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)
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’
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)
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’
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’
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’
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’
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)
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‘
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)
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.
CAREX BUCHANANII (Sedge)
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)
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)
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.
ADIANTUM ALEUTICUM (Maidenhair Fern)
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’
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)
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.
HAKONECHLOA MACRA (Golden Hakonechloa)
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)
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’
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)
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)
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.
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.
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’
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.
LAMIUM GALEOBDOLON (Dead Nettle)
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’
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)
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.
PELARGONIUM (Scented-leaved 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’
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.
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
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