Glorious Greens: Using Foliage Plants to Create Beautiful Garden Spaces

I began gardening in my twenties, and for me it was all about flowers, lots and lots of flowers. Foliage? If a plant or shrub I chose for my garden had interesting, attractive foliage, well that was a nice bonus.

Many years later, as I started to visit other gardens, I noticed the stunning plant combinations in shady areas, and yes, you guessed it – they were designed with foliage plants. As much as I admired these shady garden displays, I don’t think I fully appreciated the virtues of foliage until I began working in the industry.

There are situations in both residential and commercial garden design when the objective is to create a beautiful display in a shady area. This can be an enormous challenge for someone with a “flowers only” mindset, but I quickly learned that shade offers the designer the opportunity to reach for a palette of plants that is both sophisticated and intriguing. Soon I was looking specifically for perennials, tropicals, groundcovers, and small shrubs that I could use in my designs to create a pleasing tapestry of color and texture.

So the question is why does it take most of us so long to appreciate foliage plants? I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a just a phase for us gardeners. At the beginning of the gardening journey we fall hard for those exotic blooms, and while that love may never fade away completely, perhaps it mellows into a mature appreciation for bud, leaf, berry, and even stem.

Want to try a few of these combinations in your own shady garden? Try a simple pairing like the one below, using prostrate yew and creeping jenny. The yellow-green of the creeping jenny matches the new spring growth of the yew, which makes it look like you were wearing your garden designer hat the day you chose this combination, and the contrast in leaf shape and texture makes it even more appealing. See? Green is a beautiful color.

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