Try Gardening with Foliage First

I've taken a page (actually, several pages) from Gardening with Foliage First by Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz. If ever there were a recipe book for a huge array of plant ingredients, this is it. The authors include plants most of us would never have thought of using together. I particularly love the one entitled "Bad Hair Day," named for the tufted topknots of the pineapple lilies and the tousled petals of a cactus Dahlia.  But the flowers wouldn't shine so brightly if it weren't for the connectors in the form of a wine-colored barberry and golden Korean fir.

These ladies have thought of everything, including the consideration we often don't take into account--how the design grows. Each combination is considered for its seasonal sequence, or how each plant comes into its prime at certain times in the season.

A container filled with plants that include a shrub, a perennial and several annuals is meant to last the majority of the season, its colorful and textural foliage working wonders to brighten up a semi-shady corner. With only two flowering plants included in the seven-plant combo, it's good to have foliage that carries the color through summer. Consider the impact of:

  • Lamb's ears 'Bella Grigio' with long, arching, silvery, nearly-white leaves
  • Aeonium 'Sunburst' offers succulent foliage that's pale green striped with cream
  • Sedum with deep purple leaves provide a perfect foil for the lighter colored plants.
  • Fountain grass 'Fireworks' is slender and variegated hot pink-green-burgundy-white.
  • Deutzia 'Creme Fraiche' is a hardy dwarf shrub with pale green edged with white.
  • Fan flower 'Pink Wonder' is an annual flower with pink flowers on stiff stems.
  • Bacopa is a trailing plant with the bonus of tiny white flowers. 
I love the idea of separating the combinations into early to mid-summer and late summer to fall. The categories are further separated by their preference for full sun or part shade. The authors have even devised combinations that change color, hold their own while you're on vacation, and examples of pairing plants with sculptural elements, from vases to figurines. 

Gardening with Foliage First by Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz is the perfect kind of book--it's great for just leafing through for the great photos, but it's also easy to pick up and pick out a few eye-catching designs to try in your own garden. 

Mixed container for sun
Mixed container for shade
Inspired by the book, I tried my own version of mostly foliage in a few of my humongous planters. In one I combined plants with great foliage like Coleus, Alocasia (elephant ear), and creeping Jenny, but I added a couple of Pelargoniums (annual geraniums) with bi-colored leaves. Included in the mix are partially grown bulbs of Ismene 'Sulphur Queen', which is commonly called Peruvian daffodil. This is a pale yellow variety of the fragrant, summer-blooming bulb, and I can't wait til it blooms. I have to just make sure that the bulbs have enough room to stretch up and out when it comes time for them to bloom.

Bloomers, along with the Pelargoniums and the Peruvian daffodils, include a shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeana), which might get quite tall, but is easy to pinch. The big guy toward the middle is Alocasia Gageana California, a dwarf elephant ear that grows to just 4 feet tall.
I'll have to keep an eye on it though, as its leaves tend to droop and cover the plants surrounding it. Until the companion plants beneath it grow large enough to hold their own, I'll be selectively removing its lower leaves.

The entire container doesn't look like much now, but the photos will serve to remind me what I planted, so if any of the residents start to muscle in on its neighbors, I can rescue them by doing a bit of pruning. And I always warn my plants that if they really misbehave or even disappoint me, I'm not afraid to get out the shovel.

I think I'll be much happier with these "mostly foliage" planters. They'll be colorful even if they don't have flowers.


  1. Foliage is high on my list of qualities for plants in the garden. I bet this is a good book.

  2. Fall can be an incredible time to grow a vegetable garden. We normally consider spring the best planting season, yet trust it or not fall can be a far superior time of year to grow a garden.

  3. The second most important gardening tips is to know your soil. In most areas you can send a sample of your soil into your local area conservation agency. organic gardening