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Foliage By Design

When I first started gardening I planted flowers period. Anything and everything that flowered in the colors I liked. The result was a spectacular array of retina-blasting color. It was beautiful but after a while it wasn’t satisfying. It took me a while to figure out what was wrong. The gardens I enjoyed looking at and felt comfortable in had lots of color but there were lots of non-flowering foliage plants to break things up. Your eye gets tired if it doesn’t get a break from constant stimulation as occurs with constant color. That is why woodlands are always calming as there is lots of green with small dots of color mixed throughout. In the best gardens foliage is used extensively as a background to feature the beautiful blooms and colors of flowering plants. This aspect of designing a garden is often lost on prairie folk who are craving color after a long winter.

Traditionally evergreens are used to provide us with winter color or backdrops in summer. However, over the last few years many new plants have been introduced with golden, purple or variegated foliage. These shrubs, perennials and some annuals can be worked into any herbaceous border to either tone things down or liven things up depending on the season and what effect you are after. After the spring frenzy of flowering bulbs and early perennials there is often a lull. Well-chosen plants with beautiful foliage can help carry the garden through until later perennials start to bloom or through the rest of the season. Consequently, when planning your borders consider the blooming times of the plants and what does the foliage look like after they have finished blooming. Many perennials and shrubs have beautiful blooms but are completely lacklustre after they have finished. A good example of this is the Oriental Poppy. Once the poppies have finished flowering the stems turn yellow and go dormant leaving a big hole in the border. In contrast, peonies have a short period of bloom but continue the season with lovely foliage, which serves as green leafy backdrops for later blooms.

A well designed border contains the right degree of texture, shape and form (as well as color) which makes it interesting even when something isn’t in bloom. This often takes some trial and error but the basic premise is to pair a spiky shape with a mounding form then add something lacy to lighten up coarser foliage. After this has been arranged then consider your flower color (this is often placed first when it should be the last thing on the list). Add in the different colors of foliage available- varying shades of green, gold, silver, purples and reds-and you can create a garden that is both visually exciting and satisfying all at once even without any blooms.

I still crave my blasts of color so I continue to plant my brilliant flower garden but I do it in a spot that I pass by and don’t spend a huge amount of time in. After a long busy day it is definitely not a restful respite but if I need a kick to get going this is the place to go!