Japanese Garden 1While we all love flowers in our garden, it is important to remember that garden beauty and interest also come from foliage, particularly variegated and non-green foliage.  Plants like Liriope muscari, Acer palmatum, Weigela florida, and Hosta varieties are just a few of the plants that add depth and texture to a great landscape design.

Variegated plants can brighten an otherwise shady, dark area bringing the illusion of sunlight in a dark garden.  Variegated foliage can also draw the eye to an area to which you want to attract attention, e.g. a water feature, unique rock sculpture, hidden pathway, etc.

Plants with light green leaves and gold tone leaves can have the same effect as variegated plants. Some of these plants include various types of Spirea, Weigela, Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Golden Mop’.  An added benefit to the Golden Mop Cypress is that it’s an evergreen so can be enjoyed year round.  This plant looks fantastic next to Rhododendron, Azalea and Mountain Laurel in the Winter.


Also don’t forget about plants with purple and purple/green leaves like Weigela, Japanese Maple, Knockout roses, Heuchera.  Paired up with variegated foliage or light colored foliage these plants offer great contrast and add depth to the garden.  Against a light colored home, they really stand out as well.

Here are a few of my favorite plants with variegated or non-green foliage:

  • Cornus alba ‘Baihalo’: Commonly referred to as an Ivory Halo Dogwood.  This plant also has red twigs in the Winter and looks beautiful against the snow.


  • Daphne x burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’: Beautiful, delicate looking green and white leaves.  Blooms are light pinkish in color and smell delightful.  In zone 5, this plant is considered semi-evergreen depending on exposure to winter elements.


  • Acer palmatum: Commonly known as the Japanese Maple Tree.  There are hundreds of cultivars of this beauty. I particularly like the “Dissectum” variety for its thin, spiderlike leaves and almost bonsai-looking appearance.


  • Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’: This is a lovely wildgrass whose blade is predominantly white if you look closely.  Pairing this with a fleshy Autumn Joy sedum and the Knockout Rose makes a great trio.


  • Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’: All I can is “Wow!” to this plant.  I often use this when designing a Japanese garden, but its beauty can be enjoyed in any garden.  It possesses a light yellow/greenish foliage that can make any shaded garden look bright and sunny.  Its floppy appearance softens any hardscape or rock garden.




So while flowers are beloved by so many we shouldn’t neglect these beautiful shrubs with gorgeous leaf varieties…incidentally many of the shrubs I mentioned throughout this article also have great flowers when in bloom!  Happy designing!