If you don’t think flowers bloom long enough or you don’t want to deadhead to get them, you can still have a fairly bright colored yard just by choosing leaves!  Their colors last all summer and won’t fade after producing seed. 

          Since shade is one of the more difficult areas to have color, Hosta has been hybridized greatly in the last few years. A few years ago it was listed as the most purchased plant in the United States.  There are huge ones and very small. Leaf colorings vary from white to yellow to green to blue and every variation in between.   A very comfortable chair or chaise under a tree by layers of Hosta is a peaceful place. Their big leaves and the shade keeps the weeds down. They will need water as they are challenging tree roots.

          Leaves have an enormous variation in their shape, size, thickness, color, and variations.  Some are fuzzy, some thorny, some fragrant, some stink.  We can eat some, others are poisonous. There are people constantly searching for plants with medicinal properties.  Just spend some time talking to a herb gardener and/or someone who is a cook.

          On the front parking strip (also known as the “hell strip”) because of the hard conditions, I have fuzzy ones.  Most are gray which almost says it doesn’t need a great deal of water.  Lambs Ears and some of the others exist in dry areas.  Next to them are the tiny Pussy Toes, a Native of Nebraska prairies. Next to them is Mexican Hair Grass which has a mop of blond hair by fall that stands all winter.  I have a new plant I put in this Spring, called Horehound (Marrubrium). It has a tiny green leaf with a white edge that originally grew in stony fields of Europe and Asia. When I was a kid horehound candy was much desired.  All of these have downy leaves which prevents water loss.  The directions that come with them say to mix gravel in the soil before planting.

          Probably over 30 years old, in the backyard, is Palace Purple (Heuchera), a bronze red about 24 inches tall. When I bought it, instructions said to keep it in shade. However, I have another one out in front beside the driveway in full sun.  They both need damp soil. I have never been impressed with the flowers so cut them off early. But that purple color is so good! Now the plant scientists have come out with Heuchera (Coral Bells) of every color. For me the lighter the color (even white) the less likely they are to survive (even in the shade). They have neat names like Chocolate Ruffles, Purple Petticoats, Peachy Keen, and Color Flash. I try a new one each year along the edges of my many paths.

          The Iris Pallida is a pale, almost white leaved plant whose flower is ok but not dramatic like the hybrids.  I like one here and there in my Iris beds just as a contrast.  They do not grow as fast as the green one’s so don’t have to be divided as often. They do like full sun. In shade there is variegated          Solomons seal (Polygonatum) with its dramatic white stripes.  It comes up as a pink knob, does not branch to 2 1/2 to 3 feet.  You have to hunt for the blooms as they dangle under the leaves.  I have never had it happen, but cultural directions say to remove solid green plants at once to keep the clump from reverting.  They can be divided in either fall or spring. I prefer spring as the divisions are easily seen as they come up. From 3 plants I now have a clump 6 x 6 feet from which I have given many away.

          Along a path in back is a 12 to 18 inch golden leaf Talinum that looks “juicy”.  Thick stems for its heights carry clouds of tiny reddish blooms well in the air.  In the fall they become beadlike, bronze orange jewels, the “Jewels of Oprah”. The next spring masses of plants will come up where those jewels fall.  Another Talinum I have on the front parkway, also has upright clusters of juicy stems in spring And follow in July and August with bright purple dainty blooms

          One of my favorite beds has several clumps of Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa sp.) one of the few grasses that likes shade and water.  The clumps are slow growing but elegant, with leaves 12 inches long, lying thin, almost flat with a slight arch.  There are various color variations but I have the golden one. In between clumps I put Caladium bulbs each spring, with their reds, pinks, and white combinations. They must be dug in the fall, usually they are smaller that when I planted them.  This means I have to get some new ones quite often. This spring Lincoln nurseries had a number of plants. Bulbs are available in your seed catalogs. I store them in vermiculite in an unheated basement room.  When spring comes I put them in automobile drain pans, filled with damp sphagnum. They will rot if you plant them outside before the ground is warmed up to at last 50 degrees F. They prefer 60 degrees F.

          This gives you a few of the colorful leaves for you garden. Will try to cover more in a future article.

Copyright 2011