To soften and enhance an alfresco scene, Kristopher Dabner, owner of The Greensman, recommends a different kind of greenery—variegated plants and trees—for their ability to enliven any dark and dreary corner of the garden with colorful, striped, blotched, and dotted leaf patterns for year-round style.
“I love variegated plants because their leaves are so fascinating,” Dabner says. “They bring in variety and interest and really brighten up a space, especially in a shade garden.” Looking to put your green thumb to work? Here are some of his go-to combinations.
First, start with a base plant palette of standard dark green (holly, boxwoods, yews), then layer in colorful accent plants, such as with the powdery blue of a blue spruce and chartreuse yellow from a lemon candy ninebark. Finally, bring in seasonal color—hot pink Barcelona tulips for spring and Lyrical Blues salvia in the summer.
Other year-round pairings include Japanese painted ferns with Jack Frost brunnera and colorful Black Negligee bugbane, or plant the polka-dotted leaves of Raspberry Splash lungwort next to the striped leaves of June hosta and the lacy chartreuse foliage of Tiger’s Eye sumac. The variegated kerria japonica shrub, with white and pale green-striped leaves and yellow flowers, will continue to make a splash even during the winter, showing off its pale green stems and zig-zag pattern. For a bigger presence, place a variegated Daybreak dogwood tree under the shade of a large oak.
“Flowers bloom color for a short period of time, but you have leaf color all year long,” he says. “Pick a few colors and stick with them so they look coordinated and don’t overwhelm or become chaotic.” Following these rules and recommendations will leave neighbors envious for blocks around.