foliage first

Spring – it’s finally here! And as you start planning this season’s garden, consider plant selections based on leaves, rather than flowers.It is very tempting, particularly after a long gray winter, to find yourself at the nursery scooping up annuals and perennials that promise lots of color. And with judicious pruning and deadheading you can prolong the bloom time of most flowering plants. But blooming eventually finishes and you are left with leaves for the balance of the season.

Designing with foliage can substantially improve the overall effect of your garden and provide continued interest long after blooms have finished. This is accomplished by incorporating “foliage-plants” into your garden design.

Foliage-plants are grown primarily for the color, texture or shape of their leaves. They are either bloomless, produce blooms that are minimal or inconspicuous, or possess leaves that are as beautiful as their flowers.

Ferns are a great example of a foliage-plant that does not produce blooms. They are a perfect addition to the shade garden and deer tend to avoid them. Small evergreen shrubs, such as Boxwood (Buxus) and the smaller varieties of False cypress (Chamaecyparis) provide structure and contrast in the garden, and offer year-round color.

Next, consider perennials that, while they produce flowers, are grown primarily for their foliage. Many gardeners even cut down the flowering stalks on these plants as to not detract from the beauty of their leaves. Coral bells (Heuchera) are low-growing perennials that produce sprays of inconspicuous flowers. Their true beauty lies in their foliage, which comes in a wide range of unusual colors – from purple and burgundy to chocolate brown, often with a silvery or metallic overlay. Coral bells provide a striking contrast to the sea of greens found in most gardens. Wormwood (Artemisia) is a mid-sized plant whose silvery leaves are deeply cut and have a fringed texture. It is aromatic, quick-spreading and low-maintenance. Lamb’s-ears (Stachys) is a superb plant to use as a low-growing groundcover in the front of the bed. Its silvery-grey leaves have a soft downy texture.

Finally, there are many plants that offer the best of both worlds – attractive flowers and striking foliage. Hostas are an obvious choice. While they produce lovely lavender, purple or white flowers, it is their staggering array of foliage choices that make this plant such a favorite. You can find hostas with leaves that range in texture from corrugated, seersucker and quilted, and colors ranging from vibrant chartreuses to deep blue-greens. Two more superb choices in this category are Lady’s-mantle (Alchemilla mollis) and Bethlehem sage (Pulmonaria saccharata). Lady’s-mantle is a low-growing plant that produces sprays of small chartreuse flowers. Its rounded, kidney-shaped leaves literally sparkle when wet, either after a rainfall or in the early morning. The effect is spectacular and really sets this plant apart. Bethlehem sage bears clusters of charming flowers that age from pink to blue. Its long, oval-shaped leaves are covered with silvery dots, giving them a mottled appearance.

This is just a small sampling of the foliage-plants available. When you consider the vast array of colors, shapes and textures to be found in the leaves of many plants, the possibilities for achieving year-round interest in your garden are endless.

“tending your garden” is reprinted with the permission of River Journal Inc., 914.631.7021
© 2007 sheri silver –