Flowers are irresistible to gardeners, but in the throes of spring planting we rarely consider how that flowering plant will look once its blooms have faded or winter has set in. In the midst of our hot summers and cold winters, how many of us think of adding striking foliage rather than flowers when our gardens and containers need a little boost?
Leaf size, shape and color can set a mood, create a sense of place – a tropical paradise, a woodland retreat or a private “room” – and add beauty, depth and texture to gardens and containers. The biggest challenge to selecting plants for their foliage is the vast array of options.
As we head into fall, spectacular leaf colors are especially enticing although all too fleeting. If you like the warm, vibrant and earthy color of fall leaves – golden yellow, scarlet red, cinnamon, bronze and orange – it’s easy to incorporate these colors into your garden for multi-season enjoyment.
No shade garden should be without the evergreen coral bells, beautiful on their own or paired with plants of complementary and contrasting colors. ‘Southern Comfort’ and ‘Caramel’, along with the Heucherella ‘Sweet Tea’ are favorites that thrive in the south. Leaves of tawny yellow, bright peach and orange with undertones of pink and red practically glow. Pair these mounding coral bells with evergreen Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) to set off the fern’s coppery colored new fronds and with the fine-leafed amber-brown sedge, Carex buchannii.
Prairie Fire Grass
The wispy evergreen leaves of this New Zealand sedge are a bright green with a graceful, arching habit. In sun, they are ablaze in bright orange. Growing to only 12-15 inches, prairie fire grass works well in containers, at the front of the border, and in formal or informal settings. I especially like it paired with purple coneflowers where it makes the orange cones pop and contrasts with the purple-pink petals.
‘Golden Ruby’ Barberry
For three seasons of truly dazzling color, ‘Golden Ruby’ is hard to beat. Spring foliage emerges vivid orange and matures to a warm burgundy with gold edging in summer. In fall, the leaves are transformed again to a fiery orange and crimson. Best in full sun, ‘Golden Ruby’ is slow growing to about 15 inches tall and 24 inches wide.
‘Red Dragon’ Japanese Maple
Holding its color in sun and shade, this weeping maple’s dissected leaves are scarlet in spring, darken to a handsome burgundy in summer and brighten to a blazing red in fall. When it loses its leaves, its maroon branches provide color and structure through the winter. ‘Red Dragon’ grows to about 6-8 inches tall and probably wider, and is perfect in a small garden or in a container. Like other Japanese maples, it will benefit from some afternoon shade.
This cultivar of the native ninebark is stunning for so many reasons, not the least of which is its rich, copper-orange-red leaves. Growing to 8 feet tall and almost as wide, ‘Coppertina’ makes a bold statement whether planted as a specimen or en masse. It’s easy to grow and likes full sun for best color, but will tolerate some shade.
Sharon O’Neill works in the perennials and shrub department at Logan Trading Company. She can be reached at (919) 828-5337 or at Sharon@Logantrd.com.