Flowers Aren’t the Only Color in a Garden – Don’t Forget Foliage Plants

When you think of the words “color” and “garden,” your thoughts most likely turn to visions of blooming flowers.  While they tend to be the predominant source of color in a garden or landscape design, colorful accents can also be achieved through the use of foliage plants which provide much more than green filler.  Foliage plants have an advantage over flowers – their color remains all season long, unlike flowers which come and go.  Here are some to consider adding to your garden:


The coleus (solenostemon) is a popular ornamental annual sometimes also grown as a houseplant.  There are a wide variety of species, and the hardiness varies from not at all cold-tolerant to almost arctic.  If you’re considering coleus, be sure to check the zone rating.  Coleus plants come in a rainbow of colors, from deep magenta to variegated yellows and oranges to almost purple.  Some are sun-loving, others prefer shade.  Leaves range from ruffled to scalloped to tooth-edged.  For the most part, they are very easy to grow and require little care.  For more information on coleus, visit this plant encyclopedia section


The sedum is a “plant it and leave it alone” garden staple.   Like the coleus, it is very low-maintenance, but the sedum is a spreading perennial.  A wide variety of types is available, from creeping groundcover to towering majestic specimens.  Sedums are a good choice for rock gardens.   Though the sedum does develop small flowers in a large palette of colors, it is known primarily for its succulent ornamental foliage.  One variety, Purple Empreror, has an almost-black plum-colored foliage.  Bees and butterflies love sedum, and their flower heads dry well.

Canna Lilies

The canna is primarily known for its large beautiful flowers, but many varieties also produce brilliantly-colored foliage, including striped and variegated forms.  Some are blue-black, others are red and gold.  Whenyou choose one of these plants, you get a double benefit – the colored foliage remains long after the flowers fade.

Plantain Lilies and Hostas

These two plants are very similar, except that the plaintain lilies are generally smaller than the hostas.  Both grow best in shade.  Their leaves come in a range of colors, from a deep almost blue to lemon-yellow striped and variegated.  Both hostas and plaintains produce slender flower stalks, which can either be left to remain or pinched off.  Both are sturdy plants which divide well.  Most are very cold-hardy and require little care.

Coral Bells

These low-growing little beauties do well in full sun to partial shade.  Their scalloped, ruffly leaves are accented by small flowers.  The foliage ranges from delicate orange to white-flecked purple.  Most are very cold-tolerant. 

There are many other colorful foliage plants, including ornamental cabbages, grasses, and colored ferns.  If you’re thinking about adding more color to your landscape and that perhaps ornamental foliage plants might work, schedule a consultation with a professional landscape designer who specializes in unique garden beds.  You’ll get the right recommendations for your landscape plan, soil conditions, and Minneapolis area climate.