“Gardening Without Flowers: A Guide to Foliage-Only Design”

“Gardening Without Flowers: A Guide to Foliage-Only Design”

Gardening Without Flowers: A Guide to Foliage-Only Design


For many gardeners, flowers are the stars of the garden. Their bright colors and fleeting beauty dazzle the eye. However, there is an elegant simplicity to gardens that rely solely on foliage plants. By focusing on the shapes, textures, and colors of leaves rather than blooms, it’s possible to create stunning landscapes that have year-round beauty and visual interest.

As a foliage gardener, I have discovered the joy of designing gardens that showcase the natural artistry of leaves. In this guide, I will share my insights on how to create captivating foliage-only gardens. Whether you want to try a new approach or already love leafy plants, the ideas here will inspire you to see gardens in a whole new way.

Benefits of Foliage-Only Gardening

Gardening without flowers has many advantages that make it an excellent choice:

Lower Maintenance

Flowering plants often require frequent pruning, deadheading, staking and other care to look their best. Foliage plants tend to be easier to maintain as they don’t bloom. Their upkeep involves occasional pruning to shape them and keep growth tidy. This makes foliage gardens much simpler to care for.

Year-Round Interest

Unlike flowers that fade after blooming, the leaves of foliage plants look good throughout the seasons. Thoughtful plant choices provide a palette of colors, shapes and textures that evolves but always offers beauty. Foliage gardens offer year-round visual rewards.

Texture and Form

Leafy plants offer diverse shapes, sizes and surface interest. Their forms become sculptural elements in the garden, adding depth and structure. Foliage provides texture and intricate detail to enjoy up close.

Lower Costs

Flowers are often seen as pricey additions that must be frequently replaced. Focusing on foliage plants eliminates these expenses. Once established, leafy perennials and shrubs keep providing interest year after year for a lower cost overall.

Foliage Plants for Brilliant Color

While flowers provide bright splashes of color, foliage offers its own vibrant hues from shades of green to rich purples, crimsons and golds. Here are some top choices:

  • Japanese Maple – Delicate leaves emerge red or chartreuse in spring and turn intense crimson in fall.

  • Coral Bark Willow – Has fluorescent red stems that glow, especially in winter.

  • Purple Smokebush – Features smoky purple leaves and airy flowers.

  • Big Blue Liriope – Vibrant perennial with wide blue leaves and lavender blooms.

  • Heuchera – Ruffled leaves come in greens, reds, oranges, browns and purples.

  • Coleus – Available in endless combinations of green, yellow, red and purple.

Textural Foliage Plants

Leaves come in an incredible array of shapes and surface interest. Here are some top plants for adding textural intrigue:

  • Japanese Forest Grass – Narrow upright blades provide fine texture.

  • Lamb’s Ear – Large velvety silver leaves are ultra-soft.

  • Ferns – Lacy fronds create delicate, airy texture.

  • Elephant Ear – Huge glossy leaves make a bold statement.

  • Astilbe – Feathery plumes on mounded plants.

  • Hosta – Rounded leaves have a substantial, thick feel.

Designing With Foliage

When planning an all-foliage garden, it helps to keep some design principles in mind:

Contrasting Textures

Combine plants with dramatically different leaves like airy ferns with large hosta leaves for visual interest. Varying textures also makes the space more inviting to touch.

Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers

Use a framework of “thriller” statement plants for big impact. “Filler” plants add volume. “Spillers” Trail over edges. This combination builds layered interest.

Curating Colors

Coordinate greens with accent colors that harmonize. For example, play off purple plants with silver and chartreuse. Repeat colors to unify the design.

Focus on Form

Consider the shapes of foliage plants and how their forms work together. Columnar vertical leaves next to big round ones creates lively contrast.

Year-Round Structure

Plan so plants provide structure during all seasons. Evergreen shrubs anchor the space when perennials die back.

With these design tips in mind, it’s simple to craft gorgeous foliage-centric gardens brimming with color, form and texture.

Favorite Leafy Plants to Grow

Here are some of my top recommendations for outstanding foliage plants:


  • Japanese Maple – Finely dissected leaves in red, green or variegated colors. Graceful branching shape.

  • Bluebeard Shrub – Gray-blue leaves with a frosted look. Showy blue flowers.

  • Heavenly Bamboo – Colorful stems and green or purple lance-shaped leaves. Resembles bamboo.


  • Coral Bells – Ruffled leaves in stunning color combinations. Adds bold texture.

  • Japanese Forest Grass – Slender upright foliage forms elegant clumps. Lovely fall color.

  • Caladium – Dramatic arrowhead leaves marked with red, pink or white. Dies back in winter.


  • Autumn Fern – Coppery new fronds mature to deep green. Grows well in shade.

  • Tassel Fern – Bright gold color and slender arching foliage. Makes a cheerful groundcover.

  • Japanese Painted Fern – Tropical look with red midribs and silver edges. Stays evergreen.


  • Coleus – Vibrant leaves in hot combinations of green, red, purple, pink and yellow.
  • Rex Begonia – Showy leaves with metallic silver swirls, spots and intricate patterns.
  • Sweet Potato Vine – Charming heart or lacy spade shaped leaves. Trails well.

The foliage plants above provide just a taste of the wide selection available to landscape without flowers. Once you embrace the beauty of ornamental leaves, a whole new world of gardening possibilities opens up.

Enjoying Harmony in Leafy Gardens

Gardening without flowers may seem unusual at first, but the natural artistry of foliage creates its own magic. By focusing on diverse leaf textures, shapes and colors, you can craft a landscape with harmony and year-round beauty.

As a lover of leafy plants, I find this approach both simple and extremely rewarding. Foliage gardens let me appreciate plants in a whole new way. They offer tranquility, subtle colors, and artistic expression through thoughtfully combined textures.

I hope you’ve been inspired to see the joy and potential in flowerless gardening. With mindful plant choices and design, you can create a leafy oasis of enduring beauty.