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Foliage a Feature

This article was first published on 14 Oct 2014.

Cynara cardunculus

Cynara cardunculus

Most perennials are grown for their flowers.  However, some perennials offer attractive foliage, an added bonus early in the season, adding colour to the border while you wait for flowering to begin.

A great planting combination in Dunedin Botanic Garden’s herbaceous border, as pictured, is the silver leaves of the artichoke, Cynara cardunculus that combine well at the moment with the lovely new season’s foliage on Phlox paniculata 'Starfire'.

Early season stunners, astilbes have lush, attractive fern-like foliage. Astilbe × arendsii 'Diamant' has lovely soft green fern like leaves with a red tinge down the leaf stem, whereas Astilbe ×arendsii 'Fanal' has dark reddish leaves followed by red flowers later in the season.

Heucheras are another fantastic group of plants that are grown mainly for their foliage; the cream or white flowers are an afterthought.  These perennials are ideal for that shady location in your garden.  There is a huge selection available in some interesting foliage combinations. Heuchera 'Chocolate Ruffles' has lovely ruffled chocolate brown leaves with a deep burgundy underside to the leaves which are fantastic to use in small flower arrangements.

Other great shade lovers would have to be the early flowering pulmonarias with their spotted green leaves or some with almost silver leaves. Then you are spoilt for choice with hostas, there so many wonderful foliage combinations and shades of green to choose from.

So look beyond the flowers and use foliage to bring some interesting planting combinations into your garden display.

Linda Hellyer is curator of the herbaceous borders at Dunedin Botanic Garden.