I was delighted when Christina announced that she was going to start up a foliage meme. I know that Pam@Diggin hosts a Foliage Follow-up meme the day after Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, but I can’t really cope with two posts on consecutive days, and somehow I never quite get around to doing the post that has been in my head for months now about my love of all things leafy in the garden. I hope the meme takes off, and promise that future posts will be shorter, but I have a lot of pent up leaf love to express – you have been warned!


Foliage is actually my first love when it comes to gardening. When we first moved here over fifteen years ago and I was searching for inspiration for what to do with my first ever garden, I read an article in ‘Gardener’s World’ magazine that has shaped my gardening ever since. It was all about the value of foliage, on combining shapes and textures to give all year interest. It was illustrated with lots of black and white photographs showing the power of contrasting leaf shapes and plant forms in creating a great garden. Written by someone from Architectural Plants – Christine Shaw maybe? – it set me off buying the bamboos, shrubs and trees that still form the backbone of my garden today.

Two of the very first plants I ever bought, a Fatsia japonica (False Castor Oil Plant) and a Phyllostachys nigra (the classic black stemmed bamboo), still form one of my favourite contrasts in the garden.

Fatsia with bamboo (grayscale)
Fatsia japonica Leaf

My north-facing back border is full of evergreen shrubs with interesting leaves that bounce the light around, like this Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ and the wonderful Aucuba japonica crassifolia (courtesy of the aforementioned Architectural Plants).

Aucuba japonica crassifolia

It’s not all big shrubs either – this back border is also enlivened by the shiny rosettes of Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae and large clumps of hellebore leaves.

Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae

The back left corner of the garden, where the compost bins live – and which I never really show – has a carpet of geranium macrorrhizum, the huge-leaved Hedera canariensis (Architectural Plants again), and ferns.


The heart-shaped purple leaves are from the wonderful Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’, a plant I fell in love with at a garden festival held at Westonbirt Arboretum some years ago. Christina chose a great month to start her meme, the leaves are already starting to turn, and soon will be all shades of red through orange to buttery yellow.

Cercis canadensis Forest Pansy

I confess I have something of an obsession with purple leaved plants. Another anchor plant in the garden is the purple vine, Vitis vinifera purpurea, that sprawls all over the pergola. It was difficult to photograph this morning, I kept finding myself trying to shoot into the sun, but the rich purple leaves break up the space and form a great backdrop to the leaves of the magnolia tree.


I was going to try to avoid the plants I show a lot anyway, but frankly both the veronicastrum and the oakleaf hydrangea are too wonderful to ignore – and hopefully both will become more and more dramatic as Autumn arrives in full force.


I think that contrasting leaf forms, whether enhanced by flowers at times or not, can be the making of a garden. I wouldn’t personally want an entirely evergreen garden, I love the seasonal transitions too much, but certainly a backbone of such plants anchors the garden through the year, allowing the other, more ephemeral delights to shine even more.

I got sopping wet pyjamas taking these photographs this morning, but there were compensations. I will leave you with the bejewelled crocosmia leaf that made me forget my cold wet knees, and the encouragement to check out Christina’s Garden Bloggers Foliage Day post. Better yet, join in, with a post of your own!

Water On Crocosmia Leaf

54 thoughts on “Celebrating Foliage

  1. These are stunning photos, Janet . Very lush with beautiful combinations. We have a Fatsia as well and it forms such a good backdrop for other plantings. The purple foliage adds so much in terms of depth and interest to the garden especially at this time of year.

    I have a post for this meme half done (got my days muddled up and thought the 22nd was tommorrow….how sad is that!)so I may go get my act together albeit slightly late!

    1. Thank you Janet – will look forward to seeing your post, you have some great foliage combinations in your garden. I sometimes feel a little goth when I realise how many purple foliage plants I use!

  2. Christina asked me to join her meme, and I will with my Month in Tens post, but gardens with really interesting foliage are usually quite large to account for the change in scale of the textures and leaf size. Mine is much to small to read as a foliage garden, hence the many blooms. You are quite right on taking black and white images to clearly see the play of texture and scale. It strips out the color so you can actually SEE. It is a great design tool and a way to get those fantastic combinations that withstand the lack of blooming throughout the year. I too love red tinged leaves. One of my favorites is Red Husker. It literally glows when touched by the sun. Use of the variety of leaf color is another great design trick. I enjoyed your post very much.

    1. Hi Donna, delighted you enjoyed the post. I was interested in what you said about gardens with lots of different foliage interest tending to be big. I think of my garden as being small – 10m x 10m – and read so much (when I was first starting out) about using a few large plants in a small space to paradoxically make it seem bigger that I filled the back of the garden in particular with large evergreens with interesting leaves! It works for me, because it aids the feeling of seclusion and gives great privacy (we are horribly overlooked) as well as providing a good backdrop.

  3. Hi Janet,

    Very nice post, it’s really interesting to see how others work with their garden… I really need to expand my horizons a little and think about these sorts of things. Although I do prefer grasses and perhaps ought to try shrubs more; I dunno, perhaps I just don’t feel I have the space for lots of shrubs, although I would love to have one of those small ornamental maples (considered getting one for years, I’m just not sure where it could go).

    I think I just struggle integrating the shrubs with plants, it just doesn’t work for me… So instead I’ll have to enjoy seeing your plants :)

    1. Hi Liz, funny, isn’t it, I started from the other end – with shrubs – and have had to learn to add in lots of flowers and combine them in a way that works. When I began I used lots of shrubs that flowered too (like hebes) which gave me the best of both worlds. I think using shrubs as a backdrop can work well, but we all evolve our own style (hopefully anyway – would be dreadful if we all followed the fashion of the moment). I think your garden is developing beautifully, and the foliage thing doesn’t start and end with shrubs, it is really important when combining grasses and flowers too. I just didn’t talk about that as much this time because I did in the last EOMV post. At least I think it was that one – I lost track… Anyhow, I really enjoy your garden too, so we both gain!

      1. Hi again,

        How do you feel about moving and starting all again? It’s one thing that’s making me not want to move – the garden but also the amazing variety of birds I get. Although with the garden it would be exciting thinking of all the things I could do/try if I am to move.

        I’m trying to think of things I can use along the back fence to cover it because it’s hideous (I didn’t stain it red, it was like that when we moved in). In general it’s a shady area because of the tall privet behind it, but in summer early morning to around lunchtime it does get a lot of sun. So need to find something that can cope with dry shade/partial sun :/ Hrmmmmm.

        1. Hi Liz, that canary ivy would be perfect for hiding your fence and would be a favourite with the birds too, they are forever rustling around in mine. The moving thing is strange, we still don’t have a definite timetable, though we are going to put the house on the market in the Spring. Hopefully by then we will at least have worked out what area we want to move to! I already resent the disruption to my gardening year, for instance I won’t be able to fill the patio with tomatoes if we are trying to sell. On the other hand I am really excited -and exhausted – at the thought of getting to start again, perhaps in more space, perhaps with different conditions to play with. I suppose I’ve known for three years now that we’re not going to be here for much longer, so I am now impatient to just get on with the next phase, settle in somewhere long term where I can invest in the garden without wondering whether I will be around to see the results.

  4. As always Janet, you have written an outstanding post, and thank you for all the mentions throughout. I love purple plants too, but I have trouble finding many of them here, even though they should be good in the sun and not mind the drought conditions too much. Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ is a plant I’ve been longing to buy since I saw it at Wisley some years ago. Also you’ve given me an idea for the back border. A Fatsia should do well as it is now shadier than it was when I was first planting; so thank you for joining in and for the great ideas. Christina

    1. Hi Christina, you’ve set me blushing… It’s funny, when I read your post I looked at all those wonderful silvery plants you have, admiring the textures and the play of light, and realised that few if any would work in my garden soil. Perhaps more importantly, the quality of the light here would be so different, I just wouldn’t get the same effect! I’ve been trying to take cuttings from ‘Forest Pansy’ and failing, but will probably try digging it up to take with us as I usually cut it hard back in the Spring to control the size and get larger leaves. Thanks again for hosting, and happy to have given you some ideas – about time there was a bit of quid pro quo, I always come away from looking at your garden with ideas!

  5. Goregeous foliage and the colours/textures are remarkable. Your photographs are stunning as always!!!!!

    Love so many of those, for my indulgence garden ‘in d’ tunnel’ I’ll be swiping a few of those!



    1. Thanks Fay – but I think you will need another tunnel ;-) Mind you, I rather love the idea of a polytunnel used not just to grow veg in tidy rows but as a sheltered garden. I wonder what you will be able to get away with tenderness-wise, I am guessing it will be light levels that are the true limiters. Can’t wait to watch it all come together.

  6. I really like the black and white photos to draw attention to the shapes of the leaves. Great idea. Looking at your garden I’m realizing, as much as I love foliage, I’ve been very neglectful in adding enough of it to my own garden. Thankfully you’ve got loads of plants to get me inspired.

    1. Hi Marguerite, the b&w thing works really well, doesn’t it! It really helped me sort out where I was going wrong in my pond border last year. I seem to remember lots of wonderful perennials with great leaves in your garden, not least those monster hostas, so I don’t think you have exactly been neglecting foliage! With 3 acres to play with it will take some time to achieve what you want in your garden, but on the plus side you have plenty of space for large shrubs and trees that I just can’t quite get away with. Enjoy the journey.

  7. Hey Janet! I’ve had the same idea of publishing sepia pics on the foliage meme today, at last I choose colors instead I should have publish both as you did. Very nice! I enjoyed the black bamboo (I always like bamboos in other people’s gardens but it scares me on mine!) and the vitis vinifera purpurea, this is a plant I’m going to buy.
    Lovely veronicastrums’ leaves!

    1. Hi Alberto, I do find the b&w images useful. The vine is wonderful, and you may even get edible grapes from it in your climate – for me they are always a little too tart, but the birds love them. I have been very lucky with the bamboo, it has behaved itself very well indeed.

  8. I’ve never thought about foliage like this before, although i do love it when the Virginia Creeper starts to turn red! Your stunning photos are enough to make me change my mind – the first photo is gorgeous! What’s the red tipped grass by the echinacea? I’m a bit in love with grasses at the moment!

      1. Thanks for this info Janet – I’ve also looked back at your links, very very lovely and a must for the York Rise gardens. So many plants, so little time, so much choosing to do!

  9. Thanks for visiting Janet,its lovely to find someone who is as crazy about foliage as I am. Your super fatsia leaves look wonderful reflecting the light from the shadows. The vine on your pergola looks stunning especially with the rain drops, might just pinch your idea on that one. I’m glad to know that there is someone else out there in their pyjamas early in the morning – best time for photographs!

    1. Hi Pauline, it was great to find your blog through this meme – us pyjama photographers must stick together! I do love the vine, it is one of my favourite plants. I’m hoping the Autumn colour will be good this year.

  10. Janet,

    Glad to have come over from Christina’s blog to your blog! I love everything I see.

    I think that understanding how to combine plant structures and foliage is the key to making beautiful plantings that last all season. Even those that flower, should work together in their off-seasons.

    I love purple foliage too. And you use it well; it needs so much green as a setting to be properly appreciated.

    Will stop in again!

    1. Hi Julie, thanks for stopping by. I agree that purples need lots of greens to work well, plus too much can get a little too somber. Am off to check out your own post…

  11. I am such a big fan of dark leafed plants, have wanted a Forest Pansy for a while now. Seeing yours makes me want it all the more. I love that dark vitis….how wonderful!

    1. Hi Janet, ‘Forest Pansy’ is a beautiful plant, I agree. I really hope I can take ours with us since I am such a failure on the cuttings front.

    1. I’m greedy, I love both, but leaves are definitely my first love, and you never forget your first…

  12. Janet, hope your poor wet knees are dry and toasty now – fabulous photos,and the b&w images highlight the strength of shapes and textures you have – brava! I’m so excited to live in an area now where I can grow things like tetrapanax and gunnera big and bold rocks :)

    1. Hi Cyndy, all dry and warm now thank you, though the pyjamas needed a wash… It must be really exciting to have a whole new set of plants you can grow successfully without cosseting over winter, I am really enjoying watching your new garden come together. Your old garden has such wonderful plant combinations, I’m looking forward to watching the evolution of the new ones. Gunnera is a magnificent plant, I would love to grow it too, if I wind up moving to somewhere with more room. It looks like my own adventure in the department will be starting some time next year.

  13. There are certain times of year when foliage seems to sing–mostly in the late spring and the autumn. I suppose it has to do with optimal temperatures, precipitation, and sun. Your photos show that magical combination so well!

    1. I do really love the fresh leaves in Spring, and Autumn leaf colour is amazing, but I think the leaves of the flowering plants play a big part in the garden during the summer too. Great flowering combinations are enhanced if their leaves combine well too, like feathery achillea and strong rudbekia leaves. I’m greedy, I want it all…

  14. Stunning pictures: you have some amazing foliage. The black and whites really show up the different textures. So many glossy leaves and interesting shapes – and you can never show too many pictures of your oak leaved hydrangea ;-). The vine leaves are so dramatic.
    We’ve put as many backbone shrubs into our fledgling garden as we have at the moment; but only a fraction compared to your lovely lot. Sadly they require much more investment than seeds, and few have been given to us as cuttings, so I also have a list in my head of plants to add as time and money allows. Suspect I will be elbowing aside other plants by then to fit them in, but then I can always eat into my husband’s lawn little by little ;-)
    Lovely post.

    1. Hi Sara. All lawns should be gradually – or not so gradually – eaten by plants!! I realised when putting this post together what I will be leaving behind when we move in terms of mature and beautiful shrubs. As you say, they are so much more expensive than a packet of seeds. When I started this garden I was fortunate enough to be earning good money, so was able to order 2l and even 5l plants from online nurseries and have almost instant impact – not something I will be able to do again! Ah well, I’ve heard that patience is a virtue…

  15. Your photos are gorgeous, Janet, but the first one is especially beautiful. I wish I had learned gardening lessons in the same order you did. My first few years of garden “education” were through trial and error, and it took me a long time to appreciate the beauty of foliage. You have such appealing “bone structure” to your garden that even without flowers it’s lovely. The black and white photos are a great way of highlighting the different textures.

    1. Hi Rose, I think I was immensely fortunate looking back, to come across that article so early on in my gardening experience. That and an article about how important it was to hide the boundaries in a small garden to fool the eye into thinking it was bigger were where I started, and it has certainly paid off. I wish I could claim foresight!

  16. Pent up leaf love? Lummy. (Though I whole heartedly agree). I didn’t know about the b&w photo thang – excellent. Shall try it. I’ve grown fatsia in the past and have never been that taken with it, though looking at your garden perhaps it’s time for another try. Really good photos, Janet – really good. Er – what’s a meme? I thought it was just my favourite topic of conversation!


    1. Hi Dave, the b&w thang is freakishly useful, enjoy! Fatsias can get a bit tatty in a hard winter and need hacking and de-dead-leafing, but I wouldn’t be without them now. Glad you liked the photos, it was the first still morning for nearly two weeks, made life a lot easier. A meme, strictly speaking, is an idea or practice which spreads quickly through society by e.g. word of mouth. In the blogosphere it has come to mean a post theme that spreads through a community and gets picked up and used widely. Carol’s Garden Bloggers Bloom Day is probably the biggest in the gardening blog world. Geeky or what?! Enjoy your leaves, hope the rabbits leave them alone, but watch out for that rabbit king, I hear he is after a new coat…

  17. I am with you on the importance of foliage. Having a very small garden, anything I plant has to look good and make a contribution even when it is not in flower.

    1. That’s exactly it Les, everything has to work hard to earn its place in a small garden.

  18. What a wonderful selection of foliage plants you have – I wish my garden was bigger so I could indulge but they seem to take up a lot of room and I just couldn’t run to it.

    1. Hi Elaine, I actually started out planting shrubs exactly because my garden is so small, I’d read that hiding the boundaries and using dramatic shapes would help make the garden feel bigger. And I think it works too…

  19. I love purple leaves too and am still waiting to hear whether our local nursery has managed to get mw an oak leaved hydrangea. Fingers still crossed

    1. Oh, I hope you get one this Autumn Sue, great time to get shrubs established and you’d get the colour. My fingers are crossed for you too!

  20. Hi Janet, Like most gardeners it did take us quite a while to accept that its not all about flowers, which is the theme of my post next week. Great pictures of your foliage plants. I really like the Fatsia, pity it is just that bit too cold for it to survive up here in Aberdeen.

    1. Hi Alistair, I was pleasantly surprised that our Fatsias both survived the last harsh winter intact, though admittedly there were a lot of dead leaves that had to be cut off. You seem to do just fine without a fatsia in your collection though! Do you still have thoughts of moving?

      1. Janet, we are permanently on limbo. I don’t think its going to happen. Good luck with your own move if its still on the cards.

  21. Foliage, foliage, foliage, I love them! It’s a treat for me to see this post especially you have a fine selection there :) Also it’s interesting to know how you have been influenced and inspired by the book Architectural Plants by Christine Shaw, as that book has also been a major influence on how we got into exotic gardening. Every so often I still flick through her book to refresh my ideas and inspiration.

    1. Funny, I thought you might enjoy this post! I can see why ‘Architectural Plants’ would be a big influence for you. I’d like to get hold of the book myself some day, I hadn’t realised she had written one until I was trying to find out who had written the magazine article. Funny how the right writing and the right time can change your life.

  22. I really enjoyed reading this post, looking at the photos and browsing the comments!
    I much appreciate foliage on my plot and when I walk round I try to pay as much attention to it as everything else, as it’s surprising how it can be overlooked at times. xx

    1. Hi Flighty, glad you enjoyed it. I think veg plots can have some of the best foliage of all, chard, brassicas, lettuces, peas, squash, so many interesting shapes and textures, colour too. Though I’ve noticed that I only seem to get red and white chard growing well from ‘Bright Lights’. I’d hoped for splashes of yellow too…

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