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American Society of Landscape Architects


September 2006 Issue

High-Impact Foliage
Hardy herbaceous perennials with bold foliage add drama and texture to the garden.

By C. Colston Burrell

High-Impact Foliage C. Colston Burrell

Size matters, at least where leaves are concerned. Big, brassy leaves demand attention. They satisfy our craving for the exotic and appeal to our theatrical side. Their sculptural presence serves as a garden focal point. In a garden vignette or composition, they are the perfect foil for more finely cut or linear foliage.

Big leaves are as functional as they are fanciful. They serve as solar collectors, spreading wide to trap the most light from the sunís rays. Large leaves have a greater surface area for photosynthesis: the more photosynthesis, the more growth. Some trade-offs exist, however.

Big leaves are expensive to maintain. They require a lot of water to keep them turgid and in prime condition. Some prefer to grow streamside, with their feet in water. Others demand only deep, rich soil and consistent summer moisture. Most thrive in sites where a sheltering canopy of trees or shrubs protects them from the most intense rays of the sun.

Given sufficient moisture, protection from wind, and ample shade, big-leaf plants can grow to gargantuan proportions. They generally form stout rootstocks and multiple crowns. Where conditions are right and space is sufficient, the following leafy drama queens make exciting additions to any garden setting.

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