|No matter how much we love flowers - their colour, their scent, their texture - we soon come to realize that they are fleeting and unless a plant has more to offer than just its flowers, the effect will be short-lived in our garden beds. And this is where foliage comes into play. There are many plants with wonderful foliage and just as many whose foliage is variegated in an infinite variety of ways and colours. Pick the ones that will provide the effect you want, and find suitable companions to put near them in the many suggestions below.
There are so many variegated plants on the market, we no longer have the space or the inclination to provide partnership ideas for them all. Many plants on this page will therefore simply be listed by name, with a brief description, leaving you free to do your own research with Google and Google Images or your own favourite search engine. Be sure to bookmark this page before leaving our site so you can find your way back to us again.|
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Usually listed in the Ornamental Grasses section of gardening books, Sweet Flag is not really a true grass, but does produce clumps of grassy sword-shaped foliage. All forms prefer wet, even boggy, locations. If you have a pond these will make excellent waterside plantings.
Acorus gramineus 'Ogon': Golden Variegated Sweet Flag, golden-yellow with narrow green stripe, 9"
More variegated Acorus forms include:
- Acorus calamus 'Variegatus': 30"x24", tangerine-scented foliage, cream variegation, flushed rose-pink in spring
- Acorus gramineus 'Variegatus': Variegated Sweet Flag, tangerine-scented leaves with creamy variegaton, 30"x24"
- Acorus gramineus 'Pusillus Minimus Aureus': Miniature Variegated Sweet Flag
We've all heard the warnings never to allow Goutweed into our gardens. And we've all disregarded those warnings because of the wonderful ground-covering properties of this green and white variegated plant. Its drought tolerance makes it doubly effective. So if you must grow it, be sure to place it where its spread can be restrained.
Aegopodium podagraria 'Variegatum': Goutweed, green foliage with a creamy-white margin, 4" x indefinite spread
Whether called Bugleweed or simply Bugle, these are easy-to-grow ground-covering perennials, usually with flowers in varying shades of blue or purple, sometimes white, growing in dense spikes. The foliage of many forms is plain green, letting the blooms take centre stage for a brief time. The forms below provide continued interest through the entire gardening season due to the variegation of their foliage.
Ajuga reptans 'Burgundy Glow': variegated white, pink & green foliage
Ajuga reptans 'Multicolor': 5"x18", dark green leaves with cream and pink markings
synonym: Ajuga reptans 'Rainbow'
foliage sometimes described as: bronzed, marbled with gold, purple, red and green
in shade with: Hosta, Pachysandra, ferns
Ajuga reptans 'Silver Beauty': variegated gray-green foliage edged in white
You can find information on the genus Ajuga as well as many of its various forms and suggested companions on several of our pages easily accessed with the links below.
Ajuga in shade
Ajuga with silver foliage
Yellow Foxtail Grass, originally thought hardy only to Zone 6, seems to do well into my Zone 5 gardens. Preferring meadows as well as woodlands, this cool-season grass looks lovely early in the season but may need cutting back when it starts to look shabby by mid-summer. Usually this encourages a new flush of foliage to carry the plant over into the fall.
Alopecurus pratensis 'Aureus': Golden Meadow Foxtail, yellow & green striped, 18-24"x1-2'
Another variegated form of Alopecurus to try is:
- Alopecurus pratensis 'Aureo-marginata': 9-12"x9-12", yellow to yellowish-green streaked leaves
Most forms of Rock Cress or Wall Cress have a solid green foliage colour. There are a few that are a bit bolder, thanks to a strong edging of creamy-white. If plain green shoots appear, remove them immediately or they may take over the entire plant.
Arabis ferdinandi-coburgi 'Variegata': low alpine variety, green foliage, white edges, may revert to green
You may also want to research the variegated form below.
flowers held well above foliage can be seen above, although variegation in foliage is not visible
uses: this edging perennial is wonderful hugging rock edges
Not everyone wants the variegated foliage forms of Arabis. If you are among them, check out those with solid green foliage at the links below.
- Arabis caucasica 'Variegata': 6"x6", cream-splashed green leaves.
All forms of Bulbous Oat Grass are variegated. Lovely green leaves striped with cream will "brown out" by July and need to be cut back to remove this ugly stage and prepare the scene for a fresh flush of lovely foliage to add to the enjoyment of the fall garden.
Arrhenatherum elatius var. bulbosum 'Variegatum': gray-green foliage with white margins, 20"x8"
This plant is sometimes called Cuckoo Pint and Lords and Ladies as well as Arum. Like the foliage of many woodland plants, that of the Arum is usually mottled. When it finally puts in an appearance in fall, long after the spring bloom is just a memory, it will be of considerable interest as you can imagine. Check the forms below to explore new possibilities for using this woodlander for moist, rich soil.
Arum italicum 'Pictum': 6-10"x8-12", green foliage with creamy-white leaf veins
The Reed genus, part of the Grass family, has only three species, all warm-season growers. These are generally huge architectural plants, from 10-25 feet in height. Use cautiously as an ornamental or as a screen or windbreak. Flowers can be used to wonderful effect in arrangements.
Arundo donax 'Versicolor': Striped Giant Reed, Zone 6, broad creamy-white-striped leaves
synonym: Arundo donax 'Variegata'
where: stunning grown in a pot, dramatic in a large border
foliage: variegation strongest in spring, creamy yellow in summer, fading to yellow-green at tips by fall, then beige with frost
There are many forms of Lady Fern, all with feathery-looking foliage, an appearance created by their much-divided fronds. They all make excellent ground cover plants, kept vigorous by division every few years. Most have solid green foliage, but the variegated form below is sure to enhance any shady garden situation.
Athyrium niponicum 'Pictum': Japanese Painted Fern, 18" x 24", triangle-shaped, purple-tinted, greyish-green fronds
Other Lady Ferns and information about their care and recommended companions can be found at the links below.
note: this is an essential element is every shade garden
awards: Perennial Plant Association's Perennial Plant of the Year for 2004
where: woodland or shade gardens, shady areas along ponds or streams
in shade with: Hosta, Dicentra, Aquilegia, Astilbe, Heuchera
with: Hosta 'Patriot', Hosta 'Ginko Craig', Hosta sieboldiana 'Elegans'
with: Tiarella cordifolia
between: Tiarella cordifolia 'Oakleaf' & Lamium maculatum 'Purple Dragon'
offset in front of: Hosta 'Patriot'
with: Carex i.e. C. morrowii 'Variegata' or C. siderostica 'Silver Sceptre'
with: Lamium maculatum 'Orchid Frost' or 'Purple Dragon'
with: Astilbe 'Snow Drift', Astilbe simplicifolia 'Sprite'
with: Dicentra 'King of Hearts'
Lady Fern in shade
silver foliage Lady Fern forms
A member of the Grass family, Brome or Chess, whose genus name means "oat", is made up of about 100 species, sometimes used as a pasture grass. There are few forms with ornamental value.
Try the following for wonderful yellow variegation
- Bromus inermis 'Skinner's Gold': Skinner's Gold Brome, light yellow variegation and green margins, Zone 3
A magnificent shade plant, Siberian Bugloss is like a perennial forget-me-not. Tiny blue flowers appear in mid-to-late spring above mounding heart-shaped foliage that grows from 12-18" tall. These will self-sow happily about the garden. When choosing variegated forms, try to find cultivars whose foliage does not revert to solid green.
Brunnera macrophylla 'Variegata': 18"x24", heart-shaped leaves marked creamy-white
For different variegations in Brunnera forms, some of which do not revert to solid green foliage, research those mentioned below.
Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost': distinctive silver markings on heart-shaped foliage
Brunnera macrophylla 'Langtrees': only slight variegation to mostly green foliage
Not all Siberian Bugloss forms are variegated. You will find more information about this shade-loving perennial and forms with solid foliage colour at the links below.
Siberian Bugloss in shade
Siberian Bugloss with silver foliage
A member of the Sedge family, the huge genus Carex alone has nearly 1000 species. Foliage is of prime consideration as the flowers of most forms are of little ornamental value. Cut back deciduous forms annually in spring. Evergreen forms will require only an occasional trim, in late spring, to remove old or dried foliage.
Carex morrowii 'Variegata': Silver Variegated Japanese Sedge, 18-24"x8-10"
You may want to try some of the other variegated Sedges below. The brief descriptions came from Rick Darke's Timber Press Pocket Guide to Ornamental Grasses. Alas, not all are hardy in my Zone 5 gardens.
Plain-foliaged Sedges can be just as lovely as variegated ones. If you want more ideas, follow the link below.
- Carex conica 'Snowline': 15"x24", synonyms 'Marginata', 'Variegata', white edges on deep green leaves
- Carex dolichostachya 'Kaga Nishiki': synonym 'Gold Fountains', medium green with gold edges
- Carex elata 'Aurea': 30", synonym 'Bowles Golden', yellow with longitudinal green stripes, Zone 5
- Carex morrowii var. temnolepis 'Silk Tassel': 1'x2', narrow leaves, dark green margins and white centres, Zone 5
- Carex morrowii 'Gilt': creamy-white leaf margins
- Carex morrowii 'Gold Band': creamy-yellow variegation
- Carex morrowii 'Ice Dance': creamy-white leaf margins
- Carex morrowii 'Silver Sceptre': to 12" tall, green mid-leaf and cream-white margins
- Carex muskingumensis 'Ice Fountain': bold variegation, green margins with creamy-white centres
- Carex muskingumensis 'Oehme': leaves yellow-margined in spring, turning green later on
- Carex muskingumensis 'Silberstreif': green and white variegation
- Carex nigra 'Variegata': to 12" tall, glaucous-green leaves, with a narrow light yellow variegation at margins, Zone 5
- Carex ornithopoda 'Variegata': to 8" tall, white-striped leaves
- Carex oshimensis 'Evergold': synonyms 'Aureo-variegata', 'Everbrite', 'Old Gold', 'Variegata', broad creamy-white
median strip with dark green margins
- Carex oshimensis 'Gold Strike': creamy-yellow median striped foliage
- Carex pendula 'Moonraker': creamy variegation, Zone 8
- Carex phyllocephala 'Sparkler': stunning, green centres, broad white/creamy-white margins, Zone 8
- Carex riparia 'Variegata': bold white stripes, can be invasive, Zone 6
- Carex siderosticha 'Banana Boat': bold yellow variegation, Zone 5
- Carex siderosticha 'Island Brocade': short leaves with bold cream-yelow margins on green centres, Zone 5
- Carex siderosticha 'Variegata': green with clear white stripes, Zone 6
Much reclassification has taken place within the genus Chrysanthemum. The variegated-foliage perennial form, commonly called Pacific Chrysanthemum, is now correctly called Ajania pacifica.
Chrysanthemum pacificum: Gold-and-Silver Chrysanthemum, 12-18"x15-18", gray-green white-edged foliage
for texture contrast with: foliage of Coreopsis verticillata
Fragrance in a shaded area may come from the much-loved Lily-of-the-Valley. White flowers normally dangle above solid-green foliage, but there is variegation to be found as well in this genus.
Lily-of-the-Valley with variegated foliage is available in many forms:
Are you happy with your un-variegated Lily-of-the-Valley? If so, find more information and companionship ideas at the link below.
- Convallaria majalis 'Aureo-variegata': 6-12"x9-12", green with a few narrow longitudinal stripes, may revert
- Convallaria majalis 'Variegata': 8"x12", dark green with distinct creamy stripes, little reversion, April-May
- Convallaria stricta: incredibly fragrant white bells against broad deep green foliage with rich creamy stripes
Late spring to early summer is the time the nodding Dogtooth Violet flowers appear in shades of yellow, cream, pink or white. Foliage is generally referred to as "mottled" with brown or cream. Perfect for a woodland setting in dappled shade with evenly moist soil.
Erythronium: Trout Lily (the woodland wildflower form)
Erythronium dens-canis: European Dog's Tooth Violet, 6-10"x3-4", mottled foliage
FOR MORE VARIEGATED-FOLIAGE PERENNIALS FOLLOW THE LINKS BELOW.
All of our own Gardens By The Bay pages can be accessed by clicking on the links below.
GARDEN POETRY |
GARDEN POETRY MUSE
GEORGIAN BAY VIEW
BOTANICAL LATIN - BASICS
CORNER GARDEN CONSTRUCTION  |
CORNER GARDEN PLANTING |
EAST GARDEN |
HOSTA GARDEN |
NORTH GARDEN |
BLUE PERENNIALS Aconitum -
Iris - Vinca
BULBS Allium - Hyacinthus |
Narcissus only |
Tulipa only |
BUTTERFLY MAGNETS Anaphalis - Hemerocallis |
Liatris - Veronicastrum
DAYLILIES Spider & Unusual Form
EDGERS Arabis - Iris |
Nepeta - Veronica
Alchemilla - Tanacetum
HOSTA Hosta - all
HUMMINGBIRD-FRIENDLY PERENNIALS Alcea - Salvia
ORANGE PERENNIALS Achillea - Tulipa
ORNAMENTAL GRASSES Acorus - Imperata |
Miscanthus - Spodiopogon
PINK PERENNIALS Achillea - Lilium |
Lychnis - Veronica
PURPLE PERENNIALS Aconitum - Liatris |
Polemonium - Veronica
RED PERENNIALS Achillea - Veronica
SHADE PERENNIALS Aegopodium - Erythronium |
Ferns - Polemonium |
Polygonatum - Vinca
SILVER FOLIAGE PERENNIALS
Achillea - Cerastium
Cornus - Limonium
Lunaria - Veronica
SIMPLY SPECIAL PERENNIALS Acanthus - Saxifraga
WHITE PERENNIALS Achillea - Iris |
Kalimeris - Yucca
YELLOW PERENNIALS Achillea - Hypericum |
Inula - Verbascum
VARIEGATED-FOLIAGE PERENNIALS Acorus - Erythronium |
Hakonechloa - Lysimachia |
Miscanthus - Yucca
Dianthus 'Tiny Rubies' |
Geum coccineum |
Kerria japonica |
Paeonia tenuifolia |
Papaver somniferum |
Salvia 'East Friesland'
Veronica 'Sunny Border Blue'
DIVISION - SPRING ONLY |
DIVISION - FALL ONLY |
DIVISION - SPRING OR FALL |
DO NOT DIVIDE
ORNAMENTAL GRASSES |
LOCAL GARDENS |
GARDENING BOOKS |