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Foliage Plants

Growing of the Green: Foliage Plants and Their Uses

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Picture of Pachysandra Terminalis

Picture: Japanese Pachysandra ground covers for shade, deer control.

David Beaulieu

Flowers are the highlights of many gardens when they are present, but foliage plants (plants grown primarily for their foliage) boast a reliability that is not to be scoffed at. Blooms come and go. But if you grow specimens with long-lasting leaves, there will always be something in your garden to delight you.

Sure, you can coax a longer blooming period out of many flowers by deadheading them -- but that involves extra work on your part. And while that extra work is worthwhile, I can't help but be impressed by the fact that the subtler display put on by foliage plants is largely gratuitous.

Okay, so that's just my lazy side speaking. There's no doubt that a mix of foliar standouts and flowering beauties is best. But to make sure that you appreciate the diversity of options offered by foliage plants, below (and on Page 2) I discuss several of them, of varying heights. Notice how different in its characteristics each of these selections is from the rest:

Foliage Plants for Ground Covers

Pachysandra is a ground cover, spreading to fill in an area via underground runners. Reaching a height of about 6 inches, pachysandra bears insignificant white flowers in spring but is a fine foliage plant. Pachysandra prefers shade, so it's a great choice for those problems areas you have that don't receive much sunlight.

Liriope is another ground cover but grows a bit taller than pachysandra, reaching about 1 foot in height at maturity. And whereas pachysandra exhibits fleshy, oblong leaves, liriope resembles a grass. Liriope puts out a spiky flower, but its true value is as a versatile foliage plant, amenable to a sunny location or to partial shade.

Foamy bells (Heucherella) and the related coral bells (Heuchera) can be showier picks than either pachysandra or liriope. Plant breeders have produced a number of cultivars that bear leaves with jaw-dropping beauty. For example, 'Solar Power' foamy bells displays fantastic golden leaves. An outstanding plant partner for Solar Power -- if you enjoy color contrasts -- is black mondo grass.

Artemisia is another plant with colorful leaves. But in this case, the color in question is silver. In fact, the cultivar name of a popular landscape specimen in this genus is 'Silver Mound' artemisia.

On Page 2 we'll look at some taller foliage plants....

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