By Glenn DiNella
Whether you grow them as evergreens, perennials, or annuals, plants with intriguing foliage lend long-term interest to a landscape. Most of my favorite foliage plants happen to be evergreen, which is great because they can be anchor plants for a home’s foundation, provide bone structure to a garden, or even stand alone as year-round accent pieces.
For understated elegance you simply can’t go wrong with boxwood (above). Boxwood look right at home around the foundation of this historic brick house. In spring and again in fall the homeowner changes out the annual display in front of the boxwood, but they stand as an evergreen backdrop and lend curb appeal all year.
Another stalwart evergreen is the arborvitae, which comes in many shapes (round, pyramidal, columnar), sizes (dwarf plant to giant tree), and a variety of shades of green (from chartreuse to deep green). Be sure you select the right cultivars for your location. They can handle dry conditions once established, and smaller cultivars work well in containers. They look even better when surrounded by bright flowers such as these impatiens.
While winter daphnes are known for their small but deliciously scented flowers in late winter, their foliage is striking all year long. Here a variegated daphne in a simple pot is surrounded by the graceful foliage of variegated ivy trailing over the edge.
When it comes to fantastic foliage plants, don’t forget about some of the tropical beauties such as cannas and elephant ears. The growth rates of these plants are astounding, and the plants can lend your garden a playful, tropical air. Of course, cannas sport a few big, bold flowers during summer, but for me the grand, streaked foliage from spring till fall frost is their best feature.
Elephant ears have a sort of prehistoric look. With their large, wrinkly, arrow-shape leaves, they definitely lend a Land of the Dinosaurs appearance.
A couple of other easy-to-grow evergreens that also sport tropical-looking foliage are aucubas and fatsias. Both prefer some shade. The golden flecks of many aucubas can brighten a shady garden niche.
Fatsia is another interesting foliage plant, even without the variegation. The large leaves resembling open palms remind you of a maple tree on steroids.
Although there are too many types to even attempt to mention, a shady garden niche always has room for the striking leaves of hostas and the delicate fronds of ferns. Both fit into the perennial category (plants that die back to the ground, usually in winter, then return from their roots come spring). Hostas also produce spikes of white or purple flowers. But, as the canna, the real merit is in their unique leaves.
Any article discussing fantastic foliage plants would not be complete without mentioning a couple of additional annual plants. The variety of striking foliage available from caladiums and coleus gives both of these plants a high “Wow!” factor. Note the interesting, almost surrealistic-looking variegation on these caladium leaves.
Coleus’ rich ambers and oranges look great against burgundy- and chocolate-color coleus varieties. Caladium and coleus are great choices as accents for containers or planted en masse in a shady bed.