"HOW on Earth"- Published in Pink Magazine – June 2010


Planter in Downtown Raleigh
Great summer foliage

“Maybe we should develop a Crayola bomb as our next secret weapon.  A happiness weapon.  A beauty bomb.  And every time a crisis developed, we would launch one.  It would explode high in the air – explode softly – and send thousands, millions, of little parachutes into the air.  Floating down to earth – boxes of Crayolas.  And we wouldn’t go cheap, either – not little boxes of eight.  Boxes of sixty-four, with the sharpener built right in.  With silver and gold and copper, magenta and peach and lime, amber and umber and all the rest.  And people would smile and get a little funny look on their faces and cover the world with imagination. ”

-Robert Fulghum

Color in a garden adds warmth, drama, and interest. Flowers are often the first thing people think about when they want color. I certainly love flowers and use them in abundance, but color doesn’t stop there. In fact, I believe it is just the beginning.

The “coleus craze” began in the mid 1800’s during the Victorian era. They were grown as shade plants and houseplants. In recent years, these colorful foliage plants have been bred to withstand full sun and a new love affair with coleus was born. Today they are a favorite among landscapers due to their dependability, color impact, and low maintenance requirements.

In addition to coleus, there are numerous other foliage plants that can add punch and uniqueness to your landscape. I invite you to explore this wealth of plant material. I have grown to love the addition of foliage color to my borders and pots.

Fishnet Stockings Coleus

Coleus: There are now well over 1400 varieties of this plant which I find amazing. They are very adaptable to sun and shade depending on the cultivar. Some of my favorites include: ‘Alabama Sunset’ which looks like the name suggests, ‘Gay’s Delight’ for it’s chartreuse color, ‘Pink Chaos’ that stays short and is great in pots, and the Kong series for the large leaves. I also love many of the red leaved varieties such as ‘Oxblood’ or ‘Red Ruffles’.

Heuchera: These plants are also known as Coral Bells and have been a favorite of the hybridizer in recent years. The choices are astounding with foliage colors ranging from purples, blacks, oranges, burgundies, greens, and silvers. ‘Caramel’ is very dependable here and often stays evergreen in the winter. They prefer part shade to shade and I believe not a deer favorite. I love these underused gems!

Strobilanthus: (Persian Shield) Okay, now this is the plant that everyone falls in love with once it matures. It is an iridescent purple that is fabulous as a backdrop to orange, apricot, red or pink flowers.

Cordylines: This group of plants is quite diverse with plants such as Ti Plants and the Dracaena type burgundy beauties. The Ti Plants are great tropical accents with colors ranging from burgundies, pinks and bronzes. They can really brighten a shady spot.

Crotons: These multicolored, large leafed, tropical plants are one of my favorites. They are super tough, can handle sun or shade and continue to look great all season.

Lysimachia ‘Aurea’, Sweet Potato Vine’Maguerite’, Duranta ‘Cuban Gold’ are plants that I use extensively for their brilliant chartreuse color. Adding these with your flowers really makes the color pop. I even love these up against whites and evergreens for a clean, crisp look.

Wanting a purple or red accent? Try Setcresea in both pots and borders. It looks stunning with red and orange flowers. Sweet Potato Vine’Blackie’, Red fountain Grass, Colocasia ‘Black Magic’ and Iresine’Brilliantissima’ are other favorites. Hemigaphis, the dwarf waffle plant, is this beautiful fine textured, low growing shade lover.

Acalypha, the Copper Plant, became a new favorite of mine after seeing it in the Bahamas as a shrub. Similar to Alabama Sunset coleus in color, I found it really held up the best during the entire growing season.

Perilla ‘Magilla’ is another coleus like plant with red, white, plum and green colors and holds up well in our climate.

Gingers are a much underused large group of plants. I find them to be the South’s answer to Hosta. Kaempferia or Peacock Gingers are quite cool foliage plants. They prefer shade and make wonderful slow growing ground covers. They love our hot, humid weather and are slow in returning after our winter. There are several cultivars worth checking out such as ‘Brush Strokes’, ‘Grande’, and ‘Satin Cheeks’.

Chocolate Soldiers as the name suggests, is a chocolate brown, slightly silver, shade loving plant. It might be fun to plant a dessert garden with this plant, and Heucheras ‘Crème Brulee’ and ‘Key Lime Pie’.

What about Black and Silver? There is a black Mondo Grass which would look great paired with Yellow Creeping Jenny. Artemesia, Lambs Ear, Lavender,(try the Spanish variety), and Dusty Miller are all great silver accents that do wonderful during our fall to spring season.