Photo by Melody

Think Green: Foliage as an Alternative to Flowers

By Toni Leland (tonilelandJune 2, 2008
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What does “going green” really mean to those of us who love to garden? “To be mindful and sensitive to the natural environment of your daily life” would seem to be a perfect description.

Gardening pictureImageEveryone loves a beautiful rose, or a mass of color in front of the house, or a grassy bank filled with wildflowers, but what about those months when the blooms have either not yet emerged, or have finished for the season? Do those plants have interesting foliage or structure? And what about those tough shady spots?

When considering what to plant in your garden or landscape, look past the obvious; the glorious shapes, shades, structures, and characteristics of dozens of plants more than make up for the fact that they might produce only obscure or non-existent flowers Many perennials will provide nonstop interest in the garden. Most of the more exotic foliage plants require shade and moisture or warm climates, but many will grow in other
Imageconditions, as noted. Think also about interesting woody ornamentals such as Red Twig Dogwood, Oakleaf Hydrangea, or Ninebark for foundation plantings. Painting a backdrop of green against which to display your blooming specimens will give you a longer season of garden beauty.

Next time you think about enhancing the natural environment around you, look to your own piece of the Earth and Think Green. The following foliage plants were chosen for their exotic and beautiful leaves.

  • Arum (Arum): lance shaped dark green leaves with white veins (pale yellow blooms/red berries); part to full shade; moderate to low moisture
  • Astilbe (Astilbe): lacy dark or bright green leaves (fronds of tiny pink, white, or red blooms); light to part Shade; high moisture
  • Bishops Weed (Aegopodium): light green with white edges (small white flowers); part to full shade; moderate to low moisture
  • Bleeding Heart (Dicentra): lacy bright green (bright pink heart-shaped flowers); light shade; high moistureImage
  • Bugleweed (Ajuga): green/purple or white/pink/green ovate medium leaves (short spikes of small purple flowers); shade; moderate to low moisture
  • Bugloss (Brunnera): heart shaped green with white edges (small blue flowers); light shade; high moisture
  • Caladium (Caladium): heart shaped leaves in many color combination (no flowers); part to full shade; high moisture
  • Canna (Canna): huge green or red-brown leaves (red, yellow, orange lily-like flowers); full sun; moderate moisture
  • Coral Bells (Heuchera): dark green to dark purple ruffled leaves (tiny white or pale pink flowers); light to part shade; high to moderate moisture
  • Dead Nettle (Lamium): various shades and variegations (small white flowers); light shade; high to moderate moisture
  • Elephant Ear (Alocasia): huge bright green heart shaped leaves (pale yellow or white); full sun; high moisture
  • Fern (Pteridophyta): wide variety of lacy fronds, many shades/variegations (no flowers); part to full shade; high moisture
  • Foam Flower (Tiarella): light green to burgundy (spikes of white or pink flowers); light shade; moderate moisture
  • Gold & Silver Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum pacificum): green leaves edged with white (bright yellow flowers); full sun; mod/low
  • Hens & Chicks (Sempervivum): assorted shades of green and red (stalksImage of pink or white flowers); full sun; low moisture
  • Hosta (Hosta): everything imaginable; light to part shade (stalks of white, pink, or lavender flowers); moderate to low moisture, depending on type
  • Houttuynia (Houttuynia): green, yellow and red (small white flowers); full sun to part shade; high moisture
  • Jacobs Ladder (Polemonium): green fronds, some edged with white (pale blue or white small flowers); part shade; high to moderate moisture
  • Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla): bright green or gray green ruffled leaves (pale yellow flowers); light to part shade; high to moderate
  • Lambs Ears (Stachys byzantina): green with silvery fuzz (small purple flowers); full sun; moderate moisture
  • Lilyturf (Liriope): green spike leaves, some variegated (small purple spikes); full sun to full shade; low moisture
  • Longspur/Barrenwort (Epimedium): green with red edging (small white flowers); part to full shade; moderate moisture
  • Lungwort (Pulmonaria): lance shaped green leaves with silver spots (small pink flowers); part shade; high to moderate moisture
  • Peony (Paeonia): starburst leaves, dark green (medium to large flowers in many colors); full sun; high moisture
  • Pigsqueak (Bergenia): large dark green to rust colored leaves (pink or purple flowers); part shade; moderate moisture
  • Rockcress (Arabis): green serrated with white borders (small white flowers); full sun; moderate moisture
  • Sage (Salvia): variegated, many shades (many color flowers); full sun; low moisture
  • Sea Holly (Eryngium planum): spiky green with silver edges (blue spiky flowers); full sun; moderate to low moisture
  • Stonecrop (Sedum): bright green to red (various color flowers); full sun; low moisture
  • Sweet Woodruff (Galium): tiny lacy star-shaped, bright green (tiny white flowers); part shade; high moisture
  • Wild Ginger (Asarum): large shiny dark green round leaves (unknown); part to full shade; high to moderate moisture
  • Wormwood, Sage, Dusty Miller (Artemesia): pale green with silvery fuzz (tiny pale yellow flowers); full sun; low moisture


  About Toni Leland  
Toni LelandToni Leland has been writing for over 20 years. As a spokesman for the Ohio State University Master Gardener program, she has written a biweekly newspaper column and is the editor of the Muskingum County MG newsletter, Connections; she currently writes for GRIT, Over the Back Fence, and Country Living magazines. She has been a gardener all her life, working soil all over the world. In her day job, she scripts and produces educational DVDs about caring for Miniature Horses, writes and edits books about them, and has published five novels.

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
Love that foliage! wannabe41 1 23 Sep 11, 2010 7:07 AM
Bishop's weed kljflower 2 10 Apr 7, 2010 4:32 PM
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