Five great foliage plants

It’s not just flowers that fill our gardens with colour and interest, there are dozens of wonderful foliage plants, offering texture, shape and colour for our gardens. Jean Vernon picks five of her favourites.

begonias
Begonias are the ultimate foliage plant! Image: Jean Vernon
Published on Tagged with , ,

While many of these plants do flower, they are grown more for their flamboyant leaves than their blooms. Foliage plants can make a great foil for other flowering plants or why not be a little more adventurous and create a leafy tapestry for the garden. Back in July I was at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show and got some great ideas of plants to use around the home and garden. Here are five great foliage plants from five different nurseries for you to consider for your home and garden.

Leafy begonias

begonia
Begonia ‘Rocheart’. Image: Jean Vernon

Don’t get me wrong I simply love flowering begonias, they are one of the easiest summer flowering plants and put on a fantastic floral display all summer. But the begonia plant group has some other great plant types that are better known for their simply stunning leaves than their flowers. They do flower, but the blooms are pretty insignificant compared to the fabulous leaves. Specialist grower Dibleys Nurseries gained an RHS Gold Medal for its display of begonias, coleus and other houseplants. The leafy begonias make perfect houseplants and are available in huge range of types and varieties. The Rex begonias are among the most stunning.

Ivy trees

ivy tree
An ivy tree. Image: Jean Vernon

Fibrex Nurseries got an RHS Gold medal for its display of ferns and ivy and it was the ivy ‘trees’ that really caught my eye, offering leafy green balls above waist height and adding colour and interest to the border. Ivies are hardy, evergreen and will cling and climb creating a beautiful fresh green carpet on walls, fences and over tree stumps, or plant them in hanging baskets, window boxes or pots for year round interest. The nursery holds a National Collection of ivy with 390 varieties highlighting the tremendous range of foliage types, growth habits and uses. Ivies clean the air that we breathe and offer safe nesting and roosting sites for birds. And used in the right context these plants can be very beautiful too.

Garden ferns

Dryopteris filix mas ‘Crispa cristata’
Dryopteris filix mas ‘Crispa cristata’. Image: Jean Vernon

Fernatix was awarded an RHS Gold Medal for its fabulous leafy display of ferns. These feathery foliaged plants add a fresh, green dimension to the garden, but if you thought that they all needed shade you would be wrong. While most prefer full shade or semi shade one or two are as tough as old boots and will take full sun too. Dryopteris filix mas ‘Crispa cristata’ more commonly known as the crested male fern, has a wavy frond with cresting and is a good example of this. But most hardy ferns will tolerate some degree of sun, but will do much better in shady conditions. Keeping the roots moist is more important. These plants die back for the winter and then form dramatic unfurling fronds in spring. For masses of information on growing these fronds, check out the very comprehensive Fernatix website.

Heuchera

Heuchera 'Lime Marmalade'
Heuchera ‘Lime Marmalade’. Image: Jean Vernon

If you want some really stunning foliage colour in your garden then take a look at the Heucheras. These are great evergreen plants ideal for borders, containers, ground cover and even pots and hanging baskets. At this year’s RHS Hampton Court Flower Show Plantagogo and Heucheraholics were both awarded a coveted RHS Gold Medal for their displays in the floral marquee. The glorious hues of rich purple, marmalade orange, lime green and more created fantastic and colourful displays. Heucheras flower as well with strong, slender stems ad small tiny bells of flowers that are a magnet for bees. Plant heucheras in partial shade for the best results in a moist well drained soil.

Hostas

hosta
Hosta. Image: Jean Vernon

If you thought hostas are just great foliage plants you might be surprised that many of them have beautiful and fragrant flowers as well as simply stunning leaves. Mickfield Hostas got an RHS Gold Medal at Hampton Court for its educational exhibit of these fascinating plants. Information boards with interesting facts seasoned its comprehensive display of these versatile garden plants. Did you know, for example, that in Korea hosta shoots (Hosta lancifolia types) are cooked like asparagus or added to salads for their peppery flavour? Mickfield Hostas holds a National Collection with over 2000 varieties, of which over 1000 are offered for sale from its website. There’s everything from miniature mouse ear varieties to the giant varieties in a range of leaf forms.

Jean Vernon

About Jean Vernon

Jean Vernon is a slightly quirky, bee friendly, alternative gardener. She doesn’t follow the rules and likes to push the boundaries a bit just to see what happens. She has a fascination for odd plants, especially edibles and a keen interest in growing for pollinators especially bees. She’s rather obsessed with the little buzzers. Telegraph Gardening Correspondent, mostly testing and trialing products and Editor-In-Chief for Richard Jackson’s Garden.
@TheGreenJeanie
View all posts by Jean.