Garden Foliage

green agave in container with dramatic shadow of he plant mirroring the form.

The foliage on this agave is dramatic and eye catching.

Garden foliage can be even more important than garden flowers.   The foliage lasts all season, whereas bloom season for any given plant is generally more limited.  Foliage provides color, contrast, texture, and scale in a garden. 

Very fine bladed bright green grass close up.

Carex muskingumensis is a finely textured ornamental grass that can grow in sun or shade.

Bold garden foliage such as a large hosta or Rodgersia can provide an impressive nearly tropical look.  Similarly, a variegated agave can make quite a show with the tall and thick succulent leaves.  If you grow Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ for its blooms, you have strange taste in flowers.   They are usually leggy and not showy, and here at the nursery we cut them off as soon as they appear.  Hostas are grown for their foliage, and as such are deservedly the best-selling perennial in the USA.

Foliage color can vary from near black (Black Mondo Grass, ajuga), to red (Japanese maples, coleus, and so on), purple (Ligularia), yellow (hostas, coleus, sambucus, and many conifers), white (caladium, hosta, many white variegated grasses), blue (hostas, fothergilla, juniper), silver (Artemisia, Dusty Miller), and even brilliant orange will appear in more rare cases, such as the fall display of certain Japanese maples.  And, don’t forget an entire rainbow of green shades that adorn each and every garden.

Color is obviously paramount in fall when trees and shrubs come ablaze.   A maple or burning bush or even a hardy geranium can give really stunning foliage display.

Beyond color, and beyond bold, big foliage, garden foliage can also be fantastic at showing form and texture.  I’ll use another agave to illustrate my point on how foliar form can contribute to the garden and to the beauty of a plant.  The spikes forming the perfect sphere make for a most interesting and beautiful element in the garden.  Texture is another variable, and the fine, narrow leaves of various grasses can provide interest and beauty through garden foliage.   Shown is Carex muskingumensis, but one could just as easily choose a narrow-leafed form of Miscanthus (such as ‘Gracillimus’) or a narrow-leafed tree (such as Rhamnus ‘Fine Line’).

Variegated agave in container.

A variegated agave has both form and color to add to the garden or container garden.

Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ gives a tropical look to the garden with the big, bold foliage provided.

This is a very broad topic indeed, but there are some simple points:

                Gardens are not only about bloom.

                If you want more color in a garden, think about foliage as a means to attain the goal.

                Shop for texture, leaf form, for fall display, for the special attributes of foliage that add to the ornamental value of a plant.

So many customers have a single-minded focus of looking at blooms and blooms only when shopping.   Remember to broaden this perspective to consider foliage, texture, and form and you’ll have a garden that will be ever so much improved.

close up of Fagus sylvatica Roseomarginata or tricolor beech

Trees are the big foliage objects in the garden, and some like the tricolor beech have beautiful detail in that color as well.