The foliage garden always garners big kudos in fall and winter; it is difficult to imagine a flower garden in most temperate zones able to compete with foliage during those seasons. It is even relatively easy to make the case for foliage over flowers in spring, as much new foliage provides eye candy that rivals spring blooms.
But who can imagine a summer foliage garden that can compete with an herbaceous border? How to replicate with foliage those colorful displays of summer annuals and perennials that spell summer to so many of us? Why not borrow a ‘leaf’ or two from our book and see!
While we speak constantly of choosing plants for fall and winter appeal, we are not indifferent to plants that pull their weight in summer. Crisp green or maroon leaves, contrasting stems and bark and blue-hued conifers are all components of an interesting summer foliage garden.
As can be seen in the above photo, the plummy tones of Cotinus x ‘Grace’ are deepest in summer, and Spirea t. ‘Mt. Fuji’, which is grown primarily for spring bloom and fall color, spends the summer months as a luscious lime green. Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’ becomes practically turquoise during the long days of July and August, and the resulting combination is summery and fresh.
The same lime green, yellow, plum and turquoise are seen in this arrangement of the striped pine, ‘Zebrina’, our friend ‘Grace’ again, and the lovely Podocarpus ‘Monmal’, which is sold as ‘Icee Blue’. It is an icy blue in winter, but in summer has a richer tone. Many foliage plants change color through the seasons, and it is as satisfying to anticipate their varying tones as it is to wait for seasonal flowers to bloom.
The summer foliage border has the benefit of never needing deadheading and seldom needing refreshing. We use the summer months to plan for fall planting or to prune conifers and deciduous shrubs and trees for form.
Mature trees add dimension and structure to the garden all year around, and their trunks and bark add color and texture as well. The photo below displays a trifecta of trunks: the gnarled multiple trunked Olea wilsonii, or fruitless olives, the grizzled ancient Quercus agrifolia (coast live oak) in the far background and the brilliant cinnamon-colored Arbutus ‘Marina’ mid-way between. They are beautifully showcased by the many greens of the foliage.
We love our containers in summer, too, when patio living reaches its zenith, along with the sun. Succulents carry the containers through the year in our mild climate, but even in colder climes they are a great choice for container plantings, and remember, almost anything qualifies as a container if it will hold potting medium!