Go Big With Foliage Plants

Classic garden advice suggests you choose plants for their flowers, fruits, or foliage, or all three. When selecting plants for my garden I consider their value to wildlife, including flowers for pollinators and fruits as an important resource for animals that share my yard. But after the flowers and fruits are gone, you still have to live with the leaves. I cater to caterpillars, along with other leaf munching guests. But I also enjoy plants that have interesting leaves I can admire since that is largely what most plants offer for much of the year.

I enjoy variegated leaves and other interesting leaf patterns. Over the years I have added native plants with patterned foliage, including favorites like Allegheny pachysandras and several trillium species. I have also added saplings for their fall foliage color, including the elusive Franklinia which at the moment has a beautiful combination of red and purple leaves on one tree, and yellow and orange on another.

But why not go big- literally- for great foliage? Not everyone can have a forest, but if you have the room, I highly recommend it! Trees are best in a mass planting as with many garden designs. But even a tree or two can add magic to the autumn landscape. And if you are seriously space challenged, consider bonsai, a tree in fun-sized form. They get the same great colors but take up waaay less space.

I appreciate the forest in all seasons, and it’s especially beautiful right now displaying its fall colors. This is a view of the hillside behind my house, rich in a variety of hues as the diversity of tree species provides a dramatically colorful show. As you can see in addition to all the leaves on the trees, there are also many on the ground.

I can’t remember a year when the leaf fall has been so synchronous. Last weekend the highs were in the 70s, but by Tuesday the high was in the 30s, and there was the first hard freeze of the year when it dipped to 28 overnight. Today it is back into the 70s. This week the trees seemed to simultaneously decide it was time to let go and all started dropping their leaves at the same time. I was literally getting slapped by a steady rain of them every time I walked in the woods. Overnight the trail through the forest went from obvious to obliterated.

The leaf shedding pace has slowed, and the more tenacious leaves are still holding on. Because of the strange weather this may be the most compressed autumn I’ve experienced in over a decade here. I really enjoy this season, and though it has been accelerated, I am appreciating the changes of each day, knowing in a week or two my most dramatic foliage display will be over for the year.