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When you think about your dream garden, flowers in abundance may dominate the image. But foliage plants are also very useful in a garden and should not be overlooked. Even without spectacular flowers, these add a lot of interest and utility to a space.
Creating a lush, leafy look in your garden has a range of benefits. It can add a sense of peace and tranquillity, help in creating privacy, and bring shade and other forms of environmental enhancement.
You should add at least some flowering plants for the bees and other pollinators and beneficial insects. But foliage plants are ideal for creating a dense woodland or jungle-like feel in your space. They can help you get an established look in your garden without having to wait too long—and, when combined in the right ways, provide the structure and backdrop to show off other plants to good effect.
Here are some key things to think about when using foliage plants in a garden:
If you want to create a lush green space, layering plants is key. Think about the different tiers of planting, especially around the edges of your garden, but also throughout the space. You can achieve an abundant look if you focus on boosting biodiversity and include as many different plants which work well together as possible.
Many herbaceous foliage plants work well in partial or dappled shade. And the trees and shrubs themselves will also add plenty of lush green foliage for a natural and abundant look. Be aware of the boundaries of your garden, and think about creating mixed hedgerows or woody borders around the space.
Be wary, though, about crowding all the woody foliage plants around the edges of the space. Bring them out into the center of the garden, too. Remember, green living fences, hedgerows, or shrubberies can help you create different garden “rooms” and break up the zones in delightful and often unexpected ways.
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Evergreen climbers or shrubs can be useful in creating a green backdrop for other plants against a wall or fence. They can be grown up and over a pergola, gazebo, or other garden structure. Green walls made up of foliage plants are also an interesting way to enliven a boundary wall or fence, especially one in a more shaded spot.
Another interesting thing to note is that while foliage plants are usually grown for their ornamental appeal, many have a range of practical uses. Some are even edible, too.
One of the most useful edible foliage plants for partial shade is the hosta. Hostas come in a wide range of different hues, and many cultivars come with interesting variegation on the leaves. All hostas are edible and, more than that, also taste great. Young, rolled-up leaves which emerge in spring are fantastic in a stir-fry, and you can eat the young leaves raw or cooked in a wide range of recipes.
Another common plant that's often grown for its foliage is bamboo. Many bamboos can be grown not only for their attractive canes and leaves, but also for their edible shoots in spring.
Some ferns are edible (though caution is most definitely advised), and there are also trees with edible leaves, such as the linden/lime tree, beech, birch, and mulberry, for example. Options like moringa and chaya exist in much warmer climate zones. These are just a few examples.
It is a great idea to choose individual foliage plants for their edible yields and other uses, as well as for their visual appearance. But that does not mean that your garden cannot look good, too.
It can be refreshing to work with greens alone, rather than with flowers in a range of different hues and a vibrant, diverse color palette. This forces you to focus on other things, like the shape, size, and texture of the leaves, the form of the plants, and their specific shade. You may become more nuanced in your plant choices to get the overall effect you desire.
Remember, however, that foliage plants are not all green. While layering green on green on green can add depth and interest in your garden, you might also want to explore the use of plants with red, purple, silver, gold, or multi-colored, variegated foliage, too.
So, don't focus entirely on flowers. It is well worth exploring the use of foliage plants in your garden.
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