Add year-round interest to your garden with a selection of fabulous foliage plants

Jul 26, 2023
Looking for ways to add tons of impact to gardens through different colours, sizes, shapes and texture? Image source: Getty

With flowers taking a back seat at this time of year, winter gardens can often look a bit drab. But there’s an amazing array of dramatic foliage plants out there, which can add tons of impact to gardens by virtue of their colour, size, shape or texture – think tall wavy grasses, large spiky succulents and species with intense leaf colours of burgundy-red, silver-grey or golden yellow.

Then there are the show-off species with multi-coloured foliage – stripes, speckles and variegations. Because foliage plants are year-round features, they help to give a garden permanent interest and carry it through the quiet seasons.

So if you’re gazing out at a sea of rather bland samey green right now, then maybe it’s time you splashed the scene with a little fabulous foliage. 

Going for Colour 

To give your garden (or courtyard or balcony) year-round good looks, try introducing a few blocks of solid foliage colour.

At the middle level, go for shrubs like silver-leaved germander (Teucrium fruticans), the golden form of duranta (‘Sheena’s Gold’), or one of the many native westringia species, with their soft grey foliage – planting a whole hedge will create even more impact.

Down at the lower levels of the garden, there are all sorts of groundcovering plants with great leaf hues – try burgundy-leaved alternanthera, silver-leaved helichrysum, Plectranthus argentatus, or any of the showy coleus varieties.

Add a vibrant, splash of colour to your winter garden with the bloodleaf. Image source: Getty

In warmer climates, the aptly named bloodleaf  (Iresine herbstii) creates an explosion of deep red foliage, while for cooler climates, heucheras offer a whole range of fabulous leaf colours and look great planted as an edging border.

Stripes, speckles and splashes 

When it comes to flashy multi-coloured foliage, bromeliads have to be at the top of the list. These compact plants with their rosettes of strappy leaves come in a wide variety of striped, speckled and variegated forms and are super versatile – they’re just as happy in containers as they are in the garden. Most nurseries carry great selections of ‘broms’ these days and many varieties also produce a  showy flower display as an extra bonus. 

Bromeliads offer stunning foliage and are super hardy. Images source: Getty

For something a little taller, get to know colurful cordylines, both the spiky leaved forms (Cordyline australis) and the broader-leaved varieties (Cordyline fruticosa). Both offer some eye-catching leaf colours, ranging from bright pinky-reds to more subtle green and white striped versions, and will grow happily in lightly shaded areas, in either containers or garden beds.

If you live in an area where winters are frost-free, bear in mind that many of the plant species which nurseries sell as ‘indoor plants’ can also be used outside in protected spots: check out the showy peacock plant (Calathea makoyana), spiky mother-in-law’s tongue, grey-leaved ctenanthe and the many forms of arrowhead (Syngonium podophyllum).

A Touch of Drama

It’s not just about colour with foliage plants – the size, shape and texture of leaves can create impact in a garden too.

Create a few eye-catching punctuation points in the landscape by using succulent plants with large spiky leaves, such as yuccas or agaves. If you’re short on bed space, both will do well in large tubs in a sunny position.

Although monstera is a popular houseplant, they can also add that extra ‘pop’ to your garden. Image source: Getty

For sheer leaf size, it’s hard to go past taro (also known as elephant’s ears), while philodendron and monstera offer similar big-leaf impact. For a really striking focal point, consider the Australian grass tree – with its blackened trunk and fountain of fine, arching fronds, it’s quite unlike any other plant on the planet.

Grasses with Attitude

Ornamental grasses and grass-like plants have a special place within garden design these days, adding lovely texture and form. They also offer a range of colours and variegations and some varieties flower attractively too.

Red-leaved fountain grass is named for its especially graceful spray of foliage. Image source: Shutterstock

Red-leaved fountain grass (Pennisetum advena ‘Rubrum’) and the stripy zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’) are two of the most attractive, while in cooler climates, blue fescue makes a lovely low-growing border. If you’re after native species, consider kangaroo grass, spear grass and tussock grass. And although they’re not true grasses, plants like lomandra and liriope have the same strappy-leaved texture and are great for adding contrast to gardens.

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