Many gardeners choose their plants on the basis of flower colour alone. Although colour in the garden is a wonderful thing, many plants spend more time out of bloom than in bloom. It makes sense, therefore, to carefully consider the appeal of a plant’s foliage when making your choices. Plants such as ferns and grasses have a very important role to play in any garden. They can provide interest, variety, and beauty at times when nothing is in bloom. They can also provide great backdrops or complements to flowers in bloom.
Foliage varies in form, texture, and size. Plants such as columbine or Dutchman’s breeches have small, delicate leaves, while those of wild ginger are large and rounded. Jack-in-the-pulpit has a fascinating shape. The foliage of grasses such as tufted hair grass can have a beautiful flow. Some plants have smooth, shiny leaves, while others have soft, downy ones. By combining a variety of foliage shapes, sizes, and textures, you can create great interest in your garden that will carry it through times of limited blooms and even enhance it when many flowers are blooming.
Although we often think of plant foliage simply as green, there is a great array of colours. Tonal values vary from very deep, dark green to incredibly pale. Some plants, such as pearly everlasting and silver buffalo berry, are even blue or grey. You can get great variety by paying attention to the foliage colour of the plants you choose and the way you place them in your garden. Silver-coloured foliage can stand out nicely against a backdrop of dark green leaves.
And don’t forget the value of beautiful fall colours and those that stay green throughout the winter. Some thought to foliage in plant selection can add some dramatic colour at a time when blooms are dying out or gone.
To help plan your design, check out some of your favourite gardens and pay attention to which foliage combinations appeal to you. When shopping for plants, place some in various combinations to see what looks good together. Flip through garden magazines to search for interesting groupings and try to re-create them with plants of similar foliage shape, texture, and colour.