Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
August, 2003
Regional Report

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Who dropped that paint brush?

Depths of Foliage

High summer means lots of color in the garden, from flowers to foliage. Too often we assume flowers are the only way to make a color statement. We forget that foliage can add sizzle, too. The colorful coleus in the photo is just one of the many deep-toned specialty foliage plants available to us.

Quiet and Subtle
You can use these deep dark looks quietly, or in a loud way. The pictured coleus nestles between Euphorbia dulcis "Chameleon" and some reddish heucheras and contrasts against the spined, silvery foliage of globe thistle (Echinops ritro). This creates a mysterious color washing effect at dusk or very early in the day, especially when it is misty or the leaves are shimmery with dew.

Loud and Brassy
Dark foliage recedes in a shady area, but it jumps out at us in sunny gardens. The dark foliage and bright red flowers of the nearly black leafed dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff', or a purple-leafed canna such as 'Wyoming', are wonderfully exotic mixed in with hot pinks and strong oranges or golden yellows; the dark foliage adds tonal weight when mixed with sizzling hot red flowers, sends pale pinks and silver soaring, and adds high-contrast drama against white.

Texture, Too
Because it is unexpected, the dark foliage seems bigger than life, a bolder form than 3-D. And foliage plants can add interest through their texture as well as their coloring. The annual purple millet 'Purple Majesty' is one of the All America Selections this year, and its design flair includes both a bold yet elegant grassy texture and rich deep purple coloring. 'Red Ruffles' basil is another annual with a lovely texture.

Perennials in a deep tone include the Chocolate snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate'), Rheum palmatum 'Atrosanguineum', and of course, the darker heucheras such as 'Palace Purple'.

For a red foliage color statement in structural woody plants, look to the purple leaf plums and sand cherries, the red barberries, the red Japanese maples, or perhaps the Diabolo ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius 'Diabolo'.)

Try It, You'll Like It
Take a look, experiment a little bit, try out one or two of these plants and see how they grow on you. It's fun to move a plant, still in its pot, around the garden and see where it looks best. If nothing else, it will give you an excuse to head out to the garden center and see what's new -- and you'll know just where to plant those ornamental purple cabbages this fall.

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