Green is a color too! Foliage variety dominates in the landscape |

Green is a color too! Foliage variety dominates in the landscape

While the hues of annuals brighten the summer landscape with every imaginable color of bloom, and perhaps even some we could not have dreamed of, it’s the quiet, steady color of the foliage in my garden that is most pleasing.

When I’m selecting plants for a landscape project, quality of foliage is a primary consideration. With the notable exception of the perennial oriental poppy, which has a spectacular flower followed by foliage that soon collapses, I favor plants that are pleasing most of the year with little or no effort by the gardener. And they must be deer-resistant, of course! The following plants are thriving in my garden where two more twin fawns are spending lots of time with their mother. And extended family is always present.

Foliage offers a different palette than flowers. Red leaves vary in intensity, but until fall few match that of an oriental poppy or the annual Shirley poppy. One of my favorites for red foliage that will thrive in our summer heat is the deciduous barberry (Berberis atropurpurea). From shrubs over five feet in height to dwarf forms under two feet, the red foliage adds a bold accent to the garden.

Gray or silver foliage is a more subtle color. With so many shades to choose from, an entire garden could be created using only those plants with silver or gray. Many are evergreen (or evergray!), adding beauty to the landscape all year.

Common sages (Salvia officinalis) are my first choice for strong gray foliage, probably because I love to cook with the leaves. The plants are small shrubs (sometimes referred to as subshrubs) that serve equally well as single specimens or massed as groundcovers. Salvis officinalis ‘Bergartten’ has gray-green foliage with leaves that are broader than the species. Companion plants include many beautiful Dianthus with silvery-blue narrow leaves, creeping germander (Teucrium cossonii ssp. majoricum) with gray foliage, and Greek yarrow (Achillea ageratifolia) with silvery-white leaves.

Leaves variegated with white need some protection from the hot summer sun. In the shade garden, variegated leaves add a dimension of light that is a more dominant “color” than most flowers. And longer lasting. Bishop’s weed (Aegopodium podagraria ‘Variegata’) has lush green and white foliage that will add spark to the shadier areas of your garden. In the dappled sunlight under a deciduous tree, the white glows. This perennial groundcover is dormant in winter.

Evergreen groundcovers with variegated foliage include many cultivars of Lamium maculatum. The more white in the foliage (‘White Nancy’ and ‘Red Nancy’), the more shade the plant thrives in, while the leaves that are green with just a bit of white or silvery-white (‘Roseum’ and ‘Album’) tolerate more sun.

Plants with gold foliage seem to do best in morning sun with afternoon shade, or in the partial shade under a deciduous tree. Lamium ‘Aureum’ and golden creeping jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) are two groundcovers with striking gold leaves.

But green is a color too! And so many shades. Some, such as the leaves of David’s viburnum (Viburnum davidii) even have subtle hints of red. It’s time to take a closer look at foliage! Leaves last a lot longer than flowers in your garden.

Carolyn will be signing books and answering garden questions at J.J. Jackson’s in Nevada City from 6 to 9 pm on Wednesday, July 30. Look for the big bouquet of deer-resistant foliage (and maybe a few flowers). Please stop by!

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