Coloured Foliage for the Garden

If you are looking through the catalogues, cultivars called ‘Aurea’, ‘Aureum’ or ‘Aureus’ indicate that their leaves are golden (from Latin aureus, golden).

One of the finest is the full-moon maple, Acer japonicum ‘Aureum’. This elegant, slow-growing tree is somewhat wind-frost-tender, so site it in a sheltered spot. Berberis thunbergii ‘Aurea’ almost dazzles with the intensity of its butter-yellow leaves. It makes a smallish bush and is best positioned well away from more robust shrubs that could smother it. Out of the sun, its leaves turn green, so keep it in an open site.

Heathers provide us with ‘Gold Feather’, ‘Gold Haze’ and ‘Joy Vanstone’ forms of Calluna vulgaris, commonly called ling. Though these flower in late summer, the beauty of their leaves is best appreciated in winter.

Golden privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium ‘Aureum’) is a neat shrub and good for hedging. If green-leaved shoots appear, cut them out to prevent them from dominating. One of the few golden-leaved shrubs to retain its colour in light shade is the mock orange, Philadelphus coronarius ‘Aureus’. Cut this back each spring to enjoy a robust regrowth of handsome stems clad with extra large leaves. Another golden beauty is the elderberry, Sambucus racemosa ‘Plumosa’. This must have a sunny spot or the gold will pale to green.

Two spectacular border perennials are Valeriana phu ‘Aurea’ and Hosta fortunei ‘Aurea’. Both start life a brilliant golden yellow, commanding attention until mid-summer, when the leaves pale to lime-green.

Purple-leaved plants are indicated by the words ‘Purpurea’ or ‘Purpureum’ (from the old English for heraldic purple). A choice shrub for a tub or gap in the paving stones on a terrace or patio is the Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum Atropurpureum’. It grows very slowly and its intriguing umbrella habit draws admiring comments. A really first-class shrub is Berberis X ottowensis ‘Purpurea’ (syn. ‘Superba’), whose yellow flowers and red berries complement the vinous purple of its leaves. Its cousin, B. thunbergii ‘Atropurea Nana’ (syn. ‘Little Favourite’), makes a splendid feature for a rock garden.

Others to look out for – and remember, they make a perfect backcloth for red-flowered plants – are the filbert Corylus maxima ‘Purpurea’, smoke tree Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’, and blackthorn Prunus spinosa ‘Purpurea’.

Cream or yellow variegated plants, mostly shrubs, are very appealing, and evergreens among them become a focus in winter. Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’ is prized for its evergreen leaves which are brightened by a central splash of gold. E. x ebbingei ‘Gilt Edge’ is one of a number of varieties with green leaves fetchingly rimmed with gold.

Euonymus fortunei radicans ‘Silver Queen’s leaves are edged in creamy white, but in early spring the young leaves open a creamy yellow colour with a pale border. E. japonicus ‘Ovatus Aureus’, a cultivar of a popular hedging shrub for coastal gardens, has very attractive golden yellow variegation. Hebe x franciscana ‘Variegata’ is slightly less hardy than the hybrid type, but it will flourish in a sheltered corner, producing its creamy variegated leaves all year.

Among the hollies (Ilex), there are two excel-lent clones of I. aquifolium: the broad-leaved common form ‘Argenteo-marginata’ (silver variegation) and ‘Golden Queen’ (deep yellow). The pittosporums include some of the most beautiful evergreen shrubs; unfortunately, most of them are too tender to thrive outdoors in this country. Hardier than most is P. tenuifolium, which is well worth trying if you live in a warmer part of the south or west. Two cultivars with variegation are ‘Silver Queen’ (silvery white) and ‘Variegatum’ (creamy white). In both, the colours contrast strikingly with the black stems. Weigela florida is a very popular medium-sized shrub bearing pink, bell-shaped flowers in May and June. Its cultivar ‘Variegata’ has cream-edged leaves.


We all delight in the turn of green leaves of deciduous trees to glorious browns and golds in the autumn. One of the most interesting recent developments has been the introduction of evergreen shrub cultivars whose leaves change colour from season to season. The most striking of these are clones of Calluna vulgaris, the common, heather of the English and Scottish countryside. Among the finest of these clones are ‘Blazeaway’, which is green in summer and rich red in winter; ‘Golden Feather’, light gold in summer, deeper gold in winter; ‘Gold Haze’, a 600 mm (2 ft) heather with bright yellow leaves; and ‘Robert Chapman’, pale gold in spring, orange in summer and red in winter.


Gold, purple, silver or variegated leaved shrubs add interest for much of the year; evergreen kinds are especially useful in winter. All need an open sunny position or their rich hues will pale. They will thrive in ordinary soil fortified with manure and fertilizer


Climbers are best trained up walls, sheds, and pergolas. Ramblers, with more flexible stems are best for tumbling over structures.


All climbers need some vertical support. Self-clingers, like ivy and Virginia creeper, will adhere or hook themselves on to surfaces and do not need tying in. The rest need wires or trellis to guide and support the shoots.

26. June 2013 by admin
Categories: Featured, Garden Management, Top Tips | Comments Off on Coloured Foliage for the Garden


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