Foliage – the forgotten secret of spring garden success

Posted By: Alexandra Campbell On: May 8th, 2016 In: Garden style & living

Do you mainly think about the flowers when you’re planning your garden? I do. I can’t remember when I last chose a plant specifically for its foliage.

But foliage is often 90% of the garden. We are missing a trick if we don’t plan it in.

Kylie's pond is surrounded by foliage with lots of white lunaria - just green and white. Very effective.

Kylie O’Brien’s pond is surrounded by foliage with lots of white lunaria annua (honesty) – just green and white. Very effective.

But when I went out into several gardens this week to see what was working best, my camera couldn’t help picking out the foliage and the foliage combinations rather than the flowers.

Curry plant and saxifrage

A mound of saxifrage and a few white tulips – but otherwise Kylie’s spring garden is about contrasting foliage, underpinned by the grey-blue of the curry plant.

Spring garden foliage plants for country gardens

Kylie O’Brien has a country garden that is just under one acre. She relies on foliage at this time of year. She has some white flowers – honesty, tulips and saxifrage – which make an excellent foil to the contrasting greens and grey-blues of the leaf colour. Kylie’s garden is open for the NGS on 10th/11th July – see 

Pear blossom in spring

It’s not just the pure white of pear blossom that Kylie loves – it’s also the fresh bright green of the leaves.

Hens in Kylie's garden

‘Did someone say ‘fresh spring foliage? Delicious!’ Gertrude and Merribel in Kylie’s garden. They must be kept away from the new shoots.

Stipa tenuissima spring foliage

Young stipa tenuissima shoots contrast beautifully with cerinthe in Kylie’s garden.

There are several plants that people decide not to grow because their flowering season is short, such as roses and peonies. But at this time of year, rose and peony foliage is amongst the most beautiful in the garden.

Next up: garden consultant Posy Gentles‘ garden. Posy’s garden is open for Faversham Open Gardens on Sunday 26th June.

Nigella foliage with red heuchera

A lovely contrast of both leaf shape and colour: bright green nigella against red heuchera in Posy’s garden.

Lovage foliage and foxglove leaves

Posy has planted lovage around her front garden because of its foliage. Here it contrasts nicely with foxglove leaves.

Miniature poodle

And Posy’s miniature poodle, Maus, in the spring garden, with her first proper poodle hair cut.

white and pink tulips

A bit of a deviation from foliage, but I can’t resist this tulip – it was planted by the previous owners so Posy doesn’t know what type it is.It comes up year after year. What would a spring garden post be without tulips?

'Flaming Parrot' tulip and peony foliage

But back to foliage again: in my garden: ‘Flaming Parrot’ tulip against emerging peony foliage.

Lottie the lurcher

And finally, this is how we all feel – at last, we have the sun on our faces, and the garden is bursting with life. Lottie, the rescue lurcher, joined us five weeks ago, and had been hesitant about going into the garden.

Now Lottie has gained confidence and is outside enjoying herself. As I hope you are. And when you’re pottering round the nursery or garden centre later on in the summer, don’t forget the foliage when choosing plants.

Do share the spring feeling, using the buttons below – thank you!

4 Comments

  • Julie Quinn says:

    I so agree about the importance and beauty of foliage. Our garden front and back is full of colour from hundreds of red and orange tulips but the main colour one sees is green and my favourite at the moment is the common euphorbia coming up everywhere. Green accounts for probably eighty per cent of the garden colour. It’s marvellous.
    Thanks Alexandra for some lovely pictures.

Leave a comment

Just to prove you're a real person, please complete this simple sum *