Saturday, April 28, 2012

Spring Foliage Combos at Olbrich

Mixed border at Olbrich in late April including barberries, roses, lamb's ears, daylilies, ajuga
Olbrich Botanical Gardens is a wonderful resource for gardeners. I hadn't been there for several years, and discovered on a recent trip that they've expanded and made quite a few improvements! On this trip I focused on seeking out pleasing spring foliage combinations. They definitely have a thing for colored foliage at Olbrich. Here were a few of my favorites:

Barberry 'Crimson Pygmy', Stachys byzantina (lamb's ears), Alchemilla mollis (lady's mantle)
I love the foliage, habit, and color variety of barberries. Purple-colored varieties like this 'Crimson Pygmy' look great with lamb's ears at their feet. There is contrast in color, leaf shape, and texture. I liked the addition of lady's mantle in this little scene - the mid-green helps bridge the sharp contrast between purple and silver, and adds yet another leaf shape.

Epimedium with Thuja occidentalis 'Hetz Midget'
This was one of my favorite combos of the day: the heart-shaped leaves of epimedium contrast with the filigree foliage of the Thuja. Both greens have an olive-chartreuse cast at this time of year.

Heuchera 'Brownie', Hosta 'Amber Tiara', Hakonechloa 'All Gold', Helleborus orientalis, Leucojum
There is so much that I love about this scene - the contrasting leaf shapes of heuchera and hakonechloa, the glowing gold against green, with a ribbon of reddish brown strung through the middle, how the the hellebore flowers highlight the purplish tones in the heuchera. I even like the wispy note added by leucojum here - a plant that's normally too "messy" looking for my taste.

Hosta 'Sun Power' with Boxwood
I found this combo of large lime-green hosta leaves and small darker green boxwood very pleasing. The hosta picks up on the color of the new growth on the boxwood.

Carex flacca and White Birch
These white birch trunks emerging from a sea of Carex flacca made a simple but wonderful woodland scene.

Dryopteris, Mertensia virginica, Podophyllum
Another woodland planting contained a jumble of ferns, Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica), and May-apple (Podophyllum). There is also some Canadian Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) in the foreground. I think it's the large-textured podophyllum foliage that keeps this combo from looking scruffy or busy.

Tree peony, Iris cristata, Japanese maple
The spiky, simple shape of Iris cristata looks great under the large, intricate tree peony leaves. (I love tree peony foliage - although some people apparently find it dull.) The Japanese maple overhead adds height and color contrast. I think this combo would look nice even when nothing is in flower.

Corydalis, Astilbe, Ligularia
I kept seeing this golden-leaved astilbe planted here and there about the place and doing a double-take - What IS that thing? OH right - a yellow astilbe! One can certainly go overboard with the yellow, but here it makes a not-too-nauseating spot of shininess among shades of green.

Petasites japonicus 'Giganteus' and golden Juniper
Petasites was a new plant for me, and it certainly made a good first impression with its large-textured leaves and funky-looking purplish spiky flowers! It was growing near a rocky stream, so may be a moisture lover. The golden juniper makes a fine companion.

I found lots of good ideas for foliage companions in my own garden - definitely a rewarding trip!


  1. Barberry and Stachys, Heuchera and gold hostas -they are wonderful combinations of colors and texture.
    Thank you for your excursion!

    1. Thank you Nedezda - I love foliage ALMOST as much as flowers! I love to visit botanical gardens to get ideas for my own yard.

  2. I really enjoyed this post. I am often looking for good foliage combinations to add to the garden. Some of these are stunning. I particularly like the Carex flacca under the birch tree...beautiful!

    1. Thank you Michelle - I also thought the little grove of birch with the carpet of carex underneath was brilliant. It created a magical, peaceful atmosphere - I wanted to just stop there and stay forever.

  3. Fabulous foliage combinations. I cant imagine why anyone would dislike the tree peony. I am pretty sure the plant to the right of the Astilbe is Ligularia tussilaginea, or one of the other varieties.

    1. I read a book by Christopher Lloyd where he called tree peonies "dull" - I have harbored a resentment against him ever since! :-) I couldn't tell which ligularia it was, and annoyingly it was not labeled. (It always seems that the plants I can recognize anyway have labels, while the mysterious ones do not!)


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