By Evelyn Alemanni
Although you can’t tell it from my garden, it’s not always about flowers. By carefully selecting plants with interesting and vibrant foliage, you can create garden spots of colorful low maintenance and even drought tolerance.
Coleus, with its wide range of leaf forms and colors, is an old standby for color in the summer garden, and there are many other options for continuing the show in all seasons.
Good to Know: New breeding has resulted in coleus that is sun-tolerant, although many varieties still prefer partial shade.
In early spring, look to tulips with interesting foliage patterns. Typically we don’t consider tulips for foliage interest, but they offer rewards in the garden. Some leaves have pink, red or white in them. Greigii tulips (Tulipa greigii) foliage can be mottled or striped.
For summer interest, look to cannas (Canna x generalis), sometimes called canna lilies. These grow from rhizomes and are native to the tropics. They thrive in heat, humidity, and full sun, and like lots of soil moisture. Cannas can grow to more than 5 feet tall. In addition to colorful foliage, they are prolific bloomers, with red, orange pink, yellow, and bicolor flowers.
Caladiums are another summer foliage treat. They grow from bulbs you can plant in spring, and they die down in fall. Typically the bulbs resprout the following year. The foliage is stunning and long lasting in bouquets. Their color range includes white, orange, pink, red, and green, as well as stunning combinations of colors and patterns. Colors vary depending on available light. Here in Southern California they perform best when planted in containers, and thrive in hot weather in partially shaded areas.
Good to Know: Many people believe you must grow caladiums in shade, but caladium farms grow them in full sun.
For year-round foliage interest, geraniums and succulents are good choices.
Succulents are hardy, drought tolerant, and offer a remarkable range of colors and textures. Among my absolute favorites are frilly echeverias. The large, rosette-shape succulents’ leaves range in color from gray through turquoise, often with red or pink ruffled edges. They are slow growing, so start with a large plant, if you can. They perform equally well in containers or in the ground in full sun. Allow the soil to dry between waterings.
Using geraniums for foliage rather than flower interest may involve a bit of effort to find species with interesting leaves. ‘Occold Shield’ has chartreuse foliage that lights up the garden.
Peppermint geranium is a scented variety with velvety foliage. In spring it blooms with tiny white flowers that resemble baby’s breath. It’s fabulous for scenting rooms when used in vases indoors.
Fabulous foliage plants are available for all light and soil moisture levels, so give them a try to add interest to your garden year-round.