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Unsung Garden Hero: Fantastic Foliage

Plant color in the backyard is never only about flowers. Other plant features like stems, berries and seed pods give us an wonderful diversity of colour, but most of all it is about foliage.

Foliage is frequently overlooked — constantly at the chorus line but never the soloist. It is used by us as a foil flowers or as a backdrop to borders. But for once, let’s bring the foliage plants to the fore and look at just how using foliage alone could create a green tapestry.

Foliage plants have a lot of benefits: They are not as seasonal as flowering plants and are usually low maintenance, and several make superb ground cover. Above all they come in a huge range of shapes, sizes and colours.

Get ideas from examples of planting schemes that don’t concentrate on flowers.

Flowers at the Front Yard

A tapestry of green. This superb shade planting scheme shows us how foliage alone could give us a great amount of colour, creating a green tapestry.

The contours and colour of leaves offer much interest. In fact, the contours of leaves may nearly be as varied as the contours of flowers. While foliage is seldom bright (you will find colorful exceptions, of course), it could create an enjoyable and sustaining landscape.


Brilliant color. Few plants have such vibrant foliage colour as the Coleus blumei shown in this border. For individuals in temperate climes, they are usually employed as a seasonal bedding or accent plant, grown from seed each spring or overwintered as plants in a greenhouse.

Jamie Van De Vanter

If the maintenance of Coleus seems like too much trouble, a fantastic replacement is your magnificent grass Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’. Planted here in blocks, they really are breathtaking. It is not the easiest to develop, requiring full sun in a moist soil. Strangely, the colour starts at the tips of the shoots in spring and gradually suffuses through the plant.

It’s well worth recalling that leaves change not just with all the seasons, but also with their stages of growth. Some seem better when young, but others reach their climax at leaf fall.

Huettl Landscape Architecture

Subtle palettes. Here we could see how a more subtle planting of glaucous green gives us a restful picture. Notice how the option of plants has been limited to stop the border from becoming overly busy — something that is so important if using foliage plants in smaller spaces.

Creative Garden Spaces

Perennial plants may also supply us with much more subtle planting. Brunnera is a great plant for moist, shady circumstances. Its large heart-shape leaves create a fantastic ground cover, although it has delicate sprays of flowers very similar to forget-me-nots, the foliage is the actual winner.

This variety is Brunnera macrophylla ‘Silver Wings’, whose variegated leaves seem to have an almost silver overlay. They contrast against spiky grasses for a tropical effect.

Costello Kennedy Landscape Architecture

Low upkeep. The use of foliage alone in planting systems was widely adopted in modern garden designs. The main benefits are the low maintenance required for year-round-color evergreens.

Kenneth Philp Landscape Architects

Contemporary style. Contemporary planting is shown at its finest with this particular roof garden. The exact planting shows us repetitive and restrictive planting functions best. Most leaves have differing colours in their upper and lower surfaces, so perhaps green in addition to gray beneath, so gardens likely to end will find the benefit of an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colours.

Land Architects, Inc..

Lasting colour. Among the most obvious features of the average leaf is the fact that it’s with us for a lot more than the flower. This is truest of the evergreens, whose leaves remain on the plant from a few years.

Three layers of foliage present us here with a wall of greens — by the emerald green of the Thuja occidentalis through thegolden young foliage of the trimmed Buxus to the shieldlike leaves of the variegated Hostas.

Blasen Landscape Architecture

Shadow effects. The foliage of those tightly clipped Buxus plants is made more impressive by the shadows that they cast against one another and on the wall of the building behind. Shadows may be an almost fourth dimension, so it is well worth considering when designing your own planting schemes. The shadows also bring out the feel of the foliage — particularly on plants with small leaves.

Land Architects, Inc..

Subtle contrast. The amazing sweep of Pachysandra terminalis and Buxus in this garden shows us why the only usage of foliage plants can be quite so dramatic. Though both plants will flower, the entire emphasis of the design is the great contrast of subtle foliage colour and feel.

Bolder statements. Other foliage contrasts shouldn’t be so delicate. The juxtaposition of the black grass Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ from a golden sweet flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’) makes a real statement. Try being bolder with plant selection, contrasting plants of diverse colour, feel and leaf size and contour.

Randy Thueme Design Inc. – Landscape Architecture

Volume planting. I truly love the usage of those succulents. The shiny surface of the foliage brings yet another dimension to this evergreen planting. With only one species we may observe the intricate differences in foliage colour from heavy cabbage green to the delicious pink-tinged edging.

Amelia B. Lima & Associates, INC..

Maybe this green wall would be your true green tapestry. The creation of this superb vertical jungle shows us the way the leaves available to gardeners is so varied — and how when we see it utilized in this manner we might see we actually don’t need so many flowers.

Garden Design Principles: Texture
11 Inspiring Vertical Gardens

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