Foliage Color in the Garden

Different named varieties of Japanese maples provide color on the garden spring through fall.

This is the time of year most of our Birmingham gardens are at their peak. It seems like every day something else is starting to bloom. The crepe myrtles, those great stalwarts of summer, are showing color. Lilies and daylilies are starting to bloom. The hydrangeas are about to put on their show. And while the spring ephemerals are finished, the Indian Pinks are at their best.

When we first began gardening, we spent an awful lot of time thinking about bloom time and color. It seems now that we were not aware of foliage as a component of our garden that could carry the garden through the seasons. When I walk around the garden today, I realize that 25 years of gardening in the same spot has somewhat changed our focus. We still emphasize sequential bloom, but our long, long growing season makes us pay close attention to foliage. For when the blooms are finished, there remains the foliage. In lots of cases, we find the foliage far superior to the blooms. And when all is said and done, great, interesting foliage can contribute for far longer than blooms. Many of our woody plants contribute great spring, summer and fall foliage (just think of Japanese maples).

The chartreuse color of the Sum and Substance hosta contrasts with the leaf form and color of the Japanese maple foliage.

A groundcover tapestry of blue-green foliage: carex and Scotch moss

A golden foliage form of the common European smoke bush

The purple foliage of a barberry against the near black foliage of a selection of a common European smoke bush

The best foliage of all: A verdant drift of happy green perennials and ferns

So, look beyond the blooms. Consider the foliage, whether variegated, colored, or unusual. Experiment with placement for contrast. And visit other gardens to get ideas you can copy. ALL gardeners are unabashed plagiarists.


Mike Rushing

Mike and Paula Rushing have been gardening in St. Clair county since 1990, and In Forest Park since 2007. A Jefferson County Master Gardener and course instructor at Master Gardening classes, Mike also volunteers weekly at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

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