In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
May, 2006
Regional Report

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Even without flowers, the contrasting foliage of these iris and sedums is quite lovely.

Foliage in the Flower Garden

The natural thing to think about when designing or planning a perennial or annual flower garden is color. We love to plan the pinks and blues, the reds and oranges that will give us such delight throughout the season. However, how often do we think of the foliage of these same plants?

Foliage is always there through the spring, summer, and fall, regardless of what is blooming at the time. Perhaps we should give a little more thought to it. After all, when those flowers are not blooming, we still can have a lovely picture to look at if we artistically use foliage textures and shades to paint that picture.

For hundreds of years, Japanese gardens have employed the principle of an absence of riotous color as the main theme of the garden. The essence of a Japanese garden is simplicity, and gardens are filled only with subtle shades and tones of green. This type of garden lends itself to quiet contemplation and reflection.

We don't necessarily need to have a full-scale oriental garden in our backyards, but we can take a few design elements from these types of gardens to use in our own lovely gardens.

Texture
The first element to consider is texture. There are almost as many variations of foliage textures as there are flower colors. Large smooth leaves, such as on hostas and cannas, calm a garden and give it a tropical ambience. Feathery ferns lend airiness to the garden, and lacy astilbes give a sense of gaiety and frivolity.

Color
The next aspect to consider is the color of the foliage. You can find all shades of green, from chartreuse to lime to teal to deepest forest green. Then there are all the other colors, such as reds, plums, yellows, and silvers.

Once you have a backdrop of interesting shades and textures of foliage, you can then use a contrasting color as a focal point. A perfectly placed striking focal plant surrounded by an unadorned backdrop of muted greens is a work of art.

If you don't want to use flower color as a focal point, you can use variegated foliage to give impact. A white-striped hosta planted in the shade has the appearance of blooms. A silvery purple Japanese painted fern certainly adds contrast. Silver-gray wooly yarrow gives the feeling of a carpet of silver velvet.

Try These
Here is a listing of some foliage plants to get you started. Use them to your heart's content, and then punctuate with spots of color.

For drama:
Hosta
Variegated aralia
Ligularia
Caladium
Petasites (butterbur)
Rodgersia
Iris

Red foliage:
Red smokebush
Red-leaved rose
Red-leaved grapevine
Red-leaved Polygonum
Variegated foliage
Pulmonaria
Japanese painted fern
Lamium
Lamiastrum

Unusual texture:
Woolly yarrow
Japanese anemone
Grape-leaved anemone
Rock cress
Artemisia
False indigo (blue-green)
Coreopsis
Perennial geranium
Hardy hibiscus
Catmint
Sedum 'autumn joy'
Lamb's ears


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