While all plant leaves serve the same function, they are far from alike in size, color, shape and texture. Keeping this in mind will help you plan a landscape that has more impact, interest and beauty.
In general, flowers are not very long-lasting, contributing their splash of color, and then departing. However, "foliage is forever," as it lasts longer than the showy blooms, remaining attractive year around in many cases.
Green is the color we usually associate with leaves, but there are hundreds of different greens — some lighter, some darker, and some with a combination of more than one. Think hosta, bergenia, lily of the valley, euphorbia, sedum, and many of the ornamental grasses, for example.
And some plants depart from green altogether, presenting themselves in unusual colors: red, bronze, purple, gray (sometimes nearly white), yellow, blue, or variegated combinations of these. Heuchera, or coral bells, is now commonly available with yellow or purple foliage, plus the green-leaf ones that your grandmother grew.
Sweet potato vines make a great foliage plant, and again are available in chartreuse or purple. Some begonias, New Guinea impatiens, cannas and sedum have bronze, red, or purple leaves, too. Coleus always is a good choice for more shady spots, with its great variations in leaf color.
If silver or blue-gray foliage appeals to you, consider artemisia, dianthus, dusty miller, oat grass, loosestrife, as well as some kinds of hosta. If yellow foliage is your wish, look at golden sedge, plantain lily, lemon balm, or some of the columbines, to get you started.
But the appeal of interesting foliage goes beyond color. Increase interest by using various leaf sizes. Some ferns and hostas have huge leaves, as do caladiums. Rhubarb and red-stalked chard not only have large, attractive leaves, but using them allows you to interplant food and decorative plants. That's a plus!
Plants with more delicate-looking foliage include many of the ferns, bleeding heart, and astilbe. Since the majority of our landscape plants fall into the medium-size leaf category, other leaves with a variety of character make your garden beds more interesting.
Consider leaf shape, too, from broad to sword-shaped to pointed to strap-like. A mixture of these shapes will do their part to provide impact. Plants with spiny or aromatic leaves such as holly or sage can find a place in your plan, as well.
Autumn and winter color from plants often is a challenge. While fall bloom color might be provided by autumn crocus, sedum, chrysanthemums, or Japanese anemone, some landscape plant leaves will turn color with cold nights. Hardy geraniums, also known as cranesbill, fall into this category, as do several of the fountain grasses. Bergenia, hellebore, and hardy cyclamen will retain their leaves over the winter in most Rogue Valley gardens. And what is more lovely than graceful ornamental grasses on a frosty morning?
Of course, it is impossible for me to list every possible plant with foliage interest for you to try. But I hope it will get you started. We haven't even talked much about ornamental grasses. But that's a topic for another day.
Coming up: From 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, June 6, Master Gardener Patrick Marcus will teach a class on pest management for organic gardens. Learn to identify the life cycle and controls for several garden pests without using chemicals. The class is $5, and will be held at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road in Central Point. Call 541-776-7371 to register.
Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at email@example.com.