December 26, 2008

Foliage Combinations in the Perennial Garden

When the flowers aren't in bloom, there are several foliage plants that I use to help carry color and texture in the perennial garden. I use a combination of perennials, shrubs and ornamental grasses to divide the dry stream garden from the front garden. Since this area is right beside our front path, I selected plants that would provide nice foliage from spring through fall and included a few for winter interest.

Amsonia hubrichtii is a southern native perennial that produces tiny blue flowers in the spring. While the flowers are nice, the threadlike, lacy foliage provides a nice texture when mixed with other foliage shapes. This perennial also provides a pretty background for flowering perennials since it quickly reaches a nice 3 x 3 foot size in the garden. The foliage turns a brilliant gold in the fall and is rated for zones 5-9, planted in full sun.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Little Zebra' PP 13,008 is a dwarf ornamental grass that fits in well with a perennial border. The fountain-shaped blades have horizontal gold bands. In the fall, the plumes shoot up straight in my full sun garden, making this grass easy to use when it is planted closely with perennials and shrubs. This grass is also rated for full sun in zones 5-9, making it a nice texture combination with the amsonia.

Illicium is an evergreen shrub that is also a southern native. I can't tell you exactly which one I have as this was originally planted next to our foundation by our landscaper. I moved it to this area because it enjoys moist soil in full sun and provides foliage year round. That is, until the deer are hungry enough to strip the leaves off of this shrub. The shrub does recover fully by summer and is left alone. For this reason, I put a little 32" high wire edging fence around this shrub in the winter months to prevent deer damage. This shrub can grow quite tall and wide and does have fragrant blooms, but mine has been pruned back a few times by the deer. If I were to substitute another shrub for this one, it would be osmanthus fragrans.

Itea virginica 'Little Henry' is a deciduous shrub that likes full sun to shade and moist soil. This shrub is an adaptation of the native itea virginica. This little fellow has blooms of white spirals in the early summer. The fall foliage is a brilliant red, a great contrasting companion, with the amsonia foliage in the fall. The small scale of 'Little Henry' makes it easy to tuck this 3 x 3 foot plant into the perennial border in zones 5-9.

Each of these four plants adds a different leaf shape and texture to use in a grouping as companion plants. Since they like the same growing conditions, there's no stress on any of these plants in the same setting. Only the illicium grows large, so the smaller companions are easy to fit into a mixed border.

While all are planted in my rain garden, these plants can be grown in less wet conditions. The rain garden is the lowest point along the path in my front garden.

With the exception of winter browsing of the illicium, all of these plants are deer resistant and rabbit resistant.

Photo and story by Freda Cameron
Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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