How Dare You Leave Us Out?

Since yesterday was Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, the world of garden writers was focused on the beauty of flowers. Even though I was able to post 38 different varieties of flowers blooming in my garden, I felt like I was ignoring all the wonderful foliage that really is the glue that holds the garden together this time of year. The hotter-than-usual weather of late July and early August has shut down the flower production in many of the perennials and annuals, so much of the color and texture in the late August garden will rely on foliage to carry it through to autumn.

To make up for the oversight yesterday, I walked through tonight’s garden with a particular focus on foliage.

Many of the larger-leaved shrubs that flowered earlier in the season now serve as solid backdrops for perennial and annual flowers.

 Hamamelis vernalis (Vernal Witch Hazel)
Fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy’
Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’
 Euonymous alatus
Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’
Smaller-leaved shrubs provide a finer texture in the garden in contrast with their more bold neighbors. 
Buxus microphylla ‘Wintergreen’
Rhododendron ‘Girard Chirstina’

Many of the annuals, including well known plants like coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides), are grown primarily for their foliage and serve as highlights of the containers in the garden. The number of coleus varieties has exploded in the past few years, and have become one of my favorite ways to bring season-long color in the garden. Coleus are also very easy to overwinter indoors and now come in a variety of reds, greens, and even yellows.

‘Twist and Twirl’ Coleus

‘Trusty Rusty’ Coleus

‘Religious Radish’ Coleus

‘Trailing Dark Heart’ Coleus

Without foliage plants, it would be nearly impossible to introduce grey-blues and silver into our landscapes, a color that provides great contrast with green foliage as well as purple flowers. I’ve used perennials, annuals and woody ornamentals as silvery-blue accent points.

Baptisia australils (False Indigo)
Picea pungens ‘Fat Albert’ (Colorado Blue Spruce)
Helichrysum ‘Mouse Ears’
Nepeta sp. (Catmint)

I’d be remiss to neglect mentioning the old foliage standby — Hosta — but it’s tough to find Hosta leaves this time of year that haven’t been ravaged by slugs, rabbits or heat. My hosta have fared relatively well this summer (and put on a pretty spectacular flower display), but spring is still my favorite time of year for these plants as the leaves emerge from the soil.

Vines also serve a good foliage plants in my garden, although I still shudder when I think about vines in general. When I first started gardening this property, I began a decade long battle with porcelain vine (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata) that sprawled across the northern back yard fence. Not only was it a favorite of Japanese beetles, but it’s highly invasive and easily propagated by birds. Although the original stands are gone, they still pop up like weeds throughout the garden today. I have overcome my aversion somewhat, and use vines sparingly on the property.

Passiflora sp. (Passionflower)
Lonicera sp. (Honeysuckle)
Any discussion of foliage in my garden would be incomplete without talking about the tropical plants I’ve introduced to the garden this year. They’ve added additional energy and drama to the summer garden, especially in the early evening light that makes their foliage glow.
 Colocasia ‘Illustris’
Musa ‘Little Prince’ (Banana)
Caladium ‘White Wing’
Foliage holds my garden together at the seams and on the edges, but also serves as a focal points around the yard. From the bold, enormous Colocasia (Elephant Ears) in the shade garden, to the combination of evergreens, coleus, caladium and other annuals in my patio garden, foliage is more than just a supporting cast member.
If I had to pick one element of horticulture as my favorite, it would undoubtedly be foliage. If the trunks of  trees and shrubs are the bones of the garden, foliage is the flesh and blood that brings the garden alive. As a tribute, I plant to follow the lead of Pam Pennick over at Digging and make a monthly Foliage Follow-Up as a sequel to Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day. 
I hope the foliage stars will feel appreciated now and stop looking at me forlornly on the 15th of each month, as if to say, “How dare you leave us out?”
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