Discover the Beauty of Foliage: Enhance Your Garden with Vibrant Leaves

Next time you visit a garden center, shift your focus to leaves. While flowers bloom and fade with the changing seasons, foliage remains a constant source of vibrancy. Gardening expert Nancy J. Ondra, the author of “Foliage: Astonishing Color and Texture Beyond Flowers,” urges us to recognize the kaleidoscope of color possibilities offered by foliage plants. From golden and chartreuse to blue-green, burgundy, and even nearly black, the range of hues is impressive. Some plants boast solid-colored leaves, while others feature variegation with stripes or spots. Leaves can be round and soft, spiky and straight, or come in various sizes. The possibilities are endless, allowing you to create any look you desire. The best part? Focusing on foliage reduces yard work and maintenance.

Nine Building Blocks of a Foliage Garden

Here are a few reliable perennials that thrive in most areas of the country. These plants come in a wide range of colors, shapes, and textures, providing a diverse and eye-catching addition to your garden.

Canna (Canna x generalis)

Although cannas are primarily known for their flowers, cultivars with striking tropical-looking leaves are worth considering. Some varieties exhibit purple leaves streaked with orange, while others range from nearly black to green with gold stripes. These plants thrive in full sun, growing to around 4 to 6 feet tall. If you mulch their roots well during winter, they can withstand temperatures as low as 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pigsqueak (Bergenia)

Pigsqueak is characterized by its ground-hugging rosettes of large and glossy green leaves. In spring (and sometimes fall), pink flowers bloom, and the foliage lasts throughout winter (except in the coldest climates). Regularly cutting back or dividing the plants helps prevent legginess. Partial to full shade suits them best, and they grow to a height of 12 to 18 inches. Pigsqueak can handle extremely low temperatures, down to -40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Further reading:  A Guide to Planting Seed Paper: Transforming Waste into Blooming Beauty

Black Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus)

This lily variety boasts leaves reminiscent of inky black grass, creating a dramatic contrast when paired with the dark green leaves of standard mondo grass (O. japonicus). It thrives in partial to full shade, growing to a height of 6 to 12 inches. Black Mondo Grass can tolerate temperatures as low as -10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Plantain Lily (Hosta)

An excellent choice for shaded borders, Plantain Lily presents mounds of showy leaves in heart, lance, oval, or circular shapes. The leaves vary in texture, ranging from smooth to crinkled and glossy to matte. The color palette includes green, yellow, and gray-blue, often with variegation. Partial shade is ideal for these plants, which can grow to heights of 15 to 36 inches. Some varieties can even withstand temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lambs’ Ears (Stachys byzantina)

With its fuzzy, gray-green leaves, Lambs’ Ears may be unassuming, but it draws bees and butterflies with its insignificant pink flowers in late spring or early summer. To prevent unwanted spread, it’s advisable to clip the flowers. These plants require full sun to partial shade and reach heights of 6 to 12 inches. Lambs’ Ears can survive temperatures as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit.

Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum)

Silver-green or green leaves occasionally streaked with purple make the Japanese Painted Fern a unique addition to any garden. Unlike variegated plants that lose their silvery color in the shade, this fern retains its vibrancy. It thrives in partial to full shade and grows to a height of 12 to 18 inches. Even on windy sites with poor soil, the Japanese Painted Fern can flourish. It can tolerate temperatures as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit.

Further reading:  Pre-Seeding Your Garden in Autumn for an Early Spring Harvest

Dusty Miller (Senecio cineraria)

Drought-tolerant and boasting silver, fern-like leaves with a velvety texture, Dusty Miller is a hardy and versatile plant. Clipping the insignificant yellow flowers encourages leaf growth. In colder climates, it can be grown as an annual, with cuttings propagated indoors during winter. Full sun is preferable, and it grows to a height of 6 to 12 inches. Dusty Miller can withstand temperatures as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra)

Japanese Forest Grass adds elegance to any garden with its gracefully arching green, gold, or variegated leaves. While the clumps spread through underground runners, they are not considered invasive. The most popular variety, ‘Aureola,’ showcases green leaves with yellow stripes in the sun and chartreuse stripes in the shade, reaching heights of 14 to 36 inches. Japanese Forest Grass is hardy enough to endure temperatures as low as -25 degrees Fahrenheit.

Coral Bells (Heuchera sanguinea)

Coral Bells offer an array of frilly or scalloped leaves in bold colors. These plants require well-drained soil, with the orange ‘Caramel’ variety thriving in high humidity. Full sun (in cool climates) to partial shade suits them best. They can grow to heights of 8 to 24 inches and survive temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Three Standout Annuals

Perfect for filling empty spots in your yard or changing up your garden’s look from year to year, these annuals showcase extraordinary foliage. Incorporate them into beds and borders or pot them up for stunning containers.

Castor Bean (Ricinus communis)

Featuring tropical-looking lobed leaves that range from green to burgundy and can grow up to 18 inches wide, Castor Bean plants make a bold statement. However, it’s essential to note that all parts of the plant are poisonous, so they may not be suitable for yards where small children play. Castor Beans thrive in full sun and can reach heights of up to 10 feet.

Further reading:  Transform Your Outdoor Space with These 15 Striking Leafy Plants

Summer Poinsettia (Amaranthus tricolor)

The Summer Poinsettia earned its nickname due to the brilliant red color that some types’ top leaves display. Other varieties feature yellow or green and red splashes. These plants require full sun and grow to heights of 36 to 48 inches.

Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides)

Though technically a tropical perennial, Coleus is often treated as an annual in many parts of the country due to its sensitivity to cold weather. The leaves of Coleus come in various colors, ranging from yellow to purple. Most varieties prefer partial shade, but some thrive in full sun. Heights can reach from 12 to 36 inches.

Discover the joy of creating a garden bursting with vibrant foliage. By emphasizing leaves rather than flowers, you can achieve an enduring and visually stunning landscape. So, embark on your foliage adventure and let your garden shine.

Start planning your new garden! Our Interactive Plant Hardiness Zone Map can help.