THE MIDAS TOUCH
By Dr. Leonard Perry
Extension Nursery and Greenhouse Crops Specialist
University of Vermont
You may recall the story of King Midas, who turned whatever he touched into gold. Well, you can do the same in your flower garden, planting an entire garden or perhaps just a bed or corner in it in gold-leafed and gold-flowered plants. It just takes a little planning. Here are my suggestions for plants with golden foliage or flowers that you may want to try.
First the annuals. One of the first ones that comes to mind is the licorice plant (Helichrysum). Although some forms have silver or variegated leaves, one has golden leaves. A single plant can spread to a couple of feet, which makes a nice groundcover or plant for around and under taller plants.
Many gardeners are familiar with the low groundcover with small white flowers called Bacopa or Snowflake. Now there is a form with gold and green leaves, and another with just gold leaves.
Or plant English ivies, which are actually tender perennials in the North that generally are grown as annuals. They come in many leaf colors and shapes, including variegated golden.
Don't overlook the more common annuals with golden flowers, such as zinnias, marigolds, gazanias, tithonias, cosmos, and the low creeping zinnia (Sanvitalia). Both zinnias and marigolds come in various heights.
For perennials, consider these for your golden garden. Several golden-leafed hostas are available including Wogon Gold. These do well in shade, part sun, or even northern sun if sufficient moisture. The low Buttercup (Ranunculus) is available in a couple of golden variegated cultivars, including 'Buttered Popcorn.'
A low-growing loosestrife (Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea'), although marginally hardy in many areas, also has attractive golden foliage. Or include some lower meadowsweets (Filipendula). One has golden variegated foliage (tends to revert to all green, however), another has all golden leaves (marginally hardy).
One groundcover I especially like, and visitors to my garden always comment on, is the Beedham's White Lamium (or deadnettle--how's that for a common name!). With its golden leaves all season, and white flowers in midsummer, it brightens up shady areas, and goes great with blue-leaved hostas.
I also like an attractive new vinca with golden variegated leaves called 'Illumination.' It's a particularly hardy perennial suitable for northern New England gardens.
A new introduction from England this year is a garden phlox with golden variegated foliage called 'Becky Towe.' It's named after the dog of the plantswoman who found it in Shropshire.
Another U.K. native that's new to this country from the Blooms of Bressingham program is a golden-leafed corn flower (Centaurea) with striking contrasted blue flowers called 'Gold Bullion.' Check with your local nursery to see if it has these plants in stock, or go on-line to find a supplier.
Of course, you may already have some perennials with golden flowers in your garden. Daylilies, tickseed (Coreopsis), lady's mantle (Alchemilla), sundrops (Oenothera), cushion spurge (Euphorbia polychroma), and perennial sunflower (Heliopsis) are all popular with New England flower gardeners, as are some cultivars of Helen's flower, which blooms in late summer and early fall (Helenium).
And don't forget about ornamental grasses with "solid gold" or golden variegated foliage. Several of the sedges (Carex), including 'Bowles Golden,' 'Goldband,' or 'Goldstrike' are hardy to USDA zone 5. Perhaps the most popular golden grass is Hakonechloa 'Aureola,' but alas, this is only hardy to about zone 7, so won't do well in northern New England.
But you might want to try one of the many selections of Miscanthus, which has either vertical or horizontal gold bands on the leaves. These plants are hardy to zone 5 and often into zone 4.
Don't forget the shrubs, including some of the golden-leaved cultivars of spirea, or the golden variegated shrub dogwood. A golden honeylocust tree provides light shade and great golden color overhead. Finally, plant daffodils in the fall, golden tulips, and golden crocus to start your golden garden off in the spring.