May 26, 2011 |

Take a good look at the leaves of plants all around you. There are giant leaves, tiny leaves, round leaves, strap leaves, needle leaves, green leaves, red leaves, gray leaves, yellow leaves, black leaves, etc., etc.The types are nearly endless. This means that opportunities to use leaves are endless, too. Use the different colors, sizes, shapes and textures of leaves from trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals in contrast to each other to develop artful combinations. Turn nice plants into extraordinary compositions by simply playing the difference among leaves against each other for impact in your garden. Here are some general rules:
• Mix textures. Big leaves have a coarse texture and little leaves have a fine texture. Put a coarse texture with a fine one, and it is almost impossible to go wrong. For example, caladiums and ferns are a great combo for shade. But the idea is not limited to small plants — it works for any, including large shrubs and even trees. On a large property, a trio of fine-textured trees such as Cypress, Junipers, Cryptomeria or bald cypress are beautiful backdrop for items with bigger leaves such as smoketree, camellias, fatsia, hydrangeas, hardy banana and anise.
• Mix shapes. In a principle borrowed from indoor flower arranging, put plants with rounded, spiked, and frilly leaves together. For example, you can choose hosta or coleus (rounded); choose a second plant with spiked leaves such as Nippon lily or cast iron plant; and choose a third plant with frilly leaves, such as a fern. Using one to three plants from each category together in a bed (or even in a container) makes each one stand out.
• Use colors for purposeful work. Certain colors just lend themselves for specific purposes. For example, yellow and chartreuse green scream for attention. Employ a chartreuse hosta for punctuation in a bed or to draw one’s eye to a specific place. Today, there are increasing numbers of gold and chartreuse-leafed trees and shrubs. Look for them. Variegated foliage yells for attention, too, only it is so busy that it is best to use only sparingly — perhaps in just one or two places. It will also brighten shade. Green and white variegated hostas are a well-known example. Golden Euonymus is another that either loved or hated, there is no in-between. Red foliage, which also includes shades of orange and purple, offers a visual depth. It also creates a rich contrast to the greens, silvers and chartreuse leaves. Purple smoketree, loropetalum, barberry, coleus, red banana, Tropicana canna, and purple heart are some common reds. Gray or silver foliage is useful to blend throughout a flower border to unify many colors. Although not a common color for woody plants in this area, a few well-known silver annuals and perennials are plectranthus, dusty miller, and lamb’s ear. Weave gray through a mix of clashing colors (including flowers) and it will magically tie it all together. Finally, consider the background. Mixes of foliage textures are especially showy against a plain background. It might be a fence, wall, or an evergreen hedge.

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