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Foliage Contributions: Perennials In Garden Design

Learn how the foliage of perennials contribute to the overall design of your garden.

Perennials spend more time without flowers than with them, something we flower gardeners may lament but have to accept. Their foliage, however, contributes to the overall design of the garden all through the growing seasons. So, of course, does their form, but we can tinker with that.

For example, you can cut plants back post-bloom to encourage new growth or to provide unobstructed views of perennials that bloom later. The foliage of the bloomed-out perennials, however, always remain part of the tapestry of the garden.

Thus, when we are selecting plants, we should consider not only the color and shape of their flowers but also the characteristics of their leaves, stems, and overall shapes.

Types Of Foliage

Plants with fine or lacy foliage provide softness and a light airy contrast to neighbors with dense, large leaves. Plants with substantial foliage can be used as anchors and can stand alone as accents.

Those with dainty foliage can be used in groups and also play the roles of foils and unifiers in beds. Plants, for example, with fine needle-like foliage such as thread-leaf coreopsis, are not shown to best advantage as stand-alone specimens.

As well as foliage texture, color also contributes to the tapestry of a garden. There are many new varieties of heucheras. The dark chocolate, chartreuse, and caramel colors of their leaves provide high impact either en masse or as accent plants in woodland gardens and beds.


And of course, there are a wide range of colors of hostas and lovely spotted pulmonarias to choose as well. The blue-gray foliage of baptisia looks cool in sunny borders even in the warmest weather. Variations in foliage can add zip to a garden.

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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