Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
May, 2006
Regional Report

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The new spring growth on Photinia glows like fire in the sun.

Featuring Colorful Foliage

We did a shoot recently for Henry's Garden TV show that showcased plants with colorful foliage. Who says you need flowers to have a colorful garden? Look outside and see the amazing flame-colored new growth on Photinia right now. It is so vivid it seems to glow in the afternoon sunlight. As the new growth on Photinia hardens later in the season, it becomes a handsome burgundy color, and is followed by clusters of white flowers held on red stems. It's an excellent plant, if you don't mind a little pruning.

Loropetalum is another plant with gorgeous foliage color. Some varieties have bright yellow-green foliage with white flowers, while others have burgundy leaves and pink blossoms. Loropetalum is elegant when planted along a path or as a border. The graceful, sweeping branches bend down as if to display their color more effectively.

If it's burgundy you want, try smoke tree (Cotinus), with its wispy flowering bracts that resemble pale pink smoke. Or the elegant Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) 'Burgundy Lace'. You say your favorite color is yellow? How about something hardy and low-growing like English yew (Taxus), Helichrysum, or feverfew (Chrysanthemum parthenium). There are several varieties of juniper that grow beautiful yellow foliage. Mix them with a blue-hued variety and you have a real traffic stopper.

Personally, I prefer the multihued foliage varieties myself. Canna 'Tropicanna', gold dust plant (Aucuba japonica), and caladium are a few that come to mind. Annual coleus are famous for their brilliantly colored leaves. The motley assortment of color tickles me and makes me delight in the wonder of nature. Mother Nature went wild when she painted the coleus.

I also like gray foliage plants to use as a contrast against darker colored leaves. Gray foliage plants like Calocephalus brownii and Santolina have sturdy, finely cut foliage that holds well in wreaths or flower arrangements. These two plants are also very drought-tolerant, not that it makes much difference this year. Dusty miller (Senecio cineraria) and wooly lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina) also have gray foliage and are almost fail-proof once they become established. When planted among other colored foliage, they add depth and interest to a garden bed.

Ornamental grasses are a great source for foliage color. Blood grass (Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra') stays red year-round. Blue fescue (Festuca glauca) has a decidedly blue tinge and a tidy low-growing habit that makes it a favorite here along the coast. Hakonechloa macra has yellow stripes, but watch this one; it tends to try and escape.

Then there is the succulent pallet. Hens and chicks (Sempervivum) and Aeoniums come in a wide range of foliage colors from yellow to burgundy, and most of these members of the Crassula family also offer flowers.

We planted a new variety of Phormium at Henry's. It looked very similar to the 'Maori Queen' variety, which is variegated pink, orange, burgundy, and bronze, but the new one costs nearly $100 for a 15-gallon specimen. I think I'll stick to the old favorite in my garden, thank you very much.

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