Debbie Clark

Most gardeners believe that they need to have lots of flowers in bloom to have a beautiful garden. They plant perennials for seasonal color and then they add annuals to keep the color coming during the growing season. That all adds up to lots of planting, deadheading and money for all those blooms.

Have you ever considered that a garden could be beautiful without lots of flowers? We all know that a flower blooms for a short period of time. What if you planted your garden with perennials, annuals, shrubs and trees that have beautiful leaf colors? Leaves can add wonderful color throughout the long growing season. You can save yourself time, money in replanting each year, maintenance such as deadheading of spent flowers and have a colorful garden to enjoy. Here are some great examples of trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals to add to that garden for great leaf color.

Perennials such as plantain lily (Hosta spp.) can add plenty of color to that shade garden. They are excellent for leaf color with the bonus of flowers in purples to white. They come with leaf colors of golds, white, blue, green and many mixes of these colors. Remember they can be deer candy and should be protected with deer repellents. Other perennials that can provide leaf color to the garden are Coral Bells (Heuchera spp.), Autumn Ferns (Dryopteris spp.), Japanese Painted Ferns (Athyrium niponicum), Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra), Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantine) and Arkansas Blue Star (Amsonia hubrichtii) with its seasonal color change.

Annuals that can provide great leaf color and that tropical look are Cannas (Canna spp.), Elephant Ears (Colocasia spp.), Coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides) and Caladiums (caladiums spp.). These come in a wide array of colors and mixed colors for the garden.

Shrubs that can add leaf color are elderberry Black Lace (Sambucus nigra) with its dark black colored leaves and pink flowers or (Sambucus racemosa) ‘Lemony Lace’ with its sunny bright yellow color. Hardy Hibiscus ‘Midnight Marvel’ (Hibiscus moscheutos) now comes with dark purple leaves with flowers the size of a saucer. Try variegated Sugar Tip Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius spp.) and the new Black Diamond Crape Myrtles with their dark wine colored leaves.

Trees like Japanese Maples can give not only wonderful spring and summer colors, but great fall color. They come in golds, greens, reds and many mixed colors. A definite “Must” for the garden. Trees like Dogwoods and Redbuds that had only green leaves now come in gold leaves, wine colored leaves and mixed colored leaves and are a lovely focal point in any garden.

If you thought that a garden had to be full of colorful flowers to be beautiful. That idea has changed. Thanks to hybridizer around the world we now have many plants to choose from for our garden that offer not only flowers but the bonus of wonderful leaf color that just keeps on giving!

I will be speaking at the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge (Lake Lure Town Hall) in July on “Water Gardening” (July 19th) and “Hybridizing Hosta and Daylilies” (July 31st) at 10:00 A.M. Free to the public.

Debbie Clark is a NC Master Gardener, Garden Writer and Speaker. She is a Judge for the International Rose Trials at Biltmore Estate, a member of GWA – The Association for Garden Communicators and a member of the American Rose Society.

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