug’ or one thing like that. And I don’t know why it’s a horrible title, however I feel that’s what it’s. It stays brief and the pink isn’t screaming, and the flowers in fact don’t final perpetually, however the foliage is sweet. I want the the yellowish finish for these vegetation as a result of the inexperienced form of goes, I don’t know, not as good because the gold.

Margaret: Inform me any others that you just wish to shout out. The rest that we haven’t… I’ve a few Aralia which are form of like giant shrub/small bushes. They’re grafted Aralia elata, ‘Silver Umbrella’ [above] and ‘Aureovariegata’ that I like. And infrequently the rootstock will sucker, but it surely’s simple to dig out in order that they don’t go anyplace they usually don’t self-sow

Ken: You keep in mind Eleutherococcus that was referred to as Aralia, I feel?

Margaret: Yeah. Again within the day.

Ken: There’s a variegated model of that, that it has thorns and it’s variegated white and inexperienced, and it’s an okay plant to placed on the sting of one thing that you just don’t should stroll via as a result of it’s all thorny [laughter]. However discuss lighting an space, it actually does. It lights an space.

Margaret: I used to have a variegated flower, a variegated lilac flower, ‘Sensation.’ Keep in mind that? With the white and purple flowers [laughter]?

Ken: Did you get that to bloom?

Margaret: Yeah, it did for years. After which lastly, I don’t know what occurred to it, but-

Ken: I don’t both.

Margaret: Talking of variegation, however yeah, there’s numerous prospects. However what we’re principally saying, simply in form of wrapping it up, is we are able to’t assist however acquire issues [laughter], however we wish them to serve a function, too. And so I feel despite the fact that typically, such as you mentioned, Ken, we don’t know after we first purchased them—and possibly they find yourself within the cloud mattress—we don’t know after we first purchased them what their function was. They present us, they present us the sunshine. They actually do, these golden and variegated vegetation. Yeah.

Ken: That’s true. And I feel that listeners ought to forgive themselves.

Margaret: For the occasional obsession, I’ll say it once more [laughter].

Ken: Proper, obsession.

Margaret: Properly, thanks, thanks, thanks for making time in the present day. Now exit and pull some weeds. I’ve acquired to do the identical.

Ken: Oh my gosh.

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MY WEEKLY public-radio present, rated a “top-5 backyard podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper within the UK, started its 14th 12 months in March 2023. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station within the nation. Hear domestically within the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Jap, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the Sept. 4, 2023 present utilizing the participant close to the highest of this transcript. You possibly can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes/Apple Podcasts or Spotify or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts right here).

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