Tired of constantly deadheading the daisies and roses just to have a bit of colour in the garden I decided to delve into the world of coloured foliage.
Garden colours are strongly influenced by the changeable qualities of daylight from the harsh noon day sun, through to soft sunset highlights and all within a background dominated by green. Green is the new black!
I needed to take advantage of this and work within my garden’s existing corners and open spaces. A shady space will benefit from spots of whites and yellows to catch the eye while deeper blues and reds tend to hold their own under Australia’s sun. I saw this as an opportunity to move away from traditional flowers and use foliage that suits our environment.
I worked with a palette of four foliage colours:
Grey –grey is interesting in plants, especially in leaves, it’s usually caused by thousands of white hairs on the green leaf. This can give it a shimmering effect in early morning light and change again if there is rain bringing through more of the green. In shady areas you notice greys, you can’t help it.
Blue – While midday sun can leach out the intensity in blues, at other times it stands out from the surrounding greens to give highlights of interest and lets your eye skip harmoniously through the garden. Having blues at the back of your garden can make the space seem bigger.
Red and yellow – In the Australian sunlight reds and yellows really pop and can dominate even in foliage so careful placement is required, but when done right it’s a delight.
White – Not technically a colour as it reflects everything, it still a useful garden tint framing pathways. Even on cloudy days when other colours are dimmed, white provides crisp highlights and a different look when planted on mass.
The main thing with foliage colour is to carefully use blocks of colours to bring drama to your garden and don’t plant anything without checking out the microclimate and soil first.
Top 10 fantastic foliage plants
These are big bold and beautiful, they always make me feel like I am on holiday and for those of us who live in colder climates their tropical look is especially appealing. Great in pots or planted out in beds they grow from underground roots (or rhizomes) and like sunny spots. They look amazing planted in blocks against walls and grow to 2 to 3 metres. There are so many foliage varieties from day glow stripes to rich shades plus you get the added bonus of vigorous flowers.
With foliage ranging from gaudy pinks to buttery greens and creams I was really spoilt for choice. Found across Australasia they are palm like evergreen shrubs growing to 2 to 3 metres. I love Cordyline fruticosa ‘Kiwi’ with its tutti fruiti blends. Find somewhere brightly lit with a bit of space to show them off.
There are loads of Plectranthus out there but this one is my favourite for foliage, it spreads easily and its fluffy silver leaves are so soft I want to make them into a pillow. It is a deciduous shrub which means it loses leaves but I always seem to have it in the garden. I sometimes break pieces off and replant and off it goes again. In my borders it’s a standout you can’t miss it. Grows to 1 metre.
I first noticed Coprosma on one of my suburban walks, its dense leaves reminded me of shiny jewels. Again the choice is wide with foliage colours ranging from ruby reds through to variegated creams and greens. Personally I love the tiny ruby leaves – and so pretty in winter when everything is a bit blah. Native to Australasia it’s adaptable to most soils and situations, likes full sun and grows to 1.2 metres.
With a common name of ‘gold dust plant’ you get the idea. It’s my disco diva in the shade and sprinkles a bit of glam into any boring corner. Plant in well-drained soil, its leaves are poisonous so should viewed from a distance. Grows to 2 metres.
With delicious plum and cream foliage Berberis make a good space filler at the back of borders. Great for hedging they have dense foliage from the ground up and are always happy to have a haircut to keep them looking good. They can handle full sun and part shade. Best time of year for displays is autumn and even in winter their sculptural red branches are interesting. Watch out for prickles but no pain no gain. Grows 1 to 5 metres.
Euphorbia characias wulfenii
With its blue green pinwheel shaped foliage it’s so different from anything else in the garden and just when you think it can’t get any better, along come those electric lime flowers. Its milky sap is an irritant so wear gloves and got a dry rocky area – even better. Grows to 1.2 metres.
This is one attractive plant and considering it’s named after the mythical goddess of youth perhaps it’s good to keep one in your garden (I’ve got two or three). Hebe’s never let up and have excellent ground coverage. They like well drained soils in partial shade or full sun. Grows to 1 metre.
At 20cm tall it’s a small plant with big impact, it is a good ground cover creating a mat of springy white felt foliage and when it’s ready tiny white flowers. It divides easily and now I have masses dotted around the place. I keep it at the front of my borders to lead the way.
Usually resembling a juicy rose or lettuce these succulent perennials shape into tight rosettes. Their consistent look throughout the year means you can have a lot of fun planting on mass down pathways or snaking through rockeries. They come in variety of blue shades and grow 25cm high.