It’s easy to find new plants. What’s hard is finding better plants. When I hunt for new plants it’s easy to get overly excited. I have to show some discipline, otherwise, I’ll end up with lots of plants that are interesting for collectors, but useless for gardeners.
|Good gardens should based on form and foliage, and not just flowers.|
Some years back I heard J. C. Raulston lamenting that no one wanted to grow all the cool plants he collected and distributed. He examined the problem and then developed a list attributes that he felt made a plant a successful. This prompted me to develop my own list. My list gives me the discipline I spoke of earlier. I also use it shape and guide our Proven Winners shrub program. The vision I have for this program goes beyond novelty or new. My goal is to reinvent flowering shrubs; to change the way people perceive and use flowering shrubs; to make them more useful. My plant selection criterion helps to keep this vision on track. So my next few posts will examine some of the attributes I consider important when hunting out new selections. Today we’ll examine the importance of foliage.
Plants with Attractive Foliage
|Spilled Wine Weigela has black leaves with ruffled margins|
Shrubs and perennials typically flower for three to six weeks. Sure there are exceptions, but flowers are fleeting and foliage is not. A lesson I learned when grew and sold perennials is that they sell great when they’re in bloom. But after they’ve finished flowering - no one wants to buy them. This was not the case for perennials with interesting foliage. I could sell Hosta, Heuchera, Artemesia, Festuca, Japanese Ferms (Athyrium nipponicum 'Pictum) and Variegated Iris (Iris pallida 'Variegata') all season long.
As a landscape designer I learned that the most interesting gardens were those based on form and foliage, and not the flowers. Flowers should be considered as icing on the cake, not the cake itself. Attractive foliage, be it colorful, variegated, textured, fall color, or glossy can make a garden attractive even when it’s not in bloom. These plants are good for the garden centers because they extend the selling season. And they’re good for gardeners and landscapers because they make for interesting gardens.
This is a powerful, yet largely untapped, goal for plant breeders. Consider daylilies (Hemerocallis), which has more plant breeding activity than any other species. Sure it’s a glorious plant in bloom, but when the flowers are spent it is one of the saddest of all plants. At one point in my life I managed a daylily collection that contained over 500 cultivars; many of them award winners. Once the flowers were gone the collection was an ugly mess. But if you looked closely, you would discover that, while most of the plants turned yellow and collapsed to the ground, a few stood tall and remained deep green. Look even closer and you would find a few plants with bluish leaves or glossy foliage. So why can’t these plants have better foliage?
|Lil' Miss Sunshine Caryopteris is colorful all season long.|
Clearly, foliage alone will never be as sexy as a flower, but can’t we have both? I think we can. Here is just a small sampling of shrubs that give you both the icing and the cake.
|Black Lace Elderberry has black, lacy leaves and big flowers.|
|Variegated Plants like My Monet Weigela provide long lasting color.|
|Glossy foliage was a selection criteria for Oso Easy Roses.|
|Fall Foliage is a bonus. Arctic Sun dogwood has peach autumn hues.|
|Spring color can be as good as fall color, as on Spirea Double Play Big Bang|