We like our plants to bloom with all their different forms and colors but most of them do not last very long, especially during hot weather.  The reason for their “showing off” is usually to ensure pollination and then they fade and the plant concentrates on seed production.

          So to have some variation from green we can look at foliage and in Nebraska there is a lot available.  One of my favorites is red and there are many shades and variations of all kinds.  My BANANA PLANT is now about 8 feet tall with its huge green leaves striped with red.  This year I put it in front of the light green shed for wind protection as those leaves can tear into long strips.  So far it has two babies coming up to take inside for winter. 

This year I started seeds of a “blackCOLEUS which is actually dark red. I surrounded my “babies” with other colors of coleus to make one area. I hunted for different colors or shades and there are many (most anything but blue). A tall pink one is my favorite right now. COLEUS come in all variations of red.  I have never had a bed of just COLEUS before so I do now.  There are tall ones and short ones, big leaves and small leaves, sun lovers and shade lovers. I try to watch for the blooms to cut them off as the plants look scraggly after they have gone to seed.  One of my “fun things” is to find something I have never had before and try to get it to grow in Nebraska.  I put some lime green ones in with the red. They too are show offs with spots, different veins, or ruffled leaves, and they last all summer!!!.

          For years I have had a RED LEAVED CANNA that Ron Koch gave me.  Over the years I have given many away as I dig up four each year for each one planted. They like sun or slight shade, water, and get about 6 feet tall.  I like them in a double row behind my bench.  The clumps are right at the top of the soil so are not hard to dig in the fall. I put them in a wheelbarrow for a few days so the dirt will dry and then drop off. The stems are big so use a machete to cut them off before digging. I learned the first year they would clog the grinder so they don’t go into the compost pile.

          There is a CASTOR BEAN with green leaves and one with red that may be 18 inches across.  Sometimes they reach ten feet tall so makes a good background. The female blossoms develop into red, spiny seed pods at the very top.  One note-they are poisonous. The seeds worse than other parts.  The seeds are now being used in a mole remover product.  The seed (shell and all) can be ground to put into the runs. Even the foliage can cause rash in some people so it is wise to wear gloves. 

          Even my RED BUD TREE is being “funny’. There is a 12 inch hole all the way through the trunk but it bloomed and leafed out as usual.  The squirrels have found the hole as well as Snoopy who checks it out every day on his way to the pen as it is not far from the ground.

Purple is another foliage to make the greens shine. Many of the purples are reddish such as the PURPLE MAJESTY MILLET (Pennisetum glaucum). The leaves come up green but after a few inches begin to turn. The heads are 12-18 inches high and dark purple.  I save the darkest one for seed and let the birds have the rest.  It does look good in a winter bouquet. The big TRI-COLOR BEACH TREE (Fagus sylvatica) just off 40th and Calvert Streets in Lincoln, is to envy. Now I see a number of smaller ones in places in Lincoln.  Jane Frisch grows one just to have branches for her flower arrangements. Each Spring I try to find a Persian Shield (Strobilanthgus dyecianus) to put in at least one of my pots.  It doesn’t demand shade but I like to keep it away from the hot, west afternoon sun. It has no special plan for growth so one can put it in a mixed pot to have grow around and between others, making them more beautiful.

Several years ago I was given a WEIGELIA called “Wine and Roses”. The leaves are reddish purple and the blooms pink. It has had a struggle. The first winter it froze to the ground but came up the next spring. This last spring a good portion was leafing out and then froze, but it is back 5 feet tall and just as wide. No blooms this spring but am hoping it does better next year.  It is next to a 5 leafed ARALIA, another foliage shrub of green and white.  The two show each other up and I am afraid that soon their limbs will be competing for space.

Then there are the PERILLA’S. The original is a very dark reddish purple about 3 feet high that seeds by the thousands.  This spring they were all up and then got frozen by the early April frost. The only plants to survive were under piles of compost and the seeds did not come until I moved the compost.  Needless to say, they are in rather strange places.  The other new PERILLA I have is more tender. It has more red and other colors, and I have never seen it bloom. Therefore, I take one or two cuttings in the fall that will root at once and grow inside so by early spring I can take more cuttings and start as many plants as I like for summer. One plant will fill a fairly large pot. 

Leaves may actually be the most colorful part of your garden. Next summer if you have a spot that needs more color all summer long look to the foliage to help you out.

Copyright 2007


          “Your lawn will never be better than the grass seed you plant. Buy quality seed.”  George Edgar