They are the colors of Victorian drawing rooms, of Craftsman bungalows and the shades that fill fashion magazines in the fall. These deep hues blended with rare accents in fiery hues create an undisputable flair for the dramatic. To create beautiful accents for porch and patio, the emphasis is not on flowers, for few bloom this late. Instead, the herbaceous plants that bear colored leaves are front and center, a most remarkable late-season dynamic.
Recent style trends have yielded some outstanding plants for your pots and window boxes that will easily come indoors later on. The vivid purple foliage of tropical Persian shield is among the most outstanding of the newer foliage plants because the leaves are large, up to 6 inches long. The color of Strobilanthes dyerianus is nothing short of iridescent purple, with darker venations that are a treasure up close.
The richness of foliage color will vary according to how much light the plants receive, so you may want to move this around to achieve the best look. This plant is, again, tropical, so it will not tolerate frost. In marginal areas, protection by a porch roof may allow it to survive outdoors, or simply move it inside and treat as a houseplant for the winter.
For colder regions, consider the more vivid purple flowering kales that have yielded very strong purple and magenta foliage that can offer a similar, but more cold-hardy, centerpiece.
When purple plants are your starting point, there are two options for companions that provide dynamic contrast. First are fine-leaf plants that create textural contrast. Second are very bright leaf plants that provide color contrast. When you achieve these ends with perennials bought in small containers late in the year, they won’t be a one-act plant like annual coleus. Come spring, they’ll be ready to go out into the garden. Therefore, the money you spend on perennials treated as annuals is a better value than creating autumn potted compositions strictly out of annuals that die at season’s end.
In terms of texture, you need fine-bladed plants that stand out boldly against larger leaves of kale and Persian shield. The best choices are grasslike plants called sedges, in genus Carex. The foliage can be stiff, the blades needle thin to a half-inch wide, and most retain their looks better in the cooler months. There are dozens of species and hybrids to choose from, with foliage that is straight, arching or even curled. Discover sedges this fall for your container compositions, and by spring you’ll be ready to use them in your garden with flair.
When it comes to contrasting foliage color, remember that blending light hues against the deep purple leaves is what makes a composition pop. Unlike analogous colors that all blend together, high-contrast companions are what gives a planted urn or antique pot visual appeal.
The extensive breeding of heucheras over the past decade has flooded the market with fabulous foliage. Once grown for their delightful coral-bell-like blossoms, the modern heucheras are all about foliage hues. This perennial holds its leaves through remarkably cold temperatures, making it valuable for maintaining interest in the off-season garden. If you start selecting heucheras to contrast with Persian shield, you’ll get to know many of these varieties.
For a great introduction on what’s available in both Carex and Heucheras, check out the Proven Winners selections at www.Provenwinners.com. This plant line is available through both independent garden centers and big-box stores.
This time of year, it’s foliage color that will transform your entry with beautiful creations that welcome friends and family. Just forget the flowers, and keep in mind that it’s all about the leaves.
(Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at www.MoPlants.com. Contact her at mogilmer(at)yahoo.com or P.O. Box 891, Morongo Valley, CA 92256.)