February 17, 2006
Posted online April 12, 2006
Add color to your garden without
By Bob Sampson,
Some basic foliage colors can replace flowers and add another
dimension to your garden, said a University of Illinois Extension
"When shopping for plants to put into your garden that
might provide some color, have you really looked past the flower
potential and to the plant itself?" asked Greg Stack.
"A plant should not stop adding color just because it has
stopped blooming or does not have flowers.
"Go deeper into the plant this spring when visiting
garden centers. Look at its leaves and ask yourself what they can
do for your garden."
Garden plants have one constant--leaves. They are present even
when the plant may not be in flower nor has no flowers that are
significant to the garden.
"For something that is so ever present, one would think
that more attention would be paid to foliage and what it can do
to color up a garden," said Stack.
Take the color green, he added.
"Yes, green is a color, and in the garden it is very
predominant. But all leaves are not the same shade of
green," Stack explained. "Green is a combination of
blue and yellow and will present large variations. Blue-green
suggests a cool feeling and yellow-green more of a warmer
"Gray and green harmonize well. When looking at a plant
to fill the green color category, there is no shortage of
candidates. One needs to look closely at the leaves and study
Not only will shades of green be obvious, but there is also
the textural element that can offer highlights.
"Just look at the many cultivars of hosta and all of
green and blue-green leaves," he said. "When looking at
'green'-leaved plants, you may have to really step back
and study the plant to see the subtle differences in green. After
looking at them, you will find that there really are differences
that you may not have realized at first."
The differences sometimes lie in textural patterns. Each is
different. Blue-green foliage can increase the apparent size of a
small space garden by giving it more perceived depth. It can also
create shadows in the garden.
"When looking for blue-leaved plants, you can start with
some of the grasses," Stack said. "Fescue 'Elijah
Blue' and Switchgrass 'Heavymetal' are some good
choices. Perennials such as Fringed Leaf Bleeding heart
'Luxuriant,' Rudbeckia maxima, and Thalictrum
'Thundercloud' add a touch of blue. Blue spruce
'Thomsen' can offer year-round interest."
Red is bold and energizing. Large masses of red create
excitement and interest. Red is often used to shock or
"Purple and red foliage plants look their best when they
can be back-lit by either the rising or setting sun," said
Stack. "This makes the colors seem almost molten. Red can
become lost in heavy shade."
There are many red- or bronze-leaved foliage plants to choose
from. Perennials such as Cimicifuga "Brunette" or
Lobelia "Queen Victoria," and Ligularia "Dark
Beauty" are bold choices. Of the many annuals, there are
Solenostemon (coleus), Alternanthera "Purple Knight,"
Iresine "Purple Lady," and Ornamental Pepper
Yellow is a warm color. It tends to be a very dominant color
in the garden and can draw your eye. It works well and mixes well
with many colors.
"Yellow can add that spot of sunshine to darker corners
of the garden," said Stack. "Look for yellow in
perennials such as Amsonia, many hostas, Geranium
'Annfolkard,' Lysimachia 'Auria,' and Dicentra
"Annuals such as Sweet Potato 'Margarita' and
Helichrysum 'Limelight' and tropics such as Xanthosoma
'Chartreuse' make very bold statements."
Gray/silver is a neutral color. It helps intensify already
bold colors and softens the delicate pastels. Gray foliage plants
often have fine, soft hairs that give them their distinctive
color and soft texture.
"Gray-leafed plants require a bit more care in the
garden, especially in regards to drainage," said Stack.
"Well-drained soils are a requirement if you want to succeed
with these plants.
"Shade gardens are brightened by gray-leafed plants that
act as a spotlight in dark areas. Some gray or silver plants to
consider include Artemisia 'Powis Castle,' Achillea
'Anblo,' and Stachys 'Countess Helen von Stein.'
The many cultivars of dusty miller and Plectranthus offer great
silver foliage in annuals."