A Design Without Flowers? Foliage Gardening, Explained

You're probably familiar with garden design that relies on flowers. But are you aware of the amazing, and colorful, ways you can design with plants whose interest is in their leaves? Learn more about designing with foliage here.

Many foliage gardens are deliberately jungle-like: wild, lush, exuberant. Plants are chosen for their interesting leaves and textures, which look even more dramatic when placed together and paired with dramatic spots of bright color. Because the plants found in foliage gardens tend to be prolific growers, and some of their best details can only be seen close up, it's often necessary to include a pathway or clearings in the design. Don't worry if you don't live in the tropics; cooler climate foliage gardens can be just as successful, with mass plantings of grasses and woodland glades.

In this design, rich planting explodes from the borders over gravel paths. Cacti and succulents are brought outside for the summer months and containers of plants of differing heights, including grasses and herbs, provide interesting textural contrasts. Sparks of color come from purple-leaved canna and tall yellow sunflowers. A similar design in a more temperate climate might use dahlias or lobelia instead.

Foliage Style in Detail

Foliage gardens thrive on the variety and volume of planting. Taller species such as eucalyptus, palms, cordylines, and bamboo provide height and vertical interest, and leave room below for lower-growing shrubs, grasses, and perennials.

Plans for Exotic Garden with Gravel Path

Plans for Exotic Garden with Gravel Path

2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited DK - Garden Design

DK - Garden Design, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Key Design Elements

The key element is foliage that makes a statement. The plants that dominate demand attention; strappy phormium, tall-growing bamboo or banana (Musa) with its fabric-like leaves (image 1).

Bright flower color lifts the general greenness of these gardens, providing surprises along the way. Dahlias adds rich red flowers and dark foliage (image 2).

Clear pools, perhaps edged with lilies or papyrus, create reflective surfaces. Waterfalls add sound and energy, and boulders set by jungle pools provide naturalistic seats (image 3).

Secondary Standouts

Plant exotics and tender species in pots if you live in a cooler climate or if you're seeking greater design flexibility. Dramatic pots can also be used as focal points in a design (image 1).

Hard materials can often be sourced locally. Gravel or stone, often rough-hewn, are good for paved surfaces, but consider wood and bamboo as well. Walls covered with whitewash or painted render add intense color (image 2).

Tall plants are essential to create jungle-like layering. The banana-like ensete, chusan palm and eucalyptus give height to the canopy, and offer protection and shade to plants below (image 3).

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