Leaf power



One of the comments when I brought up trends a few months ago suggested that leaf variegation might be on the way out. That won’t be happening in my garden. As the Northeastern season winds down, I’m more grateful that ever that I have relied on large-scale and variegated foliage plants to provide interest around the entire perimeter of the space.


As the last petals drop off the various rudbeckia and lilies, the roses slowly diminish, and the fuzzy-headed plants turn unattractively brown, the colocasia, coleus, and musa (accessorized by various annuals) continue to pump out ever-huger leaves. They finally feel as though they’ve had enough warm temperatures to get comfortable ad settle in—just when I’ve started to worry about how I’m going to winter them over. In February, I quoted Tony Avent as saying this would be the year of the ear. Looks like September and much of October will be the months of the ear. Which is a good thing because the only fall perennial I really love is Japanese anemone. Although one doesn’t like to lean too much on warm zone plants or tropicals, this is the time of year where they can really enhance a Northern garden.


Shown here: colocasia esculenta hybrids Nancy’s Revenge and Yellow Splash close-up; c. esculenta Illustris in pots.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. Like you I can’t imagine variegation is on the way out. I do think gardeners are getting a lot more selective as to its use. It used to be that anything with a splash of white or yellow would be mass propagated and used with glee including some hideously ugly plants. Nowadays variegated stuff seems nicer quality to me – your colocasias being a prime example thereof.

  2. Wow, gorgeous. Yes, we Northern gardeners have to plan for September and October–because after that it will be a full six months before we see a bloom.

    For me, it’s dahlias going nuts until the frost. a big pot of cannas, as well as sweet autumn clematis and Japanese anemones.

  3. For those of us who predominantly plant with foliage in mind ( flowers are an afterthought though a nice bonus ) , variegation in foliage will never be a ‘trend’ nor go out of ‘style’.

    Strong bold colorful variegation in our vegetation is the backbone in many mediterranean gardens.

    Here in California , one of our most popular landscape plants is Phormium ( flax ).
    It comes in a stunning array of variegated colors ranging from vivid red , orange, yellow pink and lime green.
    I can’t imagine our landscape being without this workhorse of a plant, – in all its variegated glory.
    Photos of it and other nice variations of variegations :

  4. I like some variegation, but I think some people go a little nuts with it and your eye can’t rest on anything. I got some snapdragons this year with variegated foliage. I planted them in a bed and while they’re pretty, you can’t see the flowers as well since they don’t stand out like they would against a solid background. I think they might work better in a pot or planter.

  5. Oops — I forgot. Michelle, your garden is gorgeous! Lots of color and veriegation but very nicely arranged and balanced. Wonderful :).

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