with Deryn Thorpe

Coloured foliage

Phormium tenax
Phormium tenax

When we talk of colour in the garden we traditionally think of flowers but the dazzling hues of foliage can be striking also.

While deciduous plants put on a show of autumn tones before leaf drop, most non-deciduous plants keep their colour year round.

Many of the coloured foliage plants come from the tropics where their variegated and coloured leaves contrast dramatically with the lush green of the jungle.

Read the plant label carefully or ask advice of your nurseryman as heat and growth factors can change the plant from coloured to green.

Succulent plants like the Kalanchoe only get tinges of colour when the weather cools down and those of the Crassula change from green to bright red in the summer sun.


Only the new foliage of some plants is coloured. Common examples are the bronze, red or orange growth on the normally green lily pily and Photinia.

There are many good ways to use coloured foliage plants. Plant them against walls of contrasting colour, let them provide a pop of colour in containers or create highlights in a border. My favourites for these tasks are the pink and purple or lime green and yellow variegated Iresine or the ruby-leafed Alternanthera which strike easily from cuttings. Alternanthera roots in water when placed in a vase.

Newer varieties of Cordyline have names which tell of the wide range of colours. Look out for 'Red Sensation', 'Red Star', 'Caruba Black', 'Coffee and Cream', 'Purple Prince' and 'Willy Gold'. In warm areas these need afternoon sun.

Coloured leaf flax originate in New Zealand and like the Cordylines have strappy leaves. Darker foliage varieties need summer shade. Look out for Phormium 'Wings Of Gold', 'Yellow Wave', 'Cream Delight', 'Platts Black' and 'Bronze Warrior'.

For difficult dry spots don't forget the wealth of succulent plants.

Tall shrubs and small trees

Purple leafed wattle, Agonis flexuosa 'Burgundy', Purple hop bush, Photinia glabra 'red robin', Purple leafed plum, Red cottonwood

Medium shrubs

Fijian fire bush, Lophomyrtus 'black stallion', Fringe flower

Small shrubs

Sacred bamboo, Alternanthera dentata 'Ruby', Canna hybrids


Senecio serpens, Sedum variegatum, Aeonium arboreum 'Schwarzkopf', Aeonium decorum, Moses in the cradle (Rhoeo).

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