Golden Goddess Bamboo hedge and Kale

Plant Combinations: Foliage Plants

by / 41 Comments / 772 View / February 23, 2010

Shirley has been a busy girl these days!

I'm designing landscapes in Los Angeles, producing and hosting an  online garden TV talk show, the"Garden World Report," and I have a new venture I'm kicking off today!

I was invited to participate along with a group of  very talented garden designers from North America and the UK  in a "Garden Designer's Roundtable."

Lucky me!


Once a month, designers from the group will be blogging about a common garden design theme on the same day!

This month's Garden Designer's Roundtable focus:


Foliage and Texture

It's a great opportunity to gain insight on how professional designers approach different elements in a landscape from a regional perspective.


Why Focus on Plant Foliage and Texture?

I'm so glad you asked.



plants with varying texture create a dynamic garden

Starting from above: spiller, Lotus berthelotii, succulent Echeveria imbricata wedged in the crevice, "explosive" Festuca glauca  grass and creeping Sedum  reflexum 'Angelina' below


The photo above exemplifies the appeal of a garden that relies on foliage and texture to dazzle the eye instead of flowers.

Study that photo and note how each plant contrasts and compliments the other plants.


When you consider that this plant combination performs year-round, you will also become a fan of foliage/texture plant combinations.

Plants that provide interesting foliage and texture bring "value to the garden" and look their most handsome in each other's company!

(Kind of like when a group of good looking people hang out together, even the least attractive person's appeal quotient moves up a notch!).



Let's break down why this type of plant combination works.

The silver/gray foliage of the Lotus berthlotii ('Parrot's beak") glistens throughout the seasons and sports a hot, red, orange or bright yellow flower in summer, just to prove it can go "the extra mile" in showmanship.


The truth it, I'm only "using" the Lotus for it's beautiful foliage.

The flowers are nice too, but if it didn't bloom at all, I would still plant it for the "dewy" look it contributes to the garden.

The perfectly formed Echeveria rosette  retains  it's sculptural shape at all times and softens crags and crevices like it's nobody's business.



Festuca ornamental grass


How about the "POW" of the spiky, yet soft, gray Festuca grass?

Festuca with it's wild blades acts as a rebellious foil to the perfectly behaved Echeveria that dares not morph out of shape- ever!

Don't you feel like  patting it's fine, puffy blades?


Last but not least, the chartreuse-colored Sedum 'Angelina' rounds out the chiaroscuro play of light and dark plants.

The Sedum in this case is the "bright shadow" underneath the rock.

Relying on foliage and texture in the garden ensures that your garden looks great "most of the time" rather than the short period when flowers are in bloom.



Check out some of my gardens where foliage and texture plants dominate.


There may be no flowers on this hillside, but there is a lot of color- all the time!


Designer Tip:

Set out plants before planting in their containers and observe how the foliage interacts with the sunlight.

A well back lit ornamental grass will seem to glow in your garden.


Ornamental grasses come in colors ranging from gold to reds to blues and black and variegated blade colors.



This hillside features contrasting textures, foliage color and leaf shapes.



Three plants that look interesting together


Magnolia 'Little Gem' sports a two-tone glossy green leaf on one side and burgundy leaf on the opposite side.

The cool blue oat grass, Helictotrichon sempervirens offers a soft, unstructured understory and contrasting color.


The leaves of the lime-green fig tree look as though they have been hand-stenciled.

There is so much detail going on in this plant composition and each element compliments the next.


This is what a dynamic garden is all about!



The pond and water garden in my yard has been designed around the sun pattern.


Some of the plants are placed in the perfect spot  for maximum effect from back lighting and others to benefit from front lighting.

 This is my garden at sundown.



Another example of a few well chosen foliage plants that  have a synergistic effect on each other.


The vivid-fushia and silver colored leaves of the Kale plant in the forefront echo the pearl-like iridescence of the potted Echeveria in the back.

The back lit 'Golden Goddess' bamboo sets the stage for all three plants.

So simple, yet so dramatically beautiful.


I hope you enjoyed the foray into plant foliage and texture in my gardens.

"Leaf" me a comment! ( I couldn't help myself).


Please follow the Garden Designer's Roundtable and visit all of the blogs listed here that are writing about "Foliage and Texture!"

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA »
Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA »
Debbie Roberts : Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT »
Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA »
Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO
Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX »
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip in the Garden : Los Altos, CA

41 Comment

  1. […] always looking for new ways to display plants in the landscape or in container gardens. When your "day job" is as a garden designer,  it's par […]

  2. Thanks Tobi for dropping in and commenting. Appreicate the support. What kind of landscaping do you do?

  3. Great information as usual Shirley. I love the colors and textures. Keep up the great work!

  4. Thanks for dropping by Tom and for leaving a comment. Lighting is one of the essential factors I consider when designing my garden. As a matter of fact, it dictates my plant selection for a given area as much as possible.

  5. Hi Shirley, we’re a garden related company from over in the UK & spotted your blog this morning. Fantastic entry and images! We really like the lighting consideration point and your comparison to a group of attractive people is fantastic! We’ll use that one! Tom UK

  6. […] The Art Garden: Denver, CO Rebecca Sweet at Gossip in the Garden: Los Altos, CA Shirley Bovshow at Eden Makers: Los Angeles, […]

  7. aloha,

    thank you for sharing this post, you present this topic very well. i loved the first photo…wow beautiful rocks, amazing succulents and colorful grasses, what more do you need!

    i’ve enjoyed reading your post today 🙂

  8. Wow, loving all the textures, grate post.

  9. Hello Shirley,
    What a wonderful post and I am really tickled pink, blue, charteuse, green etc that designers are focusing on foliage. Its all around us in the natural landscape so I guess its understandable it can be overlooked. I think a wide pallete of foliage plants in many forms is so important for improving urban planting density and giving folks options on shape, colour, form etc. Its been my obsession as a nurseryman for many years and I just love coming accross a new shape, colour, texture or even scent of foliage plant to play with and test to see how they can fit into the garden designers pallete. Of course I do like flower but after the flush of flower I am looking for more long term interest. A plant can be like a conversation with your surropundings, its good to talk about the exciting things but its even better to find excitment in ones every day chatter. This is the first time I have come across a group of garden designers actually focusing on the conversation of foliage.I am delighted to see that at last some recognition for our less floriferous plant acquaintances.


  10. Hi Jessica,
    Thanks for visiting Eden Makers and commenting. I do have a challenging “pill bug” problem in my veggie garden. These punks are supposed to feed on decaying matter, but they want to take down my delicious veggies! I’m using Sluggo on them and it helps a lot. I’ll check out your link.

  11. I love the textures! And I wish Parrot’s Beak would grow well here because the flowers are so fabulous.

    However, I could duplicate that look here fairly easily with some creeping Dalea greggii, a small agave (Agave victoriae-reginae), one of the small Muhlenbergias or other native grasses and maybe one of the Euphorbias.

  12. Great post! I am IN LOVE with the backlit photo of your water garden – it takes real talent to create such a thoughtful composition.

    You know, I use Magnolia ‘Little Gem’ and blue oat grass all the time and never would have thought to combine the two or treat the Little Gem as an espalier. I love it when a dose of inspiration comes with a few new plant combo ideas!

  13. Shirley, do you have to worry about insects when gardening in LA? I live on the east coast and we get them bad in the spring and especially summer. I found some organic insect spray while searching online and want to see what you recommend.

  14. Hi Carolyngail,
    How are you? You do have beautiful gardens and your blog is so well designed. Great taste!

    I’m with you regarding foliage, they “make” the garden and provide the drama year-round.

  15. Hi Pam,
    Thanks for visiting. I haven’t tried any special effects with the Agave americana, but sounds like a great idea. What a plant!

  16. How lovely, Shirley. I feel the true beauty of a garden is when there are no flowers and the foliage provides the interest. In small urban gardens such as mine its even more important and I’ve managed to create a long season of interest with the contrast and texture foliage provides.

  17. Shirley, I love planting for backlighting too, so I’m crazy for that ‘Golden Goddess’ bamboo picture especially. Muhlenbergia dumosa is one of my favorite grasses for lighting effects, and even some agaves (like variegated A. Americana) will glow in the evening light.

  18. Hi Kylee,
    Boy we are in communication a lot these days! Thanks for dropping in and for commenting. I love interacting with my friends at Eden Makers! Drop in any time, I’ve got lot’s of stuff to inspire you with.

  19. Hi Eliza,
    Can you use the lotus as an annual in a container? It may be worth placing somewhere in your garden, it’s so beautiful. Ok, so I do love the flowers just as much as the foliage. I just appreciate the year-round performance of the foliage.

  20. Thanks Scott and welcome to Eden Makers! So you are a stone lover too? Stone adds character to a landscape and is definitely part of the combo. I really enjoyed all the posts today. Thanks again for your leadership.

  21. Hi Debbie,
    Thanks for the compliment! I basically write as I speak…lot’s of exclamation points, (unfortunately) because I’m so enthusiastic. I come up with weird analogies all the time-stick around.

    Where do you garden? I LOVE blue fescue for edging, accents, all kinds of uses. How about you?

  22. Shirley, I’m drooling over that first photo! I love foliage, and also stone. That is an amazing combo. Ditto what Rebecca said, letting the reader know why things work is tremendous, and you do it well, along with creating stunning combinations! Great post!

  23. Ooh, thanks for the inspiration. I really need to think of a native (to the east coast) alternative for that Lotus berthlotii you used. I freely admit it is the flowers that drew me in over the (also lovely) foliage. 🙂

  24. Rebecca took the words right out of my mouth. I’m a lover of foliage, maybe even more so than flowers, especially in shade, which is a good thing, since there aren’t as many flowers that do well in shade vs. sun.

    Beautiful combos here and great breakdowns. As one who is weak in the design department, I appreciate this!

  25. Shirley,

    I love your writing style, comparing a group of foliage plants to a group of attractive people is hysterical. I enjoyed seeing how you use blue fescue in your designs. It is also one of my favorite grasses, it holds its own in any vignette.

  26. […] Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA » Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA » Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA » Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX » Rebecca Sweet : Gossip in the Garden : Los Altos, CA » Shirley Bovshow : Eden Makers : Los Angeles, CA » […]

  27. Good eye girlfriend! I should have mentioned that, but now you have and the story is complete! Thanks for visiting and for commenting. Hope all is well with you. See you in Chicago at IGC?

  28. Okay Ivette, time for the mutual appreciation society to rear its nauseating head! First of all, thanks for the compliment.
    I enjoy your work and we do seem to enjoy some of the same plants. You crack me up and I was entertained and informed by your blog post on “foliage!”
    Hope to see you in SFFG show.

  29. I’m surprised you didn’t also mention how the color of the Festuca echoes the color of the Echeveria and how the form of the Lotus foliage echoes the form of the Sedum. It’s a perfect grouping.

  30. Hi Andrew-
    I’m an “analogy” kind of person and so is Ivette!
    The “Little Gem” I have planted in my client’s house is being trained against the wall as an espaliered tree. Have you seen that done with these trees? It looks awesome.
    Love your blog name by the way- very “gutsy!”
    Now go “smackdown” some other blogs!

  31. Great post, Shirley! I love “Kind of like when a group of good looking people hang out together, even the least attractive person’s appeal quotient moves up a notch!” — ha!

    This analogy meshes very well with Ivette’s plants-as-high-schoolers analogy.

    I love seeing Magnolia ‘Little Gem’ in the context you’ve shown here! It’s a great little tree I’ve mostly only seen in lawn islands in suburban Southeast yards.

  32. Shirley, your work shows some of the BEST stuff we can do here in Los Angeles! I think we are so lucky that we have a huge foliage palette to work with, and you so smartly engage with all of it. Your textures and colors are beautiful – and way to break it down. this is why you DOMINATE! Information to the Nation is your motto, Girlfriend!
    Thanks for the great post!

  33. Hi Jenny,
    Thanks for mentioning that point- I meant to write about that and forgot. Now it’s official!
    Contrast and texture can include not only foliage but the landscape elements as well.

  34. Thanks Jocelyn. I’m a sucker for great lighting. If it can make people look good, imagine what it can do in the garden!!!

  35. Clever of you, Shirley, to bring the aspect of light into the discussion. Incorporating foliage that is backlit or has a glossy texture is like adding little spotlights to the garden. Work it!

  36. Thanks Rebecca. I love to share information!

  37. I love the contrast of the foliage on the boulders as well as the stucco wall, not only with their surrounding plants! It’s a technique I use, too. Beautiful!

  38. Great post, Shirley. I just love it when a designer not only shows a beautiful photograph, but breaks it DOWN, showing why it does or does not work. Beautifully written and helpful to many, I’m sure!

  39. […] Shirley Bovshow with Eden Maker’s Blog […]

  40. […] Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA » Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA » Debbie Roberts : Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT » Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA » Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX » Rebecca Sweet : Gossip in the Garden : Los Altos, CA » Shirley Bovshow : Eden Makers : Los Angeles, CA » […]

  41. […] Penick : Digging : Austin, TX » Rebecca Sweet : Gossip in the Garden : Los Altos, CA » Shirley Bovshow : Eden Makers : Los Angeles, CA » Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Foliage […]

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