When I made a trip to the Missouri Botanical Garden (MoBot) this past weekend, my primary goal was to see and photograph the spring flowers. My mind’s eye was focusing on the magnolia, cherries, daffodils and hellebores — the true stars of spring. However, as I made my way through the different gardens of MoBot, I realized that in and amongst the bright colors of spring bulbs and the whites, pinks, and roses of the flowering trees were a large supporting cast of leaves.
The lacy red and green foliage of Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Dissectum Red Select’) dangled off of the end of red drooping stems.
The gardens were full of Viburnum species (here, Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Newport’) that lend foliage texture and shape as a supporting backdrop to many of the spring bloomers.
Foliage like this burgundy variety of mustard greens (Brassica sp.) was used as the foundation for annual container plantings on retaining walls and steps around MoBot.
Even some of the spring bulbs, like this tulip with variegated foliage, get into the supporting role. Tulip foliage is not generally considered a garden accent, but the white edges of this tulip (variety unknown) give it an architectural form in the late afternoon sun.
The emerging spring green foliage of some plants (like this PeeGee Hydrangea, Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’) will illuminate at certain times of the day, promiently displaying their midrib and veins.
Inside the Climatron, the large geodesic dome that houses MoBot’s tropical plants, foliage is the foundation of the lush tropical garden. Many tropical plants (such as the Calathea albertii above (top)) have glossy foliage with intricate, subtle variegation patterns. Others have more defined striping like Calathea sebrina (above (bottom)).
Of all the foliage I photographed at the Missouri Botanical Garden this weekend, the undisputed winner of the Best Supporting Actor in a Spring Botanical Role would be the foliage of the Yellow Buckeye (Aesculus flava). The leaflets that comprise the leaf on this member of the soapberry family splay out in a perfect drooping pattern, catching the sun to create a spotlight on the center of the leaflet.
With the rate at which tulips and daffodils are being hybridized into figments of their former selves, the Yellow Buckeye just might sneak in for a lead actor award sooner than we think.