The term "fabulous foliage" could have two different meanings. It could mean foliage that is very unusual or a plant that has foliage as its main interest such as hostas. It also could mean that different types of foliage on flowering plants are fabulous.
As a beginning gardener, I wanted flowers for color and to make flower arrangements for our home and planted lots of annuals. Then I learned of the great varieties of perennials and planted as many as I could. The more I learned about gardening , the more I wanted to learn and began reading about foliage. I finally understand its importance. When you read about designing flower beds you are encouraged to consider the shape, texture and foliage of a plant. Most flowers only bloom a short part of the gardening season, but their foliage can add interest for the complete gardening season.
The primary function of plant foliage is for photosynthesis. Photosynthesis if the process by which carbon dioxide and water in the presence of sunlight are changed to sugar and oxygen. This is the beginning of the food chain for all living things. But as gardeners we primarily think of the beauty of the foliage.
A well designed perennial bed should have a great deal of color even when few flowers are blooming . If the bed showcases plants with distinctive shape. texture and contrasting foliage the importance of constant bloom become less important.
Foliage can provide a bridge between flower blooms that clash with each other. After the plants have finished blooming the remaining green foliage can act as a link between strongly contrasting flower colors. Consider planting perennials that have variegated leaves that combine cooling tones of green with lemon, cream , or white such as variegated iris leaves, hosta or Solomon's Seal. You can also use Russian sage, baby's breath or lambs ear to bridge plantings of stronger colors. Foliage also adds texture such as the softness of lambs ear or the firmness of iris leaves.
Plants with silver green leaves such as sage, catmint, and lavender provide a soothing background for flowers that have bright hues. Yellow-green foliage is a better choice when separating warmer shade of flowers. Corals and orange colors planted together benefit from the softening values of soft-silver or gray-green leaves. False dragonhead with its thick spires of violet-pink or 4-6 feet tall asters of varying tones of violet blend well with a backdrop of green leaves and silvery white plums of flowering ornamental grasses and an under planting of lamb's ear.
If you do a close inspection of a garden the foliage of the plants separate into patterns. Some foliage is curved or straight; others are vertical, horizontal and diagonal. You would be able to notice these varieties of shapes at ground level, eye level, and even up to the trees. The leaves of plants — their size, shape, and color and their collective arrangement and density on the plant — define a garden space. Plants with weeping or fountain shapes soften the garden's appearance. Their curves gently lead the eye to plantings at ground level. Plants with domed shapes or horizontal habit cause the eye to linger. Foliage is also a unifying element in the garden. It can be used to link houses, walls, and walkways to understory plants. Even ground cover can unify different garden features.
Some plants such as peonies and Siberian iris have both beautiful bloom and distinctive foliage. Other plants, such as New England flax and common tansy, have nice blooms but are prized for their foliage. Examples of plants that are planted for their distinct foliage are bugleweed, astilbe, Rex begonia, flowering kale, caladium, coleus, elephant ears, ferns, ornamental grasses, coral bells, hosta, ligularia, lungwort and succulents.
In summary, considering foliage as you plan your flower beds is just as important as the color of the flower blooms of a plant. I hope I have given you a new way to view your flower garden whether you are a beginning gardener or an experienced one.