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Creating mood with foliage

At this time of year it’s tempting to go wild and opt for pure flower power. A garden without flowers can seem almost alien to some people, but never forget the other big consideration, be it a small courtyard or a large estate.

Foliage, in all its forms, textures and colours can play just as big a part, especially when the flowers have finished and the plants have to justify their place in the scheme with that little bit extra.

From the smallest alpines to the tallest trees, the foliage of a plant can define its character, shape and growth habit even when the plant isn’t in flower. Green is only one of a wide range of colours, too, from the red of a Smoke Bush (Cotinus coggygria), to the blue-grey of a Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), through the yellow of a Tufted Sedge, (Carex elata ‘Aurea’) and even finally near-black, in the form of Lilyturf, (Ophiopogon ‘Nigrescens’). It’s the contrast of these colours, when placed carefully, that can give a garden its mood and draw the eye.

Foliage form is a key priority of a plant designer, where the size and outline of foliage can create either spectacular statements of movement or calm, subdued spaces which are easy on the eye. Large leaved plants like Rheum, Acanthus and Gunnera are bold and solid looking, filling space easily with their impressive, simple spans, whilst the smaller leaves of plants like Epimedium and Sedum achieve a different effect by clustering together many more leaves, creating a more detailed effect.

With summer here, foliage can also help to visually reduce the heat, with wide, tropical looking statements like sumptuous Cannas and Chusan Palms spreading out their leaves to soak up the sun. And of course, don’t forget the aromatics like Rosemary, Lavender, Fennel and Lemon Balm, whose foliage scent when touched is perfume in its purest form.