Finally, the last part of the Annual Events series – good news for those of you who like annuals and even better new for those of you who are getting tired of them by now. This one focuses on annuals and tender perennials with outstanding foliage paired with other terrific foliage or flowering plants.
Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) – particularly those with two or more colors in the leaves – are an easy starting point for fun combinations. ‘Bellingrath Pink’ (also known as ‘Alabama Sunset’ and ‘Texas Parking Lot’) is one of my favorites, because it’s such an obvious color echo for all kinds of yellow-leaved partners. Above it’s with golden meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria ‘Aurea’) for the yellow link, with another echo in the pink of the Tropicanna canna (Canna ‘Phaison’) and a touch of contrast with the shiny, dark leaves of ‘Bull’s Blood’ beet. Below, the yellow echo comes from ‘Angelina’ sedum (Sedum rupestre), with contrast from the circular, blue-green foliage of ‘Princess of India’ nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus).
Above, a nice balance of similarities (in colors) and contrasts (in shapes and textures) between ‘Religious Radish’ coleus and black-leaved cotton (Gossypium herbaceum ‘Nigrum’).
The markings of ‘Fishnet Stockings’ coleus can vary widely, depending on how much light it gets. Where the leaves are mostly chartreuse, they look good with a dark-leaved partner; when the burgundy is more apparent, as below, it’s beautiful with yellow foliage, such as that of ‘Baggesen’s Gold’ box honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida).
Here’s stunning ‘Sedona’, which also varies in color – from coral to brick red to orange – depending on light and temperature. Above it’s with ‘Empress of India’ nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) and ‘Purple Lady’ bloodleaf (Iresine herbstii); below, it’s with ‘Flame Leaf’ euphorbia and an older leaf of blood banana (Musa zebrina).
Above, ‘Giant Exhibition Limelight’ coleus with ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ dahlia and ‘Sweet Caroline Purple’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas); below, ‘Chocolate Mint’ coleus with ‘Jester’ millet (Pennisetum glaucum).
There’s ‘Jester’ here too, in the foreground, with some ‘Hopi Red Dye’ amaranth and Golden Spirit smokebush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Ancot’), but the real star is the ‘Smallwood’s Driveway’ coleus.
That ‘Jester’ millet has the interesting habit of changing color dramatically through the growing season, going from solid yellow in early summer to green with a dark midrib, to solid purple by fall. ‘Purple Majesty’ (another strain of Pennisetum glaucum) doesn’t have the yellow phase, but it too is a beauty for much of the growing season. Below, it’s against golden elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Aurea’) and in front of ‘Limelight’ four-o’clock (Mirabilis jalapa) and ‘Osmin’ basil.
Those millets are great for foliage-loving gardeners who enjoy growing from seed, and so are the colorful forms of Swiss chard. You can find a number of color strains now, but I usually just sow a packet of ‘Bright Lights’ and pot up the seedlings in the colors I like. Above is a yellow one with ‘Black Pearl’ pepper (Capsicum annuum; also from seed) and Tropicanna canna (Canna ‘Phaison’); below is a pink-stemmed one with Phormium cookianum ‘Flamingo’ and ‘Sweet Caroline Bronze’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas).
The three ‘Bright Lights’ chard seedlings above are with ‘Red Dragon’ rice (Oryza sativa).
Kales are another great easy-from-seed option for filler foliage. Above is ‘Lacinato’ /‘Nero di Toscana’ /dinosaur kale with Tiger Eye sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’); below is ‘Redbor’ kale with spigarello (leaf broccoli).
Keeping with the easy-from-seed-edibles theme, you can’t overlook lettuces for lovely leaves. Above is ‘Australian Yellow’ with ‘Black Pearl’ pepper; below is frilly ‘Mascara’ with ‘Giant Exhibition Limelight’ coleus and ‘Maple Sugar’ hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella).
Yet another edible annual for foliage: orach (Atriplex hortensis). Above is red orach (A. hortensis var. rubra) with ‘Red Dragon’ fleeceflower (Persicaria microcephala). Below is red orach on the left and ‘Magenta Magic’ on the right, with some young ‘Jester’ millet (Pennisetum glaucum) and Golden Alexander yellow loosestrife (Lysimachia punctata ‘Walgoldalex’).
The shot above includes both kinds of orach as well as a couple of chards, along with the perennial Golden Alexander yellow loosestrife and annual ‘Laser Purple’ salvia (Salvia splendens), but the real star is the dark foliage of ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ dahlia (hardy in some areas, but a tender perennial here in southeastern Pennsylvania).
Below, a collection of several tender perennials: extra-dark Eranthemum nigrum with pale ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’ lavender and ‘Wellington Bronze’ toatoa (Haloragis erecta). (‘Wellington Bronze’ is usually much more bronzy than this, but it’s more green than brown in partial shade.)
Is it possible to have too much variegation? Yep, it is, but I still really like this pairing of ‘Snow Fairy’ bluebeard (Caryopteris divaricata) and the plant commonly sold as Dorotheanthus bellidiformis ‘Mezoo Trailing Red’.
Below, another mix of the hardy and tender, featuring (clockwise from bottom left) ‘Catlin’s Giant’ ajuga, ‘Brigadoon’ St. John’s wort (Hypericum calycinum), ‘Rainbow Sunrise’ New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax), ‘Nigra’ bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla), Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima), Rozanne geranium (Geranium ‘Gerwat’), Allium ‘Summer Beauty’, and Echeveria ‘The Rose’.
And one more, for good measure: ‘Blazin’ Rose’ bloodleaf (Iresine herbstii), Alternanthera dentata ‘Purple Knight’, cigar flower (Cuphea ignea), and Vertigo fountain grass (Pennisetum ‘Tift 8’).