Designing with Foliage

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Designing with Foliage

Flowers come and go, but foliage can last year-round and gives you the most bang for your buck!

When designing gardens for my clients, I use foliage for maximum impact, taking into effect the different colors, shapes, textures and sizes offered.

Last month I talked about the importance of introducing Color Repetition into your garden. Now I’d like to talk a bit about foliage. While flowers are the beautiful showgirls of the garden, in my opinion foliage is the workhorse, and offer so much more, for a longer period of time. Flowers come and go, but foliage can last year-round and gives you the most bang for your buck! When designing gardens for my clients, I use foliage for maximum impact, taking into effect the different colors, shapes, textures and sizes offered. Here are some tips on how to introduce a little ‘foliage magic’ into your own garden:

Mix it up with shapes

There are so many incredible leaf shapes available (spikes, hearts, round, skinny, fat, teeny, huge, fuzzy, bumpy) so keep it interesting by mixing several together.

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This combination has got a TON of foliage shapes going on...the lacy texture of the Japanese Maple, the spots of Pulmonaria, the ruffled Heuchera leaves, the spiky variegated Acorus. Does it look like too much? Not to me! It's actually a very cohesive, engaging grouping. Imagine this combination if the leaves were all the same shape - it wouldn't be nearly as interesting, would it?

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This combination is totally different, not because it doesn't have a mix of foliage shapes (which it DOES), but because its colors are all in the same green family. Normally an all-green grouping might be a tad boring, but because the shapes of the leaves are so different it really works!

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Another way to mix foliage is to have the forms mimic one another, as these two plants do. Each is a rosette, however one is large and grey while the other small and green.

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When you mix two totally different foliage shapes and colors together, you can really make a statement. Black Mondo grass always looks fabulous against anything that's light grey or chartreuse, especially when the color emphasizes its strappy foliage.

Mix it up with Variegated Foliage

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Placing more than one variegated plant next to each other can be a bit risky...but if it's done right, it can have stunning results. Most would think placing two variegated plants so close together other would create a 'chaotic' effect. However, since the foliage shapes in this example are so drastically different (one leaf is quite large, while the other is small), and the third plant is a solid color that acts as the 'neutralizer' - it works! This combination is also successful due to the soothing effect of the colors, which are in the same green/grey family.

 

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Sometimes all you need is just one single variegated plant to really make a combination 'POP', as is the case with this 'Emerald n Gold' Euonymous mixed with the deep burgundy Ajuga and Corsican Hellebore.

How to use spiky, sword-shaped plants

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This type of plant has got to be the #1 'tough-sell' for my clients. Whenever I suggest a Phormium, for example, I hear "Oh, don’t get me wrong...I like them and all, but can't really see them in my own garden. They always look so angry!" But when I show them how gorgeous they can look when correctly situated, they end up loving them as much as I do.

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Especially when their leaves are backlit by a setting sun, or there's complimentary flowers planted next to them. When using plants of this size and shape, it's important to make sure you have softer, rounder-shaped plants near them or at their feet. By doing this, you still get the contrasting structural element (which is SO necessary to keep a garden interesting), yet it's not ‘angry’ looking, standing on it's own.

Using foliage to accent a container

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When I'm choosing a plant for a container, I like to have at least one of the colors or shapes echo an element in the container. In this example, the soft burnt orange shades of the Oxalis, as well as the circular shape of the leaves, mimic the colors and shape of this pot.

When talking about uniting foliage and containers, I'm not necessarily talking about the plant that's IN the container. Just by close proximity, the foliage of a plant can accent the container just as well - as is the case with this Coprosma 'Pink Splendor'. It really brings out the beautiful terra-cotta tones in the pot next to it.

So next time you’re at the nursery, and the flowers are crying out for your attention, don’t forget the foliage! Once those flowers have faded, what are you left with? A boring mound of green, or something more interesting?