The longer I have gardened, the more I’ve realized that fabulous foliage is far more important than flowers for long term interest in my gardens. Good gardening involves creating year-round interest by having enough evergreen plants for winter structure along with plants that show the glories of spring, the lushness of summer and the fireworks of autumn.
For the winter bones of the garden, there are many conifers with great foliar texture. Hinoki Cypresses (Chamaecyparis obtusa) are like living sculpture with their sculpted, fan-like sprays in gold or emerald green. Japanese Cedars (Cryptomeria) can have smoky, billowy foliage or intricate coral-like foliage in dwarf gems to large pyramids. Lemon Cypresses like Golden Pillar and Wilma Goldcrest form spires of chartreuse feathery foliage that are like a ray of sunshine on gray winter days. Broad-leaved plants with great foliage include Hellebores, evergreen ferns, Heucheras, Acanthus, Pieris, Aucuba and Fatsias for shade and Choisya, Euonymous , Privets(Ligustrum) and Nandinas for sun.
Gorgeous spring foliage is evident on many Japanese maples, Spiraea, ninebarks (Physocarpus) and barberries for your sunny sides while Pieris, Winter Hazel (Corylopsis), the unfurling new fronds of ferns, Brunnera, the myriad colors of Heucheras and Hostas, Astilbes, and Epimediums are stunning in the shade garden.
By summer the full lushness of huge-leaved plants like Gunnera, Rodgersias, Fatsia, Hosta, Bananas, Cannas, Elephant Ears and Castor Bean create a tropical-looking paradise. Colorful coleus in sun or shade are stunning. Ornamental grasses, Phormiums, Cordylines, Irises and Yuccas add spiky texture to complement the rounded forms of other plants.
As temperatures get crisp in autumn, the fireworks begin. Maples, Ginkgos, Persian Ironwood (Parrotia), Sourgum (Nyssa), Raywood Ash and Oaks are some of the best trees for fall color. Burning Bush (Euonymous), Sweetspire (Itea), Smoketree (Cotinus), Barberries, Fothergilla, Sumac (Rhus), Spiraea and Viburnums sport vivid fall colors. For perennial autumn color try Amsonia, Darmera and Muckdenia Crimson Fans.
Great foliage creates a beautiful tapestry upon which flowers can shine like jewels.