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Whether we meticulously plan pleasing colour compositions or haphazardly combine the plants we like, the predominant colour in our garden beds remains a shade of green. Surrounded by this profusion of green, it might be difficult to fathom the current trend toward growing green flowers. You could credit the “Doyenne of Domesticity” Martha Stewart for drawing our attention to the elegant colour called chartreuse, but I would like to maintain that greenish flowers show more than just a pretty face. They surprise our horticultural eyes, and add quiet pleasure to peaceful strolls along our garden paths. For spring and summer, the choices in greenish flowers are almost overwhelming.
The increasingly popular hellebores (notably Helleborus foetidus, H. argutifolius, H. viridis; height 30 to 45 centimetres) should definitely be on your list of green-flowering plants. With their solid evergreen foliage and pale-green flower spikes they will also serve as a screen to hide spring bulbs fading into summer dormancy. Although long-lived and easy-care perennials, hellebores are slow to get established. They prefer rich, moist alkaline soil but will eventually tolerate dry summer conditions. To enhance new growth, remove decayed leaves in late winter.
Easygoing lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis; 35 centimetres) is a tough ground cover tolerating drought in somewhat shaded areas. Its chartreuse starry flower stalks are excellent for cutting and drying. In early summer, when their prime is past, remove all flowers unless you want to allow this prolific mantle to cover more ground. When deadheading the spent flowers I also ruthlessly remove most of the foliage, since it will become untidy as summer progresses. Cruel as this treatment might seem, young leaves hidden under the old will quickly rejuvenate the plant’s appearance. Lady’s mantle’s dwarf cousins, A. alpina (10 centimetres) and A. erythropoda (20 centimetres), also tough and drought resistant once established, are silvery-green-leaved ground covers worth looking for.
As for biennial greenish blooms – the ancient and stately angelica (Angelica archangelica; up to two metres) would be a good choice for large beds. Above its bright-green foliage impressive umbels of pale-green flowers appear in late summer. Although it is often stated that preventing angelica from setting seed will lengthen its short life span, I found that my undemanding plants, rooted in part-shade and well-drained soil, perpetually renew themselves via modest self-seeding around their bases. Fans of biennial or shortlived perennial foxgloves can also find a green specimen: Digitalis viridiflora, a beauty featuring narrow stalks of greenish-yellow tubular-shaped flowers (one metre).
To ensure greenish blooms year round, consider planting some appropriate bulbs come fall. Narcissus ‘Saint Patrick’s Day’ and the delightful chartreuse-eyed N. poeticus hybrid ‘Green Pearl’ would be fitting choices. As for tulips, there are partially green-flowering specimens within the large ‘Viridiflora’ group. The most famous members here are undoubtedly ‘Spring Green’ and the green-pink late bloomer called ‘Greenland.’
West Coast gardeners blessed with moist and shaded woodlands could grow that gorgeous and intriguing beauty called Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum; 40 centimetres). In early summer, these mysterious “flowers” consist of a spathe hooding a spadix (a flower spike). Be prepared: This plant is variable; the “flowers” might also be purplish or striped, both of which are equally breathtaking. The astonishing extra bonus of these tubers is their glorious fall display – spikes with vividly red berries.
Among the green-flowering summer bulbs and corms we have giant summer hyacinth (Galtonia viridiflora; 50 centimetres), a glaucous beauty from South Africa with pendulous bells. Since this plant is not quite hardy in B.C., it would be best to grow it in a container in full sun; be careful not to overwater the bulb as it easily rots.
Another splendid tender South African bulbous import is a member of the iris family: Ixia viridiflora ‘Jade Green.’ A grass-leaved, 40-centimetre-tall plant producing green flowers with dark eyes, ‘Jade Green’ has been labelled by one seed distributor as “one of the most expensive florist flowers.” I certainly agree; for a couple of years now I have been fussing over its seeds and still have seen no sign of “bulblets,” let alone flowers – gardening is an exercise in patience! It would certainly be easier to grow another green member of the iris family, such as the bearded iris ‘Limelight.’ Gladiolus aficionados might want to grow Gladiolus ‘Green Meadows,’ ‘Green Isle,’ ‘Green Woodpecker’ or ‘St. Patrick.’ Like all gladioli they need sun, fertile soil and good drainage. Indoor gardeners can also enjoy green- flowering bulbs: try the greenish trumpets of Amaryllis ‘Green Goddess’ or ‘Lemon Lime’ (50 centimetres).
Whereas perennial and biennial flowers need time to show their full greenish impact, green-flowered annuals offer instant gratification. And they come with two bonuses: they all have a long vase life and are excellent for drying. The tobacco plant (Nicotiana) is a must for the chartreuse lover. Easily grown from seed, this fragrant showstopper offers several choices, ‘Lime Green’ (80 centimetres) and the shorter ‘True Lime’ (30 centimetres) being two of them. Another even more curious cultivar is ‘Lemon Tree,’ a tall (one-metre) specimen with lime-green bells that sway in the wind. Quickly raised from seed, these long-lived blooms are a flower arranger’s dream come true. Yet another easy green-flowering annual is the intriguing Thorow-wax plant (Bupleurum rotundifolium; 30 centimetres), an Old World member of the umbrella plant family featuring stiff eucalyptus-like leaves. I have found two varieties: ‘Griffithii’ and the slightly more yellowish ‘Green Gold.’ Both are equally tall (80 centimetres), abundant producers and excellent for drying. It should not come as a surprise that Ireland has lent its name to a green flower: Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis). Initially the bells are somewhat hard to distinguish between the leaves, but as the plant grows taller (up to 90 centimetres), very minute, slightly fragrant white flowers surrounded by a pale-green calyx become more visible. Surprisingly, these curious Irish bells are actually native to the Mediterranean! They make excellent cut flowers that effortlessly dry into perfect linen-coloured gems. Since they are slow starters, pre-chill the seeds and start them indoors; light is needed for germination, so do not cover the seeds.
A novelty, and another flower perfect for cutting or drying, can be found among the exotic tassel flowers, also called chenille plant and love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus hypochondriacus). Relatively short (40 centimetres), ‘Green Pygmy’ and ‘Green Thumb’ are fascinating plush oddities easily raised from seed. Among the zinnias we find Zinnia elegans ‘Envy’ (40 centimetres). Even gardeners who dislike zinnias admit that these purely green (semi-) double flowers on stiffly upright stalks are delightful in their basic simplicity.
Once you have chosen your greenish flowers, you are ready for the next enjoyable planning stage – the selection of companion plants to enhance your new acquisitions.
Playing with colour and texture is one of the most creative parts of gardening. Place greenish flowers next to dramatic redheads, such as Oriental poppies (Papaver orientale), or combine them with shocking-pink sweet william (Dianthus barbatus) – the impact of the subtle green flowers will become minimal. Group green blooms with greyish and silvery foliage or with plants showing modest white or pale-yellow flowers and the composition will radiate a refreshing air of peace and quiet, an atmosphere we all need in our hectic world. No matter how you choose to use them, green flowers will add a new and tender dimension to your garden bed.
Writer Ingeborg van Driel devotes most of her free time to hands-on experiments with plants in her beloved garden in Cobble Hill, B.C.