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Foliage fantasies

By Sereba Agiobu-Kemmer   |   15 October 2016   |   3:45 am

Foliage Power
Foliage has an important and complex function in the plant world. It converts sunlight to life- sustaining sugars.

Garden Design
In garden, leaves build the structure. Used as hedging, ground cover, background or striking specimen, foliage defines garden contours and skylines. In design leaves have equally vital roles. They provide constant border attraction through the season, giving the border its depth, flow, and personality. They provide anchor or backdrop to flash-in- the-pan flowers which display vibrant colours timed to guide inbound pollinators, leaves put on a longer-running show.

Always include a generous helping of plants with colorful foliage in your garden. They will provide nonstop color while other plants come in and out of bloom.

The fact is, a planting limited to green palettes fascinates as much as the show of flamboyant blooms. Of all colors, green is viewed and perceived most easily. Using various shades of green only and interweaving delicate airy foliage with coarser leaves creates an impressive tapestry that’s soothing to the eyes. In an all-green garden, a single plant with bold, dramatic foliage assumes the focal point where flowers would usually stand. It has equal impact as accent plants. If green’s foliar offerings weren’t riches enough, leaf hues span the entire color spectrum. Foliage artists can dabble in shades from smoky black of pennisetum glaucum ‘purple majesty’, (a tall ornamental millet with dark purple leaves that offers vertical interest), and snake root (Cimicifuga racemosa) to ghostly silver- white of Artemisia lactiflora and Eryngium. Purple, red, blue, silver and golden all supply ingredients for composition of vibrant gardening masterpieces. Color-splattered leaves, such as found in Coleus (Solenostemon spp.) and Croton, match almost any other leaf or flower color. Many plants also have contrasting leaf veins that coordinate with other foliage colors.

Every foliar hue has a special effect in the border. Green calms and soothes, which is why gardens designed mainly with greens offer welcome relief in urban minimalist settings and meditational refuges such as Japanese tea gardens. Blue and blue-green foliage, found in fescue and oat grass, create a cool and elegant link to other colors in a garden. Blue leaves mixed with purple- leaf plants and magenta flowers look spectacular. Purple and burgundy foliage anchor garden borders giving their solidity. The warm reds in Coleus, several cultivars of castor bean (Ricinus communis) and ornamental grasses raise the pulse of foliar compositions with excitement and drama. Yellows have the same upliftment effect as sunshine in the border.

Gray and silver foliage play magic leaf tricks. Although grey is a neutral mix of other colors, it reflects tints of complimentary color partners. Next to red, it becomes slightly green. Paired with violet, it appears yellowed. Grays placed near orange have a blue tinge.

Speckled, striped, or margined, multicolored leaf patterns serve up something a little different on the foliage menu. Two-toned are bi-colored, whereas patterned leaves are variegated. The most common variegations express mostly in cream, white, yellow and green foliage. Other rarer patterns include the silver streaks in Heuchera, Tiarella, Pulmonaria, and Lamium leaves, as well as the rainbow splatters found in Crotons, Coleus cultivars and other plants.

Vegetable leaves also display wildly variegated colors. Be sure to include red-speckled leaf lettuces, the frosted blue-green and lavender found in ornamental kale and cabbage, Beef steak plant (Perilla frutescens) herb, in the mint family with ruffled purple peppery-basil smell, in your foliar palette of special effects.

Overall, variegated plants lighten and refresh a border, especially when blending green and white or green and cream. Plants naturally develop multicolor leaf mutations; then plant breeders discover, preserve and copy them. Due to the instability in hybrid genetic make up, it takes extra effort to help these plants thrive in the garden and sustain their showy leaves. Adequate fertilizer and plenty of sunlight preserve the showy foliage. Cut off the insignificant flowers stalks of variegated plants, such as polka-dot plant, (hypoestes), coleus, ornamental cabbage, flowering kale, lettuce, basil, to ensure leaf vigor and continuous color.

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