Ornamental foliage plants are a staple of most gardens, but selecting plants with patterned, variegated or multi-colored leaves adds both sophistication and design subtlety to any garden. Although flowers traditionally add the pizzazz to the garden, there are a good many other plants that may be chosen for their interesting foliage, texture, size and coloration. Foliage plants can also provide excellent accompaniment to your colorful annuals and perennials. The subsequent article discusses variegated plants or those with interesting color patterns that will add some well-defined foliage to your garden.
Variegated plants are those that contain leaves with lighter or colored sections that occur on leaf edges or according to some natural pattern. Rather than a single shade of green color, a variegated species may have a similarly shaped leaf with yellowed edges or a stripe down the center of the leaf. Although variegated plants are more delicate and far less vigorous than their chlorophylly-rich counterparts (they are more susceptible to disease and drought) they are a welcome feature to many gardeners who prize the unique and contrasting patterns.
Choosing to garden with variegated varieties of plants is for gardeners with an eye for design details. Just as the variegated and oddly-patterned foliage can attract interest, it can often clash if overdone. Incorporating variegated plants works best if you add one variegated species to a section of solid colors. For example, consider adding a border of variegated Hostas, such as the ever-popular Hosta undulate, to divide single color flowerbeds containing deep red mums or yellow tulips. Simple variegated leaves also look terrific when planted near garden structures like decks or gazebos.
If you choose to add several variegated species to one section, choose those that have similar variegated colors like shrubs or groundcovers with silver specks. Or, plant a separate section of yellow and cream-colored variegated leaves. Excellent choices of plants with yellow or cream colored variegated leaves include Japanese Rush, Sweet Plant, Spotted Laurel, Japanese Sedge, Spider Plant, Weeping Fig and English Holly. Plants with white or silver variegated foliage include Aspidistra, Soap Aloe, Elephant's Ears, Japanese Barberry, Zebra Plant, Reed Sweet Grass, Persian Ivy, Wintercreeper, Apple Mint, White Lilyturf and Basket Grass.
Some plants have foliage that is quite outrageous in its patterns or coloration and these make great focal points as stand out plantings. Some stunning plants with multi-colored leaves include Fijian Fire Plant, Painted Leaf Begonia, Royal Hakea, Blushing Bromeliad, Flame Nettle and Copperleaf. Such plantings wonderfully direct the eye to garden sculptures like stone fountains or birdbaths. Consider the irony of planting gorgeous Flame Violets around a garden ruin like a marble column installed somewhere in the setting for a classical effect that is relieved by the colorful life of the variegated foliage.
If your taste runs to pink, there are some plants that boast pinkish variegated foliage like Box Elder Maple, Japanese Barberry, New Zealand Cabbage Tree, Angel Wings, Heart of Jesus and the Looking Glass Plant. For more dramatic red, orange, purple or bronze-colored leaves, consider such plantings as Lucky Clover, Showy Hebe, Giant Caladium, Purple-leafed Sage, New Zealand Flax or the Caricature Plant. Many of these would do extremely well if contained and set on the porch for a welcoming effect that is something more than the typical hanging basket of flowers.
The patterns of the variegated leaves range a bit, but generally the leaves contain blotches of the variegated color or vertical stripes. Interestingly though, some ornamental grasses like Canna minerva actually sport horizontal stripes making it a most unusual plant for the garden. In fact, most gardeners who use variegated species usually prefer those that are ground covers or shrubs because of their versatility factor. When incorporating other types of plants, consider planting them before a green backdrop like a hedge to really show them off to full effect.
Adding variegated plants to the garden adds a singular style that is reflective of the gardener's taste. Many are not difficult to work with though they are more delicate. Be sure to cut out any plants that crop up fully green; these reversions occur typically. Keep these eye-catching plants in mind to fill garden niches and to accent special areas near ponds or for front yard gardens.