Friday, June 7, 2013

Using Variegated Plants in the Garden

Gardeners have long valued variegated plants in the garden. The usually lighter coloured variegation is used to lift blocks of solid green foliage in planting schemes. Variegation in plants is due to two quite distinct things. The first and the simplest is pigment variegation, where the non-green parts of the leaf lack chlorophyll. This form of variegation is a mutation, but one often encouraged by plant breeders. The second is structural variegation which creates a visual effect due to the reflection of light from the leaf surface. This happens when an air layer is located just under the epidermis resulting in a white reflection. Here are just a few of my favourite variegated plants and how to use them in your planting scheme.

Euonymus japonicus is a shrub worthy of any garden. Robust and hardy it is evergreen and will provide all-year-round colour in the middle of a border or provide you with a good screen. With this plant look out for what is known as green or 'reverted' shoots which should be removed or they will take over and your plant will lose its variegation. Ivy is another often under-valued favourite. Use it to disguise unsightly walls or fencing. It also provides a lovely contrast to brighter colours in a seasonal display.

Variegated varieties of hosta are often more attractive than single colour varieties. Try 'Fire and Ice', it will light up a shady corner of any garden. Pulmonarias or lungwort are a fine group of plants that provide masses of flowers in spring with blue, pink, purple and white varieties available. This plant can be herbaceous or semi-evergreen and has velvety green leaves spotted with white.

Persicaria 'Red Dragon' is a vigorous perennial grown for its spear-shaped purple-green leaves that have a bold central splash of purple colour. The Japanese painted fern is a deciduous herbaceous plant. It is one of the most colourful of ferns with its silver-grey fronds that are dusted with purple towards the centre. The leaves are set off by purplish-red veins and stems. They will tolerate partial shade and so look stunning picking up the light in dappled shade under a tree.

Finally dead nettle or lamium adds under-stated elegance to a shady area. They make superb ground cover and have nettle-like flowers of pink, purple or white in summer. They are evergreen in all but the most severe winters and so make them an excellent choice for winter garden planters teamed with winter pansies and polyanthus.

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