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’).
13 thoughts on “Annual Events – Part 3”
Do too many of my reviews that say “excellent” weaken the strength or sincerity of the word “excellent”? I hope not. I have never seen colors like these: so many, so strong, and so well used – matching here, contrasting there, and sometimes “wowing” in just the right doses. This is the epitome of what I would say is “painting with plants”, and I don’t know anybody who can do it better. It might not be what everyone thinks a garden should be, but I say “Excellent” yet again, Nan, and I mean it!
I’m totally ok with “excellent,” Clark. I think these foliage combos were my favorites of the whole bunch; could have done a whole series just on them. Hmmm…might be time to do another e-book. At the very least, these regular doses of color have helped to get me through the slow spring. Now it’s time to start putting together some new combos.
When I view your art, the only word that truly describes it for me is “stunning”. And I keep saying it over and over again. I do own several of your books, Foliage being a favorite and always on my coffee table for easy viewing.
That book (Foliage) is my favorite too, Mariann: researching and writing it was a great experience, and Rob Cardillo’s images are a perfect complement. I’m glad you enjoyed these leafy vignettes as well.
Wonderful vignettes to inspire gardeners, and for those of us without the right conditions (deer and hot southern sun) out in the garden, many of these combinations will work in containers.
Thanks for pointing that out, Freda: containers are a great place to showcase combos like these. With so much other garden to take care of, I normally don’t have time for a lot of containers, but I’m making the time this year and next: Rob and I have a new book in the works on container combinations!
LOVE this post! It may be the best one yet. I see a lot of potential in using tropical “houseplants” in the garden. Often they are so easy to propagate. Don’t see many doing that. Thanks for the inspiration.
I hadn’t thought of it that way, but you’re right, Amy – many of these foliage favorites also make great houseplants if you have the right conditions for them. (Those that like warm winters hate my cold house, so I have to enjoy them outside during the summer and fall instead.)
Clark said it all, said it very well and there isn’t more to be said. Your combinations, photography and prose are well, excellent.
Thank you for sharing.
Hi John! It makes me happy to know that you enjoyed these too. Have fun in your own garden this summer!
Nan, I thought you were going to show us some foliage? ;)
WOW. I’m growing several of these already (some thanks to you) but these combinations are fantastic!
Er…not enough? ‘Cause I have a whole lot more leafy pictures I could have included. Or…maybe too much? Either way, I’m glad you liked what I included. Have a great day, Alan!
What fab combos as always, Nan. This post I can really relate too as I now have tons of coleus and cannas, as well as edibles. Do you harvest your edibles from these beds or do you grow some separate for the table? I just wondered if you used these purely as part of the ornamentals. I have a couple nasturtiums but haven’t picked the flowers to use in the kitchen as I just so enjoy seeing the brilliant colors.
I tried growing red orach but was not lucky, will definitely try again. I recently grew red salvia from seed, that purple one looks stunning.
I can only imagine the many fabulous foliage plants that you can grow where you are, Nicole! As far as the edibles, I usually don’t harvest from those I mix with the ornamentals; mostly, I think of them as inexpensive fillers. There’s plenty of room in the veg garden for growing to harvest.
Thanks for sharing these inspirational planting combinations. As usual, the plant identificaton is really easy and the overall affect is so beautiful it’s intoxicating. Thanks for the fix!
My pleasure, Barbara. Thank you for taking the time to visit today. If it’s as nice where you are as it is here, you need to get outside if you can!
Gorgeous. Yay! – a new book. Foliage is my fav too, although I just finished Design Primer and Perennial Care and I’m feeling much more confident in pulling out the grass and planting it up!
Good for you, Jen! Getting rid of grass is always very satisfying – and turning that boring space into a new garden is even better. Have fun!
Annuals do provide such a beautiful range of colors. I love coleus, remember when they were out of fashion?
I think they’ve been “out” and “in” several times over the years we’ve both been gardening, Carolyn. My only worry is that so many new ones have been released in the past year or two that some of the older favorites seem to be getting hard to find. It’s taken me quite a while to score some ‘Sedona’ this spring.
I passed on a beautiful, multi-colored coleus while at the nursery yesterday because I just couldn’t think of a place to put it. Too bad I didn’t read your post before my shopping trip! Thanks for sharing another group of beautiful combinations.
I’m sure you found lots of other cool plants to make up for the coleus, Kris, but maybe you’ll grab it next time. Have fun!
Fabulous color with nary a flower in sight! I am crazy about coleus too, a real show stopper in the garden and super easy!
Welcome, Andrea! How wonderful to meet another gardener who loves foliage. You’re so right about coleus: it simply begs to be paired with other foliage (well, and flowers too, of course).
Hi Nancy: I stumbled onto your blog last week after doing an Internet search on a plant that I frankly can’t even remember at this point. I have bookmarked your blog and visited numerous times since then – your garden, combinations, photos – ALL amazing! I’m in awe looking at everything. Am intrigued by the Gossypium herbaceum ‘Nigrum’ plant shown above, as I gravitate to dark-leaved plants and have never seen this before. I’ve searched the web fairly extensively (including Ebay international sellers) but have yet to find a seed source. Can you advise? I’ll be back visiting you blog regularly and drawing inspiration for my small Seattle garden. Am working on getting copies of your books in hand, and can’t wait. Thanks, Patty
Hello Patty! I’m so glad you found your way here. Isn’t that cotton amazing? I can’t understand why it isn’t more readily available. I have mixed luck getting the seeds to ripen before frost here in PA, unfortunately. I usually depend on getting it from the Hardy Plant Society/Mid-Atlantic Group’s Seed Exchange each winter (http://www.hardyplant.org/). I have seen “red-foliated white cotton” at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, but they are out of the seeds for this year; you could try next winter, though. Oh wait–here’s another possible source: Reimer Seeds.
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