Flowers or foliage? The importance of each has been debated persistently over the years by gardeners near and far. Some adamantly rally behind flowers, pointing out their benefit to pollinators and ultimate beauty. No plant dare set root in their gardens unless they are adorned with ornamental blooms, as flowers should always be the star of the show. Other gardeners back foliage, siting its lasting interest and textures long after flowers have faded. These folks fill their gardens with the many shades, shapes, and sizes of leaves. Most gardeners fall somewhere in between, seeing the validity of both arguments and enjoying the benefits of both parties.
In recent years, foliage has gained popularity, no longer taking a back seat in gardens. Plant breeders have been busy producing beautiful specimens with a wide variety of colorful leaves that add beauty to any garden. Gardeners are taking notice, learning to appreciate the beauty beyond flowers. Foliage now comes in a wide array of colors and patterns in virtually every color of the rainbow. From the deepest burgundy and purple to silver to chartreuse, you can find it at your local nursery. Gardeners who pair these fine foliar finds with the flowers in their gardens can have magnificent results.
Perhaps one of the most diverse foliage plants is coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides), with its infinite number of leaf color combinations. A native to Southeast Asia and Malaysia, where it is a tender perennial, it is grown primarily as an annual in The United States in all but zone 10 and 11. Although, they can be overwintered indoors or as houseplants.
Leaves are typically showy with irregular patterns and a mixture of colors, and while some varieties do produce blue or white nettle-like flowers, they are revered for their foliage. With most varieties preferring part shade and tolerating full shade, these plants add a pop of color in some of the darker corners of our gardens. The relative ease of growing these impressive plants, along with their cheery dispositions, have made them one of my go-to foliage plants for interest and color in my garden beds.
These versatile plants look great in pots, as hanging baskets, and in garden beds alongside flowering annuals. For the past several years, I have enjoyed different coleus varieties in hanging baskets in a shady part of my yard. The brilliantly patterned leaves put on a show for the entire growing season, long after the flowers in my other hanging baskets have faded.
Another reason I have learned to love coleus is their ease in propagation from cuttings. If my coleuses start to get a little leggy, I trim the stems, root them, and pot them for more beautiful plants to place around the yard. Talk about getting more bang for your buck!
This year, I plan on trying my hand at overwintering some of my coleuses indoors. Perhaps their colorful foliage will help raise my spirits during the often dull and colorless winter months. If all goes well, I will be able to replant them outdoors in the spring and enjoy them for another season. Even if my best efforts fail and they perish indoors, I will be sure to find new and exciting varieties at the local garden center in the spring as I can’t imagine my garden beds without them.
No matter what side of the flower versus foliage argument you fall on, consider trying coleus in your garden beds. I doubt you’ll be disappointed. You might fall in love with the dazzling array of foliage options coleus offers; I certainly know I have.