BOLD AND ELEGANT FOLIAGE COMBINATIONS
It is easy to get seduced by flowers. Strolling through the nurseries on a sunny spring day we are naturally drawn to tall spires of impossibly blue delphiniums, the spicy fragrance of old-fashioned roses and those luscious oriental poppies whose delicate, petticoat-like petals open to reveal dark blotches and a fascinating seed head surrounded by a fuzz of black stamens. Who could possibly resist?
As delightful as they are, such flowers will only bloom for a while, often leaving large gaps in the border or foliage that is mediocre at best.
The good news is that you don’t need to deny yourself these fleeting beauties but rather build a backbone of strong foliage to support them, which will also hold the garden design together even during the ‘quiet’ season. Here are a few of my favorite foliage combinations for different settings.
Shady Woodland Garden
Clustering a woodland vignette close to a pathway allows the visitor to appreciate the carefully orchestrated details up close. Although each hosta shares a common shape they differ in their reflective qualities, in how they feel to the touch and also in color. The delicate lacy texture of the western maidenhair fern (Adiantum aleuticum) contrasts beautifully with the large hosta leaves while a carpet of blue star creeper (Pratia pedunculata) serves to emphasize the blue hue of the hostas with its constellation of tiny flowers. All plants prefer moisture retentive soil and dappled light with protection from afternoon sun.
Fall Foliage Frenzy
Light up the end of the season with these fabulous fiery shrubs. Smoke bushes always earn star status in fall and ‘Old Fashioned’ (Cotinus coggygria) seen in the foreground is no exception. Cooling the temperature is the blue-green foliage of spurge (Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii), an outstanding evergreen perennial that thrives in full sun and well-drained soil. More flames are added to the furnace with a fountain of barberry (Berberis thunbergii) exploding on the left and young coral bark maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’) in the background. This combination has a serious sizzle factor!
Foliage Focused Container Design
A sculptural urn such as this deserves an elegant planting and this bronze leaved Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Beni ubi gohan’) proved to be the perfect centerpiece for this year round design. A simple collar of golden sweet flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’), dusky-purple coral bells (Heuchera ‘Dolce Blackcurrant’) and a dwarf spurge (Euphorbia ‘Tiny Tim’) will remain evergreen while the trailing cotoneaster adds winter berries to the scene. The contrast in foliage shapes and colors makes things interesting while the deep burgundy tones of the pot and maple tree anchor the scheme.
Living in the lush Pacific Northwest I wasn’t sure what I’d make of the desert landscape of Tucson, Arizona on a recent trip. In fact I found it to be a fascinating lesson in appreciating silhouettes and shadows.
This garden made wonderful use of colored stucco walls, allowing the architecture of assorted cacti and succulents to cast interesting shadows during the heat of the day. Round flat paddles and narrow spears contrasted with tall columns and the branching structure of other arid climate survivors to form an exciting spiky collage. Perhaps not ‘elegant’ in the traditional sense, but certainly a bold lesson in combining ‘foliage’ while mimicking the native landscape.
Sometimes it is the most simple of combinations that is the most effective. Here the rich purple, heart shaped foliage of the ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’) adds warm contrast to the twisted needles of an eastern white pine shrub cultivar (Pinus strobus cultivar). Yet look more closely and you will notice that those purple leaves are also brushed generously with green, providing an unexpected color echo, each plant enhancing its partner.
Learn to think ‘foliage first’. Establish a framework of interesting leaves for your favorite floral treasures or skip the flowers altogether and simply enjoy exciting leafy tapestries. Your gardens and containers will have a more polished appearance and you will find yourself appreciating anew the beauty of a leaf.
I want to thank Karen Chapman for coming to The Black Thumb Gardener and writing this guest post. Karen is the co-author of FINE FOLIAGE (St. Lynn’s Press, 2013), which I can’t wait to read! Karen is also the owner of Le jardinet, a custom container garden design company. Check out her design website it has some incredible pictures of container gardens!