By Kate Wall
Lush green spaces are very relaxing, and yet they come to life so much when a splash of colour is added. The first thought for colour in a garden is flowers. Flowers are seasonal and come and go throughout the year. For year round colour nothing beats the drama of coloured foliage.
Traditionally coloured foliage has been considered the hallmark of a tropical garden style, however coloured foliage plants offer options for all styles of gardens. The boldness of crotons, cordylines and acalyphas may seem very tropical but they will grow well in a sheltered warm temperate garden as well. These plants come in a huge array of foliage colour variations featuring reds, yellows, oranges, pinks, creams and even very dark reds which are nearing black. While true collectors will hunt out as many colour variations as possible, for most gardeners, having a couple of different foliage plants will add enough year round colour to keep a garden interesting without overwhelming it.
Warm colours (reds, yellows and oranges) are often associated with tropical foliage, whereas cool colours (blues and greys) are often associated with arid, coastal or temperate gardens. White or cream variegations on foliage are often used for adding highlights or bringing light to dark places in a garden. Keeping to these colour themes can be very useful for those not confident with using coloured foliage in a garden, but there are plenty of wonderfully coloured foliage plants available which encourage us to break these rules.
Many gardeners are very familiar with using variegated foliage featuring shades of whites and creams. Whether that be via a pot of variegated spider plant, the silvers and creams of many of our favourite indoor plants, or the variegated foliage of dianellas or dracaenas in the garden. These plants offer increased foliage interest but being neutral colours can be easy to incorporate into a garden.
Greys and blues can be a little trickier but as some of the most popular plants of all time (lavender) fit this colour range, most gardeners are not afraid to add these tones to a garden. For the more adventurous gardener, the grey and blue foliaged plants offer a highly varied pallet of colours, textures and shapes for creating exciting gardens.
Greys can be delightfully soft textured, giving gardens a soft and romantic feel. Plants such as lavender, lambs ears, senecios and artemesias are hugely popular in romantic cottage gardens. Greys can also be highly architectural as there are many different succulents in shades of blues and greys. Beautiful and detailed gardens can be created entirely out of succulents in which blue and grey tones dominate. These plants come in all sizes from tiny ground covers to small trees and almost every shape imaginable.
Ornamental grasses and strappy leafed plants also have a range of grey and blue tones to add structure and movement into a garden. Kingsdale® Poa poiformis ‘PP500’ PBR is a beautiful native grass with arching blue leaves. It forms a compact clump which can be mass planted for erosion control, or spot planted throughout a garden as a soft feature plant.
Australian natives offer a range of wonderful blue and grey foliage plants which make excellent garden features. Westringias can be used very successfully as hedges, shaped balls or naturally shaped feature plants in gardens – native or otherwise. They come in a rage of shapes and sizes and with foliage that varies from very dark green to grey. Grey Box™ Westringia fruticosa ‘WES04’ PBR is a beautiful compact plant growing to 45cm which combines grey foliage with white flowers. It makes an excellent alternative to box hedges.
Other natives can also be used for their grey foliage. Blue Horizon™ Eremophila glabra prostrate ‘EREM1' PBR, and other eremophilas are perfect soft greys for the romantic cottage gardens. Aussie Flat Bush™ Rhagodia spinescens ‘SAB01’ PBR provides dense steel grey foliage in a compact bush well suited to native gardens, arid gardens, coastal gardens and landscape planting.
While these cool tones of grey and blue can be used effectively en masse in a garden, the warm coloured foliage plants are usually used more sparingly. Foliage colours of red, orange, yellow, pink and bronze add a lot of vibrancy to a garden and give year round colour when flowers don't.
A bold statement can be made using furcreas or phormiums as feature plants with their large strappy leaves in shades of reds, bronze and yellow. Flamin’® Phormium tenax ‘PH0S3’ PBR has dramatic red foliage that demands to be noticed, while the smaller growing Gold Mine™ Dianella caerulea ‘DCGL’ PBR brings a delightful vibrancy to a garden with its green and gold foliage which combines with purple flowers and berries in spring.
For truly hot foliage statements, using the hot pinks and yellows of iresine can work very well in adding colour to green gardens. Neon Pink™ Iresine herbstii is a compact form well suited to small gardens which has dazzling hot pink/red foliage.
Alternantheras have long been a reliable plant for adding red foliage to a garden. The common form can become straggly and weedy but modern compact varieties can be easy care plants which add a lot of colour. Little Ruby™ Alternanthera dentata ‘LRU30’ PBR can be mass planted as a ground cover, or used to create small red hedges to define garden areas where it is particularly effective in gardens with large areas of green lawns. Brazilian Red Hots™ Alternanthera dentata ‘BRAZILIAN RED’ PBR is another alternanthera which adds dramatic foliage colour to gardens with its bright pink and red foliage.
These shades of pink and red can be further brightened by splashes of yellow, perhaps a shrub of Metrosideros excelsa ‘LEMON TWIST’ PBR planted at the back of the garden bed. Many other plants offer variegated foliage with splashes of yellow or bronze which adds brightness to a garden.
Coloured foliage plants come is almost every shape and size and even colour. They can be used to great effect in any garden. Coloured foliage adds a lot of interest to an otherwise green garden and can be the excitement that brings a garden to life.