The Use of Leaves Plants for Containers- Add a Striking Focal Point

Carex c
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If you have a container garden, foliage adds a different dimension to your gardening display. The leaves add shape and form to a design, as well as to contrast any floral display. For example, ferns, heucheras and ivies adds texture to autumn or winter display of pansy and violas. If bronze sedges are set against bulb flowers, this will liven up any spring container.

Some leafy plants need no flower companions and will make a statement on its own, or with other plants in groups. Shrubs make excellent individual specimens, along with hosta as they produce a beautiful display of colours and shapes.

Agaves stand out alone, along with sedges and grasses.

WHAT LEAFY PLANTS CAN BE GROWN IN CONTAINERS

The following plants are recommended for their leaves. It must be noted that some of these plants actually produce flowers, and so have an added bonus, but mostly their leaves are what most people talk about. Please note unless it says so, each of these plants can be planted in a soil based compost.

ACORUS GRAMINEUS (Slender Sweet Flag)
Acorus
Acorus gramineus

A small perennial growing to 20cm high, producing grassy leaves that arches over the sides of the container.

Can be planted on its own or mixed with other leaves to form a permanent display.

AEONIUM
Aeonium
Aeonium

This evergreen succulent has upright stems of glossy purple/black leaves. It like a compost that is free flowing so mix it with grit.

The plant needs winter protection by moving it into a greenhouse or conservatory. Can grow up to 60cm in height.

AGAVE AMERICANA (Century Plant)
Agave
Agave Americana

Another tender succulent that is grown for its fleshy, lance-shaped pointed leaves.

It really needs a large container with a mix of grit and multipurpose compost. The plant prefers full sun, where it can grow up to 1.5m in height.

ASPIDISTRA ELATIOR
Aspidistra
Aspidistra elatior

This evergreen perennial has upright glossy, dark green leaves. These slow growing plants are very attractive in a large container.

It does not like cold winds and so may need to be placed in a sheltered spot. The plant grows up to 60cm in height.

BEGONIA ‘Escargot’

Escargot translates from the French as snail, which comes about from the distinct pattern (looking like a snail shell) found on the leaves. This tender plant grows up to 25cm tall, but its leaves and colours which are striking.

Begonia
Begonia escargot

The leaves are silver edged, green tinted purples, heart-shaped leaves with a coiled appearance (the snail). You can stand the container outside in summer in a sheltered, shady spot, but in winter it needs to be moved indoors.

CANNA ‘Durban’
Canna
Canna Durban

This tall perennial, growing up to 1.6m, is grown for its large paddle-shaped leaves with its vivid orange colouring. It flowers in late summer, where tall stems are produced.

These flowers are orange in colour. As with most tender plant here, it needs protection from frosts, and also needs frequent watering.

DASYLIRION ACROTRICHUM
Dasylirion acrotrichum
Dasylirion acrotrichum

This evergreen shrub is slow growing, but has slender, spear-like leaves that emerge from a central crown. The effect makes it look like a leafy sphere. The mature plant develops a trunk, topped by leaves.

As it is almost tree-like, it will need a large container full of a compost mixed with grit. Not totally winter hardy and so will benefit from some winter protection.

DICHONDRA ARGENTEA (Silver Ponyfoot) ‘Silver Falls
Dichondra
Dichondra argentea

This trailing silver stem perennial grows to 50cm long. Its leaves are rounded, shiny, silvery green. It tends to be planted in hanging baskets and window boxes. Be warned that it is quick growing and can swamp other plants.

HELICHRYSUM PETIOLARE (Liquorice Plant)
Helichrysum
Helichrysum petiolare

This shrub often grown as an annual has grey-green leaves that trail on long stems. This compact plant of 15cm in length is ideal for mixed containers and window boxes. If you protect the container then the plant can be overwintered.

HEUCHERA ‘Amber Waves’
amber waves
Heuchera amber waves

This small evergreen clump-forming perennial has vivid orange-yellow leaves that are lobed. This plant, therefore, provides both colour and texture. It does flower in summer, bearing tiny white blooms. This variety grows up to 30cm high. Other varieties exist that have green, silver or purple coloured leaves.

IPOMOEA BATATAS  (Sweet Potato Vine) ‘Blackie’
Blackie
Ipomoea batatas

This plant often grown as an annual, has trailing stems of deeply, lobed, ivy-shaped, blackish leaves. As it only grows to 25cm tall, then it can be used in window boxes and hanging baskets. Looks stunning when mixed with other brightly coloured plants.

PERSICARIA MICROCEPHALA ‘Red Dragon
Red Dragon
Persicaria microcephala

This perennial has a spreading habit that has heart-shaped, reddish green leaves with silver and bronze marking. The 70cm plant would appreciate a large container of multipurpose compost. Tiny insufficient flowers are produced in midsummer.

PHORMIUM (New Zealand Flax)  ‘Bronze Baby
Bronze baby
Phormium bronze baby

This evergreen perennial has an upright structure of dark bronze leaves, which provide interest for all year round. This plant grows to 60cm tall, but it can be grown as a specimen plant in soil based compost. It is a tender plant and will appreciate protection from the cold.

PLECTRANTHUS MADAGASCARIENSIS (Mintleaf)
Mintleaf
Plectranthus madagascariensi

This small evergreen shrub is often grown as an annual. It has lobed, green leaves but a variegated form exists. It can be mixed with other plants to form outstanding displays. The plant grows to 30cm high but would need the growing shoots to be pinched out to promote bushiness.

SENECIO MACROGLOSSUS ‘Variegatus
Senecio
Senecio macroglossus

Very few climbers have leaves of interest but this is one of them. It is a tender trailing, ivy-like, yellow edged, dark green leaves. This 3m long plant would appreciate being trained up a support or if you choose, you can let it trial on the ground. The plant needs a large pot of compost but is only flowers sparingly.

TOLMIEA MENZIESII (Pick a Back Plant)
Tolmiea
Tolmiea menziesii

A semi-evergreen perennial with textured, green, ivy-shaped leaves. It contrasts so well in hanging baskets and other displays. It grows up to 60 cm in height.

THE CAREXS

CAREX BUCHANANII (Sedge)
Carex b
Carex buchananii

This evergreen perennial has grass-like copper coloured leaves that turn increasingly redder towards the base of the plant. This 60cm tall perennial are suitable to grow in summer and winter displays, especially in hanging baskets, with the leaves hanging over the container.

CAREX COMANS (New Zealand Sedge)
Carex c
Carex comans

This grass-like sedge has an arching, hair-like, copper brown leaves. It is great for containers, as this 35cm high plant leaves cascades over the edge, making it look spectacular. The plant looks good in winter and gives a good display.

CAREX OSHIMENSIS (Ornamental Sedge)
Carex o
Carex oshimensis

This perennial has glossy, arching, dark green leaves with creamy stripes. This small plant that grows to 20cm high, is useful as a summer and winter container display. It needs protection from cold winds and needs watering in summer.

THE FERNS

ADIANTUM ALEUTICUM (Maidenhair Fern)
Adiantum
Adiantum aleuticum

This 45cm semi-evergreen fern has small pale green, branching fronds, clothed with tiny leaves. They prefer to be grown in the shade, on its own or mixed with other leaves.

ASPARAGUS DENSIFLORUS (Foxtail Fern) ‘Myersii’
Asparagus
Asparagus Densiflorus

These tender ferns have fine, lacy leaves that have a plume-like appearance. It likes light shade but needs winter protection. It is a tall fern that can grow up to 1m in height.

ATHYRIUM NIPONICUM (Japanese Painted Fern)
athyrium
Athyrium niponicum

This small fern grows up to 30cm high. It has deeply cut, light green leaves, with purple and silver highlights. It needs a large container to survive and is also a thirsty plant, so water well in summer. It is not totally hardy and so would need protection in winter.

THE GRASSES

HAKONECHLOA MACRA (Golden Hakonechloa)
Hakonechloa
Hakonechloa Macra

This deciduous grass is grown for its green and yellow striped leaves. This slow growing perennial has an elegant trailing habit, where it can grow to 40cm high, Its red-brown flower spikes appear in early autumn, where they last well into winter. In order to succeed it need a large container.

LEYMUS ARENARIUS (Lyme Grass)
Leymus
Leymus arenarius

This vigorous upright grass with long, silver, bluish leaves, forms a clump in summer from which a tall flower stems emerge and persists into autumn, This 1.5m perennial should be grown in a large pot of gritty compost and be aware as it readily self-seeds. To stop this remove spent flowers before the seeds emerge.

OPHIOPOGON PLANISCAPUS  (Black Mondo Grass)  ‘Nigrescens’
plansicapus
Ophiopogon planiscapus

This black leaved grass is ideal for using in bedding or as a permanent feature. It bears purple/pink flower clusters in summer. It is a small grass, as it only grows to 23cm tall, and therefore can be planted with other brightly coloured plants.

PANICUM VIRGATUM (Switch Grass)
panicum
Panicum virgatum

This deciduous clump-forming grass has an upright habit. It grows quite tall for a grass reaching a height of 1m. The leaves are green, which turn yellow in autumn. They are of interest for a long period of time. In summer, a pink-tinged flower can be observed.

STIPA TENUISSIMA (Mexican Feather Grass)
Stipa
Stipa tenuissma

This clump-forming grass can reach 60cm with its fine green leaves, and its feathery summer flower heads. It will benefit by growing as a specimen plant in a soil based compost.

THE HOSTAS

HOSTA ‘June’
june
Hosta june

This is grown for its large blue-green leaves that are marked with pale green flashes. The crown is very dense and it bears short-lived flowers in summer. It tends to be used as a specimen plant in a large container of soil based compost. It grows to 38cm high.

HOSTA ‘Revolution’
Hosta r
Hosta Revolution

This perennial has cream and dark green leaves that will add colour to a shady area of your container garden. This 50cm plant grown well in soil based compost. The short-lived flowers of mauve colour should be removed quickly, once the flower has been spent.

HOSTA ‘So Sweet’
Hosta s
Hosta so sweet

This perennial has dark green, textured leaves with irregular pale yellow edges. As with all container grown hostas it appreciates being the only specimen in a large pot, where soil based compost has been added. This 35cm plant can be grown in the shade of tall plants. All hostas are slugs and snails favourite food, and so would need protection from this pest.

THE NETTLES

LAMIUM GALEOBDOLON (Dead Nettle)
lamium
Lamium galeobdolo

This evergreen perennial has nettle-like silver variegated leaves, where it can grow to a height of 60cm. In summer it bears yellow flowers but the leaves are the main focal point. Can be used in summer and winter displays in containers.

SOLENOSTEMON SCUTELLARIOIDES  (Flame Nettle) ‘Black Prince’
Black prince
Black Prince

This bushy perennial has large toothed, dark purple leaves. It is often treated as an annual but can be grown by itself or mixed with other plants in summer hanging baskets. This plant can grow up to be 50cm high but would require pinching the growing tip in order to encourage the plant to bush out, and also to stop it flowering.

SOLENOSTEMON SCUTELLARIOIDES  (Flame Nettle)
soleno
Solenostemon scutellarioide

This strikingly beautiful bushy perennial is often grown as an annual. The plant leaves are spear-shaped with pinks, reds, greens, and yellows in their leaves. This plant requires a large container and prefers to be grown on its own. As with the other flame nettle, you will need to pinch out the growing tips to promote bushiness and to stop the insignificant flowers. It can reach a height of 45cm.

PELARGONIUMS

PELARGONIUM  (Scented-leaved Pelargonium) ‘Lady Plymouth’
Pelargonium
Pelargonium Lady Plymouth

This small evergreen perennial grows up to 40cm in height. The plant has scented lobed, silver margined green leaves. It also produces pink blooms in summer but needs undercover protection in winter.

PELARGONIUM ‘Royal Oak’
Royal Oak
Pelargonium Royal oak

This bushy evergreen perennial is grown for it lobed, crinkled, dark green leaves. This delightful plant has a habit of that the leaves develop crimson central flashes as they age. Royal oak grows to 38cm in height and produces simple, pink flowers in summer. The plant grows well in window boxes or hanging baskets. It contrasts bright coloured flowers well.

CONCLUSIONS

In this article, various plants that give leave interest in containers have been discussed. What can be observed is that there are quite a few, offering different colour, leaf shape, trailers and type. You can use grasses, sedges, nettles, hostas and many other type of plants in your container garden. No matter what type of container garden you have, there is a leafy plant for you

If you have a comment or any questions, please leave a comment below.

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20 thoughts on “The Use of Leaves Plants for Containers- Add a Striking Focal Point”

  1. I was looking for a way to make my home garden stand out, and you’ve really given me some useful tips here. I will make use of these tips in designing my garden this spring. I love the flowers you’ve mentioned,now my head is buzzing with a lot of ideas on what to do.

    Thanks for sharing,

    kind regards

    1. Hi Louis

      Your kind words have left me speechless.  My articles are written in order to help people to beautify therir patio, balaconies, and window boxes.   No matter if you have little room outside or inside, then there is a plant for you.

      Thanks

      Antonio

  2. This is an educative and an informative article that open my eye to the use of leaves plants for containers which add a striking focal point. I really commend the efforts behind this wonderful research. I haven’t try it before. I will adopt this style for flowers in my garden. Thanks

    1. Hi Topazdude

      The aim of container gardening is to strike a balance of beauty in a limited space.  It can be very productive to the eyes and to the stomach.

      Thank you

      Antonio

  3. Hi there

    This is really one of the most educating posts I have ever seen in planting. I totally agree with almost everything you have said in this post. I remember how much my mum likes planting the Agave Americana plant inside a big bowl and it germinates very beautifully. But I didn’t understand the reason until now that I’m reading this post. I love the look of that Carex Oshimensis. Thanks for this info

    1. Thanks Kehine

      The reason I write these articles is to help people to understand the beauty of getting the plants right in the right containers.  If you achieve this then it would look very striking and other people will be talking about it.

      Antonio

  4. Thanks for writing this article on the use of leaves plants for containers. I find every part of this article useful. It so informative and educative.you really do well in this article,before Now I already planted Century Plant in a container in my back yard and it grow as I aspect but over time I have been looking for another plant to plant in such a way.i choose from the ones in this article and I hope to get good result from it as the century plant I have at my backyard 

    1. Hi ajibola40

      The good thing about container gardening is that you can continually add to them, by adding new pots and plants.  When you get fed up it is very easy to re-arrange, as long as you got the muscles to move heavy pots.  It is like redecorating a room to your own taste.  I am glad you found the article useful and it has given to you new ideas on what to use in your back yard.

      Thanks

      Antonio

  5. I’ve had problems cleaning my leaves until I found a way to get great tips on these recommendations. My job was to rub a bit of mayo with a paper towel on the leaves, then sit and see them glowing for weeks. A milk and water mix can also be used to keep the leaves shiny, so do not be afraid to rub on them after cleaning them.

    1. Hi Michelle

      That is a very good tip to get shiny leaves to remain shiny without using a leaf shine spray.  I have been taught something which I have never heard before. Proves in gardening you never stop learning.

      Thanks

      Antonio

  6. This is an informative and educative article. Many of the listed plants surprises me as I always think they can’t be planted in container especially AEONIUM
    This evergreen succulent has upright stems of glossy purple/black leaves. It like a compost that is free flowing so mix it with grit. The plant needs winter protection by moving it into a greenhouse or conservatory. Can grow up to 60cm in height. Thank you for enlighten me!

    1. Hi Jay

      Yes, it is very surprising what plants can be grown in containers but the one you highlighted is a real beauty.  It will make any container garden very striking, as the dark leaves will contrast brightly coloured plants very well.

      Thank you

      Antonio

  7. We don’t have a garden like this, but we know somebody who has it, since he doesn’t have a lot fo space. We will show this to him I love the good explained guide you gave, so I’m pretty sure he thinks the same about it. Thanks a lot for sharing this with us! 

    1. Hi Emmanuel

      Many people get interested in gardening by using containers, as the beauty is that it does not require much space at all.  You can grow plants which are edible or inedible, so in fact, it can be pleasing to the eye and stomach.

      Thanks

      Antonio

  8. Nice one Anthonio. I have an interest in farming and I practice container farming in my small backyard garden. However, unlike yours which are leaves, I practice vegetable container farming. These leaves look awesome inside the container. I like to see things from a business perspective, Can you please share more details on some of these leaves in your post that are medicinal and the illnesses that treat?  

    1. Hi Tolu

      Thank you for your comments and I really appreciate words from a fellow gardener.  All these leaves mentioned in the article are inedible but are there to produce a striking focal point for the garden.  I am in the process of writing articles concerning growing herbs in containers and growing vegetables.  Look out on the website for these.

      Antonio

  9. Hi Antonio Pachowko, it is very nice reading your review about how to Use of Leaves Plants for Containers, they are source of environmental beautification, its worth my time reading this article, i learn about new plants in this post, this makes it very educative, the post also open my eye to alot of things that i can use grasses, sledges, nettles, hostas and many other type of plants in my container garden, thank you for this article. i want to know more about plants i have bookmarked your website for more updates.

    1. Hi boluwagg

      Thank you for those kind words.  The aim of the article was to highlight that not only flowers look good in containers, but also plants with interesting leaves.  This includes shape and colour differences that really stick out in a container display.

      Thank you

      Antonio

  10. Hi, Antonio. I didn’t know there were so many wonderful plants that can be planted in containers out there especially the leaves type. The plant Senecio Macroglossus ‘Variegatus’ looks very interesting to beautify my garden with a little bit of flowers around. May I know if the seeds can be bought online? Thanks.

    1. Thanks for your reply rmjia

      Yes, there are many types of plants that are grown for there leaves instead of the flowers.  Senecio is better bought as a plant from a reputed supplier.

      Thanks You 

      Antonio

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