Foliage Garden Ideas

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Although greenery is relegated to the chorus in many gardens while blossoms play the starring role, foliage can still be an important component of any garden design. The delicately divided leaves of ferns and the fountain-like effects offered by many ornamental grasses have a beauty and grace all their own. Such foliage not only serves as a lovely background to blooms but can also be used as the dominant feature of a foliage garden design. Foliage carries a garden through the seasons, long after the flowers have faded to a memory.

Far from being simply green, some foliage plants offer variegated patterns of white, gold, and red, while others have leaves tinged with yellow, blue, or bronze that can act as a focal point or an accent in a color scheme. Tall, flowing grasses and dense, leafy ferns are ideal for creating a lush and generous look in a small patch of earth. A variety of foliage plants also do well in shady, moist areas that most floral plants find to be withering. Think green and leafy as you peruse the foliage garden ideas and garden photos that follow.


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Rich, green hostas tipped with white take center stage in this green-and-white-themed foliage garden. Hostas as landscape plants have taken off in recent years, and deservedly so. These handsome perennials are practically trouble free and are excellent choices for filling shaded locations. A double helping of a white-margined cultivar here anchors a border that also includes ferns, foamflower, and bleeding heart.

For more ideas on wonderful ways to use hostas, continue to the next page for a look at several hosta gardens.

If you think foliage is fabulous, wait until you see what else you can do with your backyard garden:


Hosta Garden Ideas

Only one plant, but oh-so-many styles. Horticulturists have had a heyday with hostas, and the result is almost endless varieties available. These shade-loving plants give your foliage garden a lush look and combine easily in plantings with other species -- be they flower or foliage -- and also make a lovely solo display. Plant them in careful patterns or in a more freeflowing style; these perennials will return for the season year after year. Gather ideas for your yard as you examine these garden photos and hosta garden ideas.

Two very different hosta cultivars -- one with narrow, variegated leaves showing undulated margins and the other with large, pleated, blue-green leaves in classic "plantain lily" style -- demonstrate the different effects breeders have achieved with these plants. The contrast between the two makes a wonderful foliage garden combination and acts as a foil for the rhododendron and evergreen behind. These hostas are not in bloom, but most varieties also bear attractive, often sweetly fragrant lily-shaped flowers in shades of white and lavender during summertime.


Their almost infinite variability of leaf color, texture, size, and form means that hostas can carry a planting scheme all by themselves; all sorts of them will combine well with each other. Some varieties make ever-larger foliage rosettes with age, while others spread to form new clumps. At right, Saxifraga stolonifera and Begonia grandis add further to the foliage display.

Hostas give a lot of options, but nothing can match the elegance and endless varieties of ferns available. Click to the next page for a look at some fine and feathery fern gardens.

If you think foliage is fabulous, wait until you see what else you can do with your backyard garden:


Fern Garden Ideas

Ornate and elegant, ferns add a touch of class to any garden -- and they can be breathtaking when planted in a fern garden of their own. Their detailed foliage and slowly unfurling fronds make them as captivating as tiny works of art, and they can easily make themselves at home in a moist and somewhat shady backyard. Enjoy these garden photos and let our fern garden ideas capture your imagination.

As beautiful and eye-catching as a piece of sculpture, the cinnamon-dusted fiddleheads of new fern fronds stretch open to show ever-more fresh green. The shape and location of this specimen make it a focal point; the placement is very carefully chosen, as the warm fern color stands out against the gray rocks and path, and the contrast of the English bluebells makes a beautiful backdrop.


Though a mixture of fern species always creates a strong effect, a large stand dominated by a single species can also be a standout. Here, masses of ostrich fern accented with a few hay-scented ferns create a wonderfully feathery feel, quite different in texture from a combination of many different varieties but no less attractive. The spotted leaves of lungwort peep through in the foreground, and blue campanulas rise behind.

This fern garden features an assortment of fern species, as well as a selection of wonderfully colored trees. The watery landscape is not only beautiful, it suits the ferns just fine, as they can tolerate more marshy moisture than many other plants.

Even if your yard has more sun than marshy shade, a foliage garden is still quite feasible. Check out the next page for an array of ornamental grass garden options.

If you think foliage is fabulous, wait until you see what else you can do with your backyard garden:


Ornamental Grass Garden Ideas

Grass is so much more than the stuff covering lawns and golf courses. Select some more-exotic species and keep the mower away for a fun and dramatic ornamental grass garden. Use long-leaved plumes as a central focus, or mix several varieties together for an exploration of texture and color. Check out our ornamental grass garden ideas and garden photos that follow, and then get growing!

The plumes of ornamental grasses can be even showier than their fountain-like foliage, and the great height of the plants allows them to work as a strong centerpiece in a garden. The silvery-pink plumes of Pennisetum setaceum make lovely ornamental grass garden specimens; this one is given added emphasis by the pink and red annuals -- nicotiana and zinnia -- planted around it.


Danielle Johnson of Seattle, WA

A study in color and contrast, wiry filament-like leaves mix with silvery-green feathers in this ornamental grass garden featuring carex and artichoke plants.

For an even more colorful foliage garden, and for fun in a sunny backyard, continue to the next page for ideas on including tropical foliage in your garden.

If you think foliage is fabulous, wait until you see what else you can do with your backyard garden:


Tropical Foliage Garden Ideas

Everyone enjoys a touch of the tropics, and rain forest regions are known for their unusual and beautiful plants. A tropical foliage garden can flourish -- with a little added assistance -- even in cooler climates if tender plants are grown in pots, moved outdoors for summer, and returned indoors to spend the winter. Examine your options with the garden photos and tropical foliage garden ideas below.

The heart-shaped leaves of the elephant's-ear plant (Colocasia esculenta) make a bold impact in a tropical foliage garden, somewhat similar to the effect of large-leaved hostas in temperate locations. Here, they are partnered with scarlet cannas and dwarf banana.


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Palm trees and assorted tropical shrubs mix along a walkway to create a beautiful tropical foliage garden on the grandest of scales.

With so much fantastic foliage to choose from, who ever has time for flowers? (Well, maybe as an accent here and there.) Best of luck as you're now well-equipped with ideas for a foliage garden of your own.

Learn which plants are best for a foliage garden in the next section.

If you think foliage is fabulous, wait until you see what else you can do with your backyard garden:


Plants for a Foliage Garden

Hosta fortunei has dimension and color with its dark green leaves edged in white.

Plants for a foliage garden are incredibly varied. Not a uniform shape and shade of green, foliage comes in all shapes and sizes. From swordlike grasses to wide, round leaves, and from a thousand, intricate shades of green to red, white, and gold, foliage isn't just a backdrop for other, flashier flowers.

Whether they are part of a garden with flowering blossoms or unified in a single foliage garden, the following plants will shimmer and shine, adding luster to any landscape.


Avena Grass

This grass features silvery-blue shards of leaves, but it also produces yellow spikes of flowers in the summer.

Chinese Fountain Grass

The showering cascades of long leaves gives this grass its name.

Elephant's Ear

This colorful greenery produces huge leaves in the shape of -- what else? -- an elephant's ear.

Golden Scaled Male Fern

With its densely packed fronds, this fern is hardy and adaptable.

Hard Fern

The hard fern is one of the few plants that remains green throughout nearly the entire year.

Hosta Decorata

Native to Japan, hosta decorata produces wide, flat leaves and thrives in full or partial shade.

Hosta Fortunei

A perennial, hosta's fortunei blossoms with mauve-colored flowers in the summer.

Hosta Francee

Requiring little care, this hosta provides a burst of color in a shady area.

Hosta Sieboldiana

This hosta produces lilac-colored flowers against a backdrop of thick leaves.

Hosta Sieboldii

With its undulating, curved edges rimmed in dark green, the bright green leaves stand out.

Hosta Tardiflora

This petite hosta is often passed over for more attention-grabbing plants, but its lavender blooms are lovely.

Hosta Ventricosa

The striated leaves of this hosta are tough and glossy.

Male Fern

The lance-shaped leaves of this fern are attractive, but the fern is also toxic when ingested.


Leaves erupt from a single stalk on this plant, lending a garden a tropical air.

Northern Sea Oats

This plant is easy to care for and readily reseeds itself.

Ostrich Fern

This fern is named for its large fronds, which resemble the plumage of an ostrich.

Royal Fern

A water-lover, this fern grows in the wild along rivers and streams or wet meadows and bogs.

Tufted Hairgrass

This hardy grass grows tall with cloud-like halos on top. It's also used for grazing and is resistant to fire.

Yellow Ginger Lily

Producing fragrant blooms, the flowers of this plant are often used in Hawaiian leis.

If you think foliage is fabulous, wait until you see what else you can do with your backyard garden: