Many gardeners seem to be convinced that flowers are the be-all and end-all in landscaping. If that’s your attitude, though, you’re missing something important: foliage. Leaves can also play an important or even dominant role in the landscape. By their color, shape and texture, they can complement blooms or even replace them.
There is no reason you couldn’t create a garden dedicated entirely to foliage and still have something of great beauty. And the advantage of foliage plants is that they remain beautiful all summer, unlike flowering plants that tend to fall into oblivion after their often fairly short blooming season.
A “classical” way of enjoying ornamental foliage is to contrast large leaves, such as those of hostas, with small leaves, such as those of moneywort or blueberries. Or, oppose coarsely cut leaves, like those of goat’s beard, with finely cut foliage, like that of most ferns.
Finally, remember that the leaves also have a texture: smooth or rough, shiny or velvety. Some plants, such as bergenias (Bergenia spp.) and rodgersias (Rodgersia spp.), have such remarkable foliage that they don’t need flowers to be stars in the garden.
As for foliage colors, there is almost no limit. Variegated leaves (green and white, green and yellow, etc.) always attract the eye, as do so-called “golden” leaves (various shades of chartreuse and yellow). The two, especially, create a stunning effect of dappled sun when you use them in shady or semi-shady corners. There is also very dark foliage – purples, reds and near blacks – that really bring out the brightness in golden leaves. And don’t forget plants with multiple foliage colors: think of coleus, heucheras, caladiums and even some ferns.
No, foliage plants are certainly not secondary to flowering plants. Use them well and they can become the stars of your garden!