Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
August, 2006
Regional Report

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The variegated foliage of Tiarella 'Neon Lights' acts as a floral accent, even when not blooming.

Variegated Foliage Can Set Your Garden Apart

Color ... it's what we all want in a garden, right? But in spite of the amazing array of flower colors, an aspect that we don't always plan for is the color of foliage. Japanese gardens take the concept of designing a garden with only foliage to extremes, beautiful extremes. Their meditative gardens have only shades and tones of green. This gives the garden a refined air that lends itself to contemplation and quiet.

Green foliage actually comes in all shades -- from the kelly green of asters and woodland tobacco -- to the chartreuse of sweet potato vine and golden moneywort; from the blue-green of English ivy and baptisia to the gray-green of yarrow. Each makes a different statement, and combinations of shades of green with varying textures make beautiful statements.

White, the most versatile color of all, blends other colors and lightens the garden while tying together garden areas, softening strong colors, and leading the gaze from one area to another. Variegated foliage is a natural white element to do this with, and brightly variegated foliage often gives the appearance of a floral display. Picture a green and white caladium; it almost looks like flowers in the shade!

Variegated foliage brightens and lightens a shady area. Variegated plants are generally used as focal points, so keep this in mind when designing your garden. Mixing a lot of different plants with variegated leaves creates a jumble that isn't soothing. A foundation planting of all variegated plants would be confusing to the eye, and frankly, have just too much energy to enjoy.

Keep in mind that plants with white variegation do quite well in shade, although they will be slower growing than in sun. Plants with yellow variegation do best in sun as they tend to fade in shade.

There is also an amazing range of plants with red and purple foliage, very much in demand by gardeners. Red foliage tends to make an area recede, and gives a rich subtlety to the garden. It is spectacular in contrast to bright green or silvery foliage.

Try These
I've listed a few plants with variegated foliage below, but the sky's the limit!

Caladium; wide range from green and white to pink and gray
Daphne 'Carol Mackie' -- green with yellow
Hosta 'Francis Williams' -- blue-green with chartreuse streaks (there are hundreds of other hostas with all manner of color and texture)
Hosta 'Big Blue' -- deep blue
Japanese painted fern -- silvers, pinks, whites, and grays
Pulmonaria 'Milky Way' -- bright green with silvery spots
Red smokebush -- coppery-red
Red-leaved rose -- maroon
Red-leaved grapevine
Red-leaved Polygonum
Indiancurrant coralberry -- matte blue
Variegated aralia -- large tropical leaves with silvery streaking
Variegated Japanese kerria -- bright kerria with white streaks
Variegated Japanese sedge grass -- deep green with silvery margins
Variegated red dogwood -- gray-green with cream

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