Garden Color Without Flowers
July 30, 2004
  • /Crop Sciences
July 30, 2004

URBANA--When most home gardeners contemplate ensuring color in their gardens, thoughts turn more often than not to flowers. Yet, the color provided by flowers is fleeting when compared to the leaves of many plants, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"If you utilize plants that have colorful leaves, you'll have color in your garden all the time as opposed to just when the flowers are in bloom," explained Greg Stack, who is based in the Chicago area. "You can build a whole garden around plants with colorful foliage rather than flowers."

Home gardeners can go to a U of I Extension website, "Fantastic Foliage," at: , part of the "Hort Corner section of the Urban Programs Resource Network at:

"There are many plants that are excellent choices for garden colors," said Stack. "These include annuals, hardy perennials, and even tropicals that are all suitable for this use."

The "Fantastic Foliage" website includes pictures of these and other plants, including some that may not be well known.

"We want home gardeners to understand that there are lots of choices out there," he said.

Tropical plants as a color option may not be the first to occur to midwestern gardeners' minds, but Stack points out the advantages.

"When we think of colorful foliage, we naturally think of tropical plants," Stack explained. Tropicals with colorful leaves sustain the garden because of their alluring and dramatic colors, which never wane.

"Many of these are termed “tender perennials” and need to be brought indoors for the winter in cold climates, such as those in the upper Midwest, in order to be used for planting the following season. However, one should not overlook the many annuals, hardy perennials, trees and shrubs that offer the benefit of colorful foliage and can be incorporated into the garden as seasonal favorites or long-term residents."

The site includes a directory of plants that are suitable for color-providing foliage as well as guidelines for their use.

Stack plans to build an entire garden, entitled "Tropical Punch," on the concept of color provided by plants for the March 2005 Chicago Garden Show

"People always want color and appreciate unique and unusual colors," he said. "We'll provide that by incorporating the use of tropicals around annual flowers as a border which accents and highlights those flowers."