Variegated leaves are great standbys in shady gardens.
Shade is essential in our hot climate; we need lots of it to make life liveable for us and our plants.
A big problem, though, with shade is that the trees and shrubs that provide it also rob the ground of moisture, making dry shade the hot climate gardener's biggest bugbear.
There are lots of beautiful plants that grow well in shade, especially when the ground is thickly mulched.
If you start with interesting leaves your planting combinations will always look interesting - this is where variegated foliage comes in.
Perennials are generally considered less drought-proof than woody plants.
But there are plenty of drought-hardy perennials around and they have a great advantage over shrubs of multiplying more quickly.
Starting with the back row, Japanese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis variegatus) has tall, arching leaves with a white central stripe and reaches to a mighty two metres once it's established.
Slightly shorter Zebra Grass (M.s. Zebrinus, 1.5m.) has gold stripes that are intriguingly horizontal.
I imagine it takes its name from the African zebra's legs whose stripes are horizontal, unlike the mostly vertical stripes on its back.
Knee high Dietes 'White Tiger' also resembles its namesake and in this instance has vertical stripes.
It thrives on heat and drought. I defy anyone to kill this plant: it has been around for a while but is still relatively uncommon
Several irises have variegated foliage. I. pallida 'Variegata' has cream to white striped leaves and pale mauve flowers shaped like bearded iris.
It's less invasive than bearded irises and is happy in shade though will produce fewer flowers.
Moving into broader leaves, Canna 'Stuttgart' is the dry-climate gardener's answer to Plantain Lilies (Hosta), those lush perennials from the damper regions of northeast Asia that take one look at a dry garden and heads south at high speed.
'Stuttgart' has large, lance shaped leaves, pale green splashed white, and like other garden cannas, its roots are moderately hardy but the foliage disappears at the first hint of frost.
Slightly lower growing, a shade-tolerant spurge, Euphorbia characias 'Silver Swan' is a succulent perennial with narrow green leaves edged in white.
It has limey bracts in spring.
Another drought hardy succulent, Sedum 'Frosty Morn' has white variegated leaves and makes a lovely foreground plant. It's slow to multiply but easy from cuttings.
Houttuynia cordata 'Chameleon' makes another good foreground, with red stems carrying deliciously aromatic, heart-shaped leaves variegated cream, pink and white.
Most variegated plants are grown for their leaves but the variegated Peruvian lily (Alstroemeria) 'Princess Fabiana' also bears beautiful, long lasting flowers, cream streaked with pink and buff that love the heat and tolerate shade well.
It's not often gardeners can have our cake and eat it, so make the most of this easy perennial.
- Clover Hill Rare Plants (www.cloverhillrareplants.com.au) offer Canna Stuttgart by mail order.
- Sedum 'Frosty Morn' is available by mail order from Nutshell Perennial Nursery (www.nutshellnursery.com.au).