Betty Montgomery: Foliage an important part of garden design

Staff Writer
The Destin Log
Yellow foliage has become quite popular in recent years. Shades of yellow help brighten up any dark or dull spot in the garden.

Foliage is a very important part in the design of your garden. Flowers bloom and fade but foliage is there to carry the garden through the summer. More and more breeders are developing unusual foliage plants with dramatic colors and that are giving different effect. This colorful foliage will keep your garden looking impressive after the first big flush of flowers have faded and before the late summer flowers have opened up.

Today there is a wide range of interesting foliage. You can have variegated leaves with stripes or spots as well as different patterned leaves. They can be big and tall or round and small. Foliage plants can help fill those gaps or brighten up that dull corner. Focusing on foliage can help make your garden more dramatic.

If you have ever visited a “white garden,” silvery looking foliage is used to highlight the white flowers and to make the garden glow at night. Silver foliage catches the light at night and makes a lovely reflection and this can help illuminate the garden. Silvery leaves can also be a wonderful contrast to the green monotone pallet that is often present and it helps make a light and airy atmosphere. Lambs ear, dusty miller, Russian sage, lavender are some of the ones that give this effect.

Yellow foliage has become quite popular in recent years. Shades of yellow help brighten up any dark or dull spot in the garden. There are many yellow foliage plants that can give similar effect as flowers, illuminating those uninteresting spots in the landscape. Yellow leaves also blend nicely with purple flowers. Creeping Jenny, Indian Dunes Geranium, Hosta, Japanese forest grass and Heucheras are a few of the ones that I see in gardens that I have visited and ones that are readily available.

There are some plants with dark purple and maroon leaves that add a mysterious touch. These plants are popular with landscape designers because they go well with most shades of green. They are also used with purple and blue flowers. Dark purple foliage mixed into a fall border with red and orange colored flowers can make a dramatic appearance. If you need something low, Black Mondo Grass makes a dramatic display. Sweet potato vine “Blackie” makes a vibrant show as it drapes over walls or hangs from a basket. Elephant ears, certain Dahlias, cardinal flower Black Truffle, oxalis and ajuga are others that can be used to great effect.

Plants with multi-colored leaves have been used over the years and are still quite popular. Today there are more and more plants with rainbow colored leaves that are used by designers to fill spaces instead of using flowers. Caladiums, coleus, and hostas have been used for years to do just this and today, heucheras and cannas are also being used to create a magnificent effect.

Coleus has been around for a long time, and in the past few years an endless number of choices have come forth. There are plants that are not only shade tolerant but now there are sun-loving coleuses as well. They come in a kaleidoscope of colors. The shape of the leaves can be narrow or wide, the edges can be cut or scalloped and the leaves can be smooth or ruffled. These flamboyant plants can be just the touch you need to make that window box pop with color, to fill in an empty spot in the flower border or to tie different colored plants together.

Colorful vines are very popular too. Burgundy and chartreuse potato vines are great in baskets, as a groundcover or to have draping over a wall. These vines are quite versatile in their use. Several years ago, at the exit to the Asheville, N.C. airport, the North Carolina Highway Department used chartreuse potato vines for a ground cover under the trees that line the exit ramp. It made a most dramatic effect. This made the most unique and dramatic use of this plant.

The next time you are at your favorite garden center and you are looking for plants to make that dramatic statement, think leaves. Perennial flowers come and go with the season but those foliage plants can pull your garden through those times between the flowerings of different plants.

Betty Montgomery, author and master gardener, can be reached at