Foliage is an important part of any  garden, but I am especially struck by how valuable a range of leaf colours and shapes there is now after the rush of lovely June and July flowers are nearly over and the autumn colours are yet to arrive. In a garden near me at the end of July I was struck by all the shades and shapes of green that surrounded me. Beautiful, calm and quiet. Don’t get me wrong – I love green, but there is more to foliage than green and, as this article and today's blog suggests, careful use of foliage colours and shapes adds interest, drama and can change the look and feel of gardens and patios.

Believe me - leaves can be as exciting as flowers.

Contrast foliage colours

Yellow leaves are stunning – and some plants offer them all year, not only in autumn when the leaves of many trees turn to shades of gold and butter yellow. Choosing a plant with golden or yellow leaves adds colour to containers and borders, whether as small or large plants or shrubs. Adding yellow or gold to green makes both colours stronger and the gold stand out.


Rubus cockburniansus 'Golden Vale' has a double benefit: vivid leaf colour from spring to autumn set off against deep green beech and birch, with shining silver stems through the winter. Sarah Buchanan.

Do you have old fences or garden sheds covered in a not very exciting ivy? Plant a golden hop to scramble in and over and see the difference!

That’s all well and good, I hear you say, if your garden has room for shrubs and space for rambling ivy and so forth.

No excuses: the same principle applies to small gardens, patios and containers.


Purple leaved ajuga next to the not very exciting leaves of tiarella on a small rockery make both look better. (And the ajuga will smother weeds  into the bargain: that's my sort of plant). Sarah Buchanan

The sedum family's many varieties have all sorts of leaf colours that, when planted carefully to contrast with neighbours, have double value. In this link to a supplier of the plum-colour stemmed and leaved ‘Jose aubergine’ the contrast of this gorgeous sedum with the spotted and silvery pulmonaria is highlighted.

Or plant golden leaved marjoram near any plant and the gold stands out.

Many of my friends like silver leafed plants because they can lighten dark corners. If silver is your thing, consider some of the RHS ten best silver plants and you are sure to find something to suit your patch. The suggestion at the end of that list of 'heuchera' is a tantalising opening to a lovely plant with soft rounded leaves which, in different varieties, offers a huge range of colours that can only add to any garden and container. Just one look at the array in your garden centre could change your garden for ever!

Contrast foliage shapes

It's easy when you think about it – leaves come in different shapes and sizes, and adjacent plants with different shaped leaves create a view in themselves.

Many of the examples of colour contrast I have highlighted offer shape contrast too. Another example (and one of my favourites) is planting narrow, strappy leaves (such as iris, phormium or sisyrinchum) next to the soft foliage of hardy geraniums which accentuates both the sharp and the soft edges.


The strappy and bright green leaves of crocosmia (any variety, but this is the common orange one often found in hedgerows in south west England) contrast with other leaf shapes to create a lovely effect.  Sarah Buchanan.

Has that whetted your appetite?
Leaves provide a back drop to the flowers and form of your garden and containers. If you think colour and shape you double the impact – so next time you shop, look at the leaves!