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Colorful foliage enlivens gardens
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Foliage can be as effective as flowers, or more effective in some cases, in providing colorful beauty the entire season. Flowers cycle though the season, but when beautiful foliage is in the mix, the garden will always look exceptional.
In a past column, I wrote about Barbara Harvey, a gardener in Kosciusko with a glorious stand of Lime Zinger elephant ears. Barbara's home is a picturesque Victorian cottage that was built in 1883. It looks like it came straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Watch for it on our Southern Gardening TV news segments in August.
As you would expect from a home in this era, there is a glistening white picket fence enclosing the cottage garden. The long, sweeping beds are bursting with color. While there are tough flowers like the Mississippi Medallion award-winning melampodium, salvias and summer snapdragons or angelonias, the plants with colorful foliage play an additionally dramatic role.
At first glance, lime green or chartreuse is prominent. The Sweet Caroline ornamental sweet potato partners in an incredible blend of color with the Rustic Orange coleus.
Lime green also comes from plants like the Gold Mound duranta grown with colorful portulaca, and Bengal Tiger canna that she has used behind the delicate pink of Anthony Waterer spirea.
The Rustic Orange coleus also was used boldly with the perennial Purple Heart, the vining plant we sometimes call Setcresea. My favorite arrangement with Rustic Orange may be where it was grown with Tropicanna canna, the vibrant, orange-green-yellow variegated variety that has brought the love of cannas back to the garden.
In the shady areas of the landscape, caladiums give a tropical appeal with their elephant ear-shaped leaves. They offer color for months, not retreating until the approach of cold weather. The caladiums are partnered in one bed with begonias and in another area with impatiens.
Speaking of the tropical look, Barbara also uses Macho fern and a large clump of pink-flowered ornamental bananas in companion to the Mississippi Medallion award-winning red Tonto crape myrtles. The coarse textured foliage of the banana reminds many of the Caribbean Islands.
In the back she has used a stately Red Abyssinian banana (Ensete ventricosum maurelii) as a focal point. she partnered it with a bubbling, soothing water feature her husband built.
Lastly, Barbara carried out the theme of colorful foliage using them as spot accents in her containers. Her elegant palm planters framing the back entrance were made even more beautiful with the lime-green leaves of the duranta, and another large container of Dragon Wing begonia is enhanced by the cascading ornamental sweet potato.
Flowers are certainly a vital part of the cottage landscape or any other style. But we can take a tip or two from Barbara Harvey in Kosciusko and include foliage that will last from spring through frost, giving the landscape a welcome shot of color during those times when perennials are cycling or when it's hot enough to make the petunias melt.