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Colourful Foliage

Colourful Foliage Plants

Flowers come and go, but for most plants in the garden, leaves remain throughout the year. Choose plants with colour in the leaves, and you will be adding colour to the garden for the whole year.

It’s surprising how many different colours can be found in foliage, if you take the time to look. We often don’t notice their potential effect, because plants with coloured foliage are frequently mixed in with green foliage, and as a result the effect is lost.

Ways to Use Coloured Foliage

1. Colour theme gardens where foliage is used in harmony or in contrast. Combinations you can use include white, silver and gold; cool coloured (blue, purple, green) or hot coloured (red, orange, pink, yellow) flowers and foliage.

2. Mass plantings of coloured foliage can create a significant splash amongst green plants.

3. Hedging – using a single foliage colour, or two or more foliage colours to create a tapestry effect.

A plant’s foliage colour may change throughout the year, depending on the season or the stage of growth. In some plants the best foliage colours are the new growth flushes in spring, and also perhaps early autumn.

Give the plant optimal care (ie. fertilising, watering, trimming, and the right position in sun or shade) and it will reward you with more intensely coloured, healthy foliage.

Plants with Colourful Foliage


Aucuba japonica ‘Gold Dust’ – a hardy medium shrub with yellow leaf markings; good for shady areas

Buxus sempervirens ‘Aurea’ – small shrub with yellow-green foliage, often used for hedging in cool climates

Euonymus japonica ‘Aureo Marginata’ – upright medium shrub with yellow leaf margins

Duranta ‘Sheena’s Gold – shrub with lime green foliage; best in full sun

Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’ (Golden Marjoram) – groundcover herb with small gold leaves; needs good drainage and full sun

Thymus ‘Aureus’ (Golden Thyme) – groundcover with small gold-coloured leaves; needs full sun and good drainage


Artemisia sp. (Wormwood) – low spreading shrubs with aromatic grey foliage; grow in full sun; needs trimming to maintain shape

Cerastium tomentosum (Snow-in-Summer) – low-growing plant with silver foliage and small white flowers; fast-growing in full sun

Echium candicans (Pride of Madeira) – spreading shrub with whorls of silvery leaves; also has showy blue flowers; grow in full sun

Lavandula spp. (Lavender) – popular small shrubs with grey-green foliage; needs good drainage and full sun

Leuchophyta brownii (Cushion Bush) – small native shrub with wiry silver branches; full sun and good drainage

Picea pungens ‘Koster’ – silver-blue conifer for cold climates

Santolina chamaecyparissus (Lavender Cotton) – small neat shrub with silver foliage and yellow button flowers; full sun

Stachys byzantina (Lambs’ Ears) – fast-growing hardy groundcover with furry silver leaves; best in full sun


Acalypha wilkesiana var. – small to medium shrubs for warm climates with reddish/purple leaves; needs full sun for good colour

Ajuga reptans var. – groundcovers with rosettes of bronze or purple leaves; good for damp soil

Cotinus coggyria ‘Purpurea’ (Purple Smoke Bush) – deciduous tall shrub with purple foliage, most intense foliage colour in autumn

Dodonea viscosa ‘Purpurea’ (Purple Hop Bush) – narrow medium shrub with purple leaves; full sun

Leptospermum ‘Copper Sheen’ – low spreading shrub with copper foliage; full sun

Nandina domestica ‘Nana’ – small shrub with crimson-red foliage in autumn and winter; full sun

Phormium tenax ‘Purpurea’ – tall strap-leaved perennial; good for dry or seaside conditions

Photinia glabra ‘Rubens’ – large shrub with flushes of bright red leaves; good medium-tall hedge

Pittosporum teniufolium ‘Tom Thumb’ – small dense shrub; older foliage turns reddish-brown


Codiaeum variegatum var. pictum (Croton) – upright fast-growing plants for warm climates with showy coloured foliage; best in full sun in a protected position

Coleus – small herbaceous plant with many leaf colours and patterns; good for shady areas

Cordyline terminalis var. (Dracaena) – upright plants with strappy brightly coloured foliage; subtropics and tropics; best colours in shade

Echiveria spp. – succulent low-growing plants; full sun

Hosta spp. – small-growing plants with large variegated leaves in gold, silver, blue and many shades of green; best in shade and moist soil

Sedum spp. – hardy small succulents with colourful leaves; full sun and well-drained soil

What is Variegation?

Variegation is often caused by a virus. Nutrient deficiencies and insect attack can also cause variegation. If an entire shoot reverts to green, it is often a virus-free shoot. Cut the shoot out to retain the variegated effect. Also watch the zinc levels – high levels of zinc in the plant may inhibit the virus and help turn the plant back to green.

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