Mixing Foliage Colors in a Mixed Border


Flowers are not the only sources of color in mixed borders. Foliage adds its own dimension. Sometimes the added color can come from variegated leaves that mix green and white. In other instances dramatic differences, like purple-bronze foliage mingled with green, provides contrast. Yellow-green leaves can lighten dark spaces, and beige-apricot leaves, like those of "Caramel" coral bells (Heuchera "Caramel"), hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 8, lend long-lasting color.


  • A pop of dark color -- dark purple or bronze purple, creates an instant focal point among green-leafed plants in a mixed border. The Black Lace-trademarked cultivar of black elder (Sambucus niger "Eva" Black Lace) features deeply dissected leaves, reminiscent of Japanese maple, in a shade of purple that is almost black. Hardy in USDA zones 4 through 7, the shrub also features pink flowers. Another shrub with dark leaves is the Midnight Wine-trademarked "Elvera" weigela (Weigela "Elvera" Midnight Wine"), a compact shrub that is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9. The purple-black leaves become even darker in the fall.

Bulbs and Tubers

  • Most plants grown from spring-blooming bulbs do not feature colorful foliage, but some tulips enrich mixed borders with their leaves long before blooms appear. Greigii tulips (Tulipa greigii), hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8, feature green leaves boldly striped in purple. Later in the growing season, dahlia varieties, grown from tubers, add foliage color to the garden mix. The red-flowered dahlia "Bishop of Llandaff" (Dahlia "Bishop of Llandaff"), hardy in USDA zones 7 through 10 and grown as an annual elsewhere, features near-black stems and foliage that make a dramatic contrast with the bright flowers.


  • Variegated blue flag iris (Iris pallida "variegata"), hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9, creates an eye-catching contrast with its green-leafed iris relatives in the mid- to late spring garden. The long, strap-like leaves are green striped with cream. To achieve a similar color effect at the fronts of sunny beds and borders, plant variegated cranesbill (Geranium macrorrhizum "Variegatum"), hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8. The plants shine in shades of medium green with cream markings. As a bonus, the leaves often turn red in the fall.


  • In shady borders, color combinations bring light and visual interest. Create a tapestry, starting with several Japanese painted ferns (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum), hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8 and featuring swirls of silvery green foliage accented with red ribs. Calm things down and add textural contrast with the cool green of narrow-leaved hosta (Hosta lancifolia), also hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8, and the lightness of one of the golden-green coral bells, like "Citronelle" (Heuchera "Citronelle"), hardy in USDA zones 4 through 8.

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