31 Garden Perennials With Colorful Foliage

Want to add more color and interest to your garden? While flowers steal the show while in bloom, they aren't always blooming. The secret to creating an interesting garden during any point in the season is to add perennials with colorful foliage. Certified master gardener Laura Elsner will walk you through 31 perennials that provide colorful foliage.

A collection of diverse coleus plants with vibrant foliage in shades of pink, green, orange, and purple, displaying a spectrum of colors. Each leaf showcases a unique blend of hues, creating a striking contrast.


Good gardens are filled with flowers. Great gardens pay attention to foliage as well as flowers. Most perennials only bloom for a few weeks, but their colorful foliage can remain a constant throughout the garden season.

It’s also a great way to play with color combinations to make certain flowers and other foliage colors ‘pop’ when planted together. There are so many gorgeous foliage-focused perennials to choose from. Here are 31 perennials with stunning foliage.


Purple ajuga flowers bloom gracefully amidst lush green foliage, creating a striking contrast in the garden. In the blurred background, additional ajuga flowers add depth and color to the vibrant botanical scene.
Grow ajuga in well-drained soil under full to part sun conditions.
botanical-name botanical name Ajuga reptans
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to full shade
height height 6-12″
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-9

Ajuga, also known as bugleweed, is a thick mat-forming ground cover. Depending on your location, this may or may not be a good choice for your garden. In some regions, it is considered an invasive species. Check your local government website to determine if it is invasive in your area.

This perennial ground cover has glossy, colorful foliage in a purple hue. ‘Mahogany’ ajuga is a very deep purple variety. I like the contrast this deep-colored foliage can provide in a garden. Plant it with bright chartreuse plants, like a ‘Sum and Substance’ hosta or a gold mound spirea. I also really like the look of its purple foliage next to blue-colored plants like a dwarf globe blue spruce. It also works in containers as a ‘spiller’ plant that can trail out of the container.

Plant ajuga in full to part sun conditions. It prefers well-drained soil. It will bloom spikes of purple flowers in the summer. 

Aralia ‘Sun King’

Clusters of purple aralia 'Sun King' flower buds resemble bursting fireworks against a backdrop of blurred green aralia buds. The vibrant purple buds stand out, promising a dazzling display of color as they prepare to bloom against the lush greenery.
This 2020 Perennial Plant of the Year is a shade-loving perennial.
botanical-name botanical name Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial shade
height height 3-6’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-8

This fabulous perennial was named Perennial Plant of the Year in 2020 (Perennial Plant Association). This large, bushy plant brightens up shady gardens with its vibrant chartreuse colorful foliage.

Aralia ‘Sun King’ is a large perennial that adds height and structure to a garden. The bright foliage looks great next to dark purple and red foliage. Plant them next to colorful heucheras such as ‘Forever Red’ or ‘Dolce Wildberry.’ They also look lush and vibrant when surrounded by ferns.

Aralia ‘Sun King’ is a shade-loving perennial. While it will grow in full shade, I think part shade is the sweet spot. Avoid the hot afternoon sun, but the morning sun will make the leaves a more vibrant golden color. It prefers moist, well-drained soil that is full of organic matter.

Black Mondo Grass

A close-up captures the elegance of black mondo grass, featuring delicate white flowers and buds nestled among its dark foliage. The contrast between the deep hue of the grass and the purity of the blossoms creates a captivating natural composition.
This is a rare black perennial that enhances neighboring plants’ colors.
botanical-name botanical name Ophiopogon planiscapus
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 6-12”
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 6-9

Black Mondo grass is a small evergreen perennial that grows in small clumps. It has colorful, grassy foliage, but the most unique thing about it is its near-black hue.

Black mondo grass is one of the very few black perennials. It makes a statement no matter where or what you plant it with. It makes green foliage plants seem richer. Chartreuse foliage plants, such as golden creeping Jenny, seem fluorescent next to black mondo.

Black mondo grass thrives in full sun to part shade. In hotter climates, provide some afternoon shade to avoid scorching it. In cooler climates, full sun is best. The more sun exposure it gets, the darker the color will be. Keep it consistently moist but never soggy. Rich and well-drained soil is best.

Blue Oat Grass

Blue oat grass thrives, its verdant blades catching the sunlight's golden embrace. Each blade sways gently, casting shadows upon the rich earth below, a serene dance orchestrated by nature's hand.
The blue oat grass thrives in sunny locations with well-drained soil.
botanical-name botanical name Helictotrichon sempervirens
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 2-5’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-8

Blue oat grass is an orb of spiky blue grass that adds structure and color to the landscape without flowers. It has a subtle tint of pale blue color that pairs well with other perennials and shrubs in a garden.

Blue oat grass looks great next to purple lavender or creeping thyme. It is also great for winter interest since it does not need to be cut back in the fall.

Plant blue oat grass in a sunny location with well-drained soil. It is a low-maintenance perennial. I don’t cut this grass back. Instead, in the spring, I rake my hands through it and pull all the loose dead grass out to make way for new blue growth.


A Brunnera plant featuring delicate blue blossoms, resembling forget-me-nots, clustered atop slender stems. Its foliage boasts green leaves adorned with crisp white edges, creating a striking contrast against the azure blooms in a garden setting.
This shade perennial boasts varieties like ‘Jack Frost’ and ‘Alexander the Great’.
botanical-name botanical name Brunnera macrophylla
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 6”-1.5’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-8

Brunnera is a lovely shade perennial with colorful foliage. The heart-shaped leaves can have intricate frosted patterns on them (variety dependent) that brighten up shady gardens

My favorite variety is ‘Jack Frost’ brunnera, which has frosty white foliage with dark green veins. ‘Alexander the Great’ is similar to ‘Jack Frost’, with its frosted heart-shaped foliage and dark green veins. But it is much larger, growing 1.5’ high and over 2’ wide. ‘Looking Glass’ has smaller pointed leaves that are frosted a bright white, with only minimal green in the veins.

Plant brunnera in part sun to shade conditions. Early morning sun is good for them, but they will scorch if they receive too much hot afternoon sun. They like evenly moist, well-drained soil rich in organic matter.


Bugbane stems showcasing deep purple buds alongside delicate white feathery flowers, vibrant under the sun's warmth. The intricate details reveal nature's beauty in the intricate balance of colors and textures.
Some bugbanes boast deep burgundy foliage that enhances gardens with their lacy texture.
botanical-name botanical name Actaea simplex
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 2-3′
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-8

Not all bugbanes have colorful foliage, but there’s more than one perennial variety that features deep burgundy leaves. The combination of the dark-colored leaves and their lacy texture makes a great feature in a perennial garden. It is also a fairly large perennial that has a presence and adds structure.

‘Black Negligee,’ ‘Brunette,’ ‘Hillside Black Beauty,’ and ‘Chocoholic’ are all varieties of bugbane that have purple foliage. They look great paired with bright green hostas. Or pair one with a ‘Sun King’ aralia. The contrast of the golden aralia leaves next to the deep purple bugbane is a striking contrast.

Bugbane grows best in part shade to shade. Although I have seen it growing in full sun conditions, it will need a lot of extra water. They like well-drained soil full of organic matter.

Canna Lily

A close-up reveals a yellow canna lily flower, its petals adorned with intricate orange speckles. The intricate patterns on the petals create a mesmerizing display, drawing attention to the flower's stunning beauty.
The canna lilies are favored for their vibrant flowers and colorful foliage.
botanical-name botanical name Canna x generalis
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 2-6′
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 8-11

While canna lilies are mostly sought after for their large, striking perennial flowers, there are lots of varieties that have colorful foliage as well. I find flowers can be fussy. They won’t bloom unless they have the right amount of sun and water. This can be particularly infuriating if you have two planted on either side of a door, for instance, and one blooms and the other won’t. Having the additional beautiful foliage to fall back on is a bonus.

‘Tropicanna’ is one of my favorites. It features wide variegated leaves with stripes of red, purple, green, and yellow. It flowers with tropical orange flowers that have darker centers and fade to a light orange. ‘Cannova Bronze Scarlet’ is another one that I use often in container displays. It has deep bronze foliage and bright scarlet red flowers. 

Canna lilies like full sun and wet feet. Water them often and place them in a sunny location for the most flowers and brightest foliage. I have even placed them on the edge of ponds, and they thrive.

Century Plant

A towering century plant stands proudly in a garden, its robust form reaching towards the sky. Behind it, a backdrop of lush trees creates a tranquil and verdant atmosphere, accentuating the plant's majestic presence within the natural landscape.
Plant century plant in full sun with well-drained, sandy soil.
botanical-name botanical name Agave americana
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 6-10′
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5-10

Century plant is a type of agave that has large, pointed, fleshy leaves. These desert-style plants add structure as well as color to an often brown desert landscape.

‘Marginata’ is a green variety with a bright yellow stripe running up both margins.  ‘Deep Blue’ is a dusky blue variety that has a southwestern desert vibe.

Plant century plant in full sun. It likes well-drained, sandy soil. They are drought tolerant but do require some water. When watering, opt for long, deep watering as opposed to short, frequent watering.


Vibrant coleus plants feature lush green leaves accented by striking red centers, adding a pop of color to the garden. In the background, a tranquil pond creates a serene atmosphere, its details softly blurred.
A diverse array of coleus boasts distinctive colors and patterns.
botanical-name botanical name Coleus spp
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 6”-3’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 10-11

This perennial is the king of colorful foliage. There are so many combinations and colors of coleus. You will forget all about flowers when you dive into the colorful world of coleus. While coleus is technically a short-lived perennial, for most of us, it is planted as an annual.

There are so many varieties of coleus with such unique colors and patterns. They mix and match with other coleus and plants to create stunning container and garden displays. ‘Colorblaze Golden Dreams’ is one of my go-to coleus choices. It is a bright golden-yellow color with deep maroon veins. ‘French Quarter’ is another variety I love. It has pink centers and green margins. It is as bright and pretty as a flower.

Coleus is generally thought of as a shade plant, but the newer varieties on the market perform in full sun. They like evenly moist, well-drained soil that is full of organic matter.

Coral Bells

Graceful pink coral bells sway gently, their slender stems reaching towards the sky, adorned with delicate pink blossoms that add a touch of elegance to the scene. In the background, a soft blur reveals a profusion of these charming flowers.
Heuchera comes in an array of brightly colored foliage.
botanical-name botanical name Heuchera spp
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 6-20”
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-9

These perennials are all about the colorful foliage. There are many varieties and colors to choose from. They range in colors from a bright golden yellow, deep purple, or ruby red and lots in between. These shade-loving perennials are a great way to explore and play with color in shady areas where flowers tend not to bloom as often. 

‘Primo Black Pearl’ is a dramatic variety. One of the darkest varieties of coral bells, it features deep purple foliage. It pairs great with chartreuse foliage like golden creeping Jenny or ‘Lime Rickey’ coral bells. ‘Caramel’ is a unique variety with shades of golden caramel-colored foliage. It’s not a common color for summer foliage and will stand out in your garden. It looks great mixed in with other coral bells or just as a way to break up all the green foliage in a garden.

Coral bells thrive in part sun conditions. The darker-colored varieties can take more sun than the lighter ones. They like rich, fertile soil that is evenly moist.


Croton leaves bask in sunlight, showcasing their intricate patterns and textures. The green and red hues intertwine, creating a mesmerizing contrast that captivates the eye and evokes the beauty of nature's palette.
These can serve as annuals or houseplants in lower zones.
botanical-name botanical name Codiaeum spp
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 2-8′
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 9-12

Crotons are magnificent foliage plants that add so much color to your garden without any flowers. This evergreen perennial shrub features large waxy leaves that come in various shades of green, red, pink, and yellow.  It’s a unique plant that looks great as a large shrub, a container plant, or a houseplant.

‘Magnificent Croton’ is a popular variety that features large glossy foliage in all the sunset shades. It can grow up to 7’ tall when grown outdoors and would make a great feature shrub for year-round color. ‘Banana’ is a unique variety with pointed leaves that have green margins and a strip of bright yellow in the middle with yellow spots throughout. It is a small variety that would add a splash of color to a container planting.

Crotons are hardy in zones 9 to 12. In lower zones, they can be used as annuals or houseplants. I love using them in fall containers because they have all the warm autumn colors. They like full sun to partial shade, with some protection from the afternoon sun. Water them moderately and keep them in rich, well-drained soil.

Golden Creeping Jenny

Golden creeping jenny plants cascade down a textured wooden wall, their vibrant foliage painting a picturesque backdrop. The leaves, a striking blend of yellow and green, create a radiant tapestry.
The Golden creeping Jenny is a bright ground cover perennial.
botanical-name botanical name Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 3-6″
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-9

Golden creeping Jenny is a ground cover perennial. It features small round leaves that are a bright golden color. Be aware that it is an aggressive ground cover, and it is considered invasive in some areas. Check your local government website to see if it is suitable to plant in your region.

Golden creeping Jenny is a great ground cover to brighten up shady areas in the garden. It breaks up all the green foliage plants that dominate the shade, but also thrives in full sun. Creeping Jenny looks great under burgundy plants like ‘Dark Mystery’ rose mallow. It acts as a natural mulch and will help retain moisture in the soil. It is also one of my favorite trailing plants in shade containers. The bright golden color adds a pop of brightness, and it grows long and full.

Golden creeping Jenny thrives in full sun to part shade conditions. It prefers well-drained soil, but it is not too particular otherwise.

Hens and Chicks

Hens and chick plants with purple hues create a striking contrast against the weathered tree stump. Their clustered leaves form a lush arrangement, adding a touch of natural beauty to the rugged, textured surface of the stump.
Add ‘Purple Dazzler’ hens and chicks for vibrant foliage colors to enhance your garden’s appeal.
botanical-name botanical name Sempervivum spp
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 2-6”
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-8

Hens and chicks are great low-maintenance perennials that can fill in a space with the most interesting colorful foliage in different shapes and textures. These succulents are small rosettes that have larger ‘hen’ sized rosettes with smaller ‘chicks’ branching off of them. 

There are so many varieties of hens and chicks to consider adding to your garden for some foliage color. I love ‘Purple Dazzler’, which features a deep purple center that fades to green. ‘Blue Ice’ has a dusky blue-green and purple hue, which can really stand out in a garden. 

Hens and chicks like dry, sandy soil. They grow great in raised planters and containers. Make sure the soil can drain excess water easily. Keep them in a full-sun location.


A close-up of hosta leaves, showcasing vibrant shades of green with delicate white borders, adding a striking contrast. The intricate patterns and textures create a captivating visual feast, embodying the beauty of nature's craftsmanship.
The hostas are renowned for their fabulous foliage in various colors and patterns.
botanical-name botanical name Hosta spp
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 4-30″
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-9

No list of foliage plants would be complete without hostas. When I think fabulous foliage, I think hosta. The wide-brimmed leaves come in a variety of colors and combinations. You can create a patchwork of color in your shade garden without using flowers.

There are so many unique and wonderful hosta varieties. Hosta ‘June’ is a work of art. It features leaves with a golden center and dusty blue edges. The colors blend as if by an artist’s brush stroke. Plant it in a container or in an area everyone can admire. ‘White Feather’ hosta is interesting. It has pure white foliage with green stems. It can be used to brighten up a shady nook.

Hostas like part sun to shade. As a general rule, bright chartreuse hostas (‘Sum and Substance,’ for example) can take more sun. Blue-colored hostas (‘Blue Angel’, for example) like more shade. Hostas like rich, evenly moist, but well-drained soil.


Heucherella plant features foliage with deep purple leaves bordered by lush green edges, contributing to its striking appearance. The intricate lobed edges enhance the plant's aesthetic appeal, making it an eye-catching addition to any garden
Hybrid Heucherella combines the best of coral bells and foamy bells.
botanical-name botanical name x Heucherella
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 12-18″
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-11

Heucherella is a garden hybrid mash-up of heuchera (coral bells) and tiarella (foamy bells). They combined the best qualities of each and created a lovely hybrid. Heucherella features the lovely, colorful foliage of coral bells, along with the palmate and deeply lobed foliage of foamy bells. The foliage is gorgeous, but they also feature large plumes of flowers like their foamy bell parent.

‘Capture the Flag’ is a foliage lover’s dream. It has deeply lobed, palmate leaves with a deep red center that explodes into the veins of the plant. ‘Red Rover’ has bright red foliage and deeply lobed leaves. It looks great paired with chartreuse hostas such as ‘Dancing Queen.’

Japanese Blood Grass

Japanese blood grass, characterized by its lush foliage, sways gently in the breeze, creating a mesmerizing spectacle. The crimson hues of the grasses intensify as they bask in the warm sunlight, casting a vivid glow across the landscape.
The invasive nature of Japanese Blood grass can be mitigated by opting for sterile cultivars.
botanical-name botanical name Imperata cylindrica
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 2-4′
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5-9

Japanese blood grass is a small but striking perennial grass that has bright green stalks that explode into dark, blood-red tips. It adds color and texture to gardens and containers.

Japanese blood grass is invasive in many parts of the US. ‘Red Baron’ and ‘Rubra’ are sterile cultivars. Both varieties have the same look as regular non-sterile Japanese blood grass. However, there is a lot of contention about whether or not sterile cultivars of invasive plants damage local ecosystems. If you live in the Southeast, Virginia, and Oregon, avoid planting this grass.

The foliage will be most vibrant if you plant Japanese blood grass in full sun. It prefers well-drained evenly moist soil.

Japanese Painted Fern

Japanese painted fern leaves, showcasing vibrant glossy textures that catch the light. Delicate purple veins intricately pattern the fern, adding an elegant contrast against the lush green foliage.
The Japanese painted fern features dark purple centers fading into frosted silver tips.
botanical-name botanical name Athyrium niponicum var. pictum
sun-requirements sun requirements Part to full shade
height height 12-18″
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-8

Japanese painted fern is one of my favorite ferns. The center of the fronds are dark purple, and they fade to frosted silver tips. The veins are a bright purple color that ties everything together. This fern is a work of art.

Japanese painted fern is a statement perennial in a shade garden. The bright silver and purple color breaks up the monotonous green color of shade gardens. It can be planted amongst other ferns to make the color stand out. Or it can be planted with other shade plants like hostas and coral bells to play up the soft ferny texture. They also look great in shady containers.

Plant Japanese painted ferns in part sun to full shade. Morning sun is okay. Avoid harsh afternoon rays. They like evenly moist but well-drained soil that is full of organic matter.

Lamb’s Ear

A close-up of a lamb’s ear plant reveals its dense, fuzzy green leaves thriving amidst rugged rocks. The sunlight highlights the plant's resilience, while the surrounding rocks provide a natural backdrop.
A silver-foliaged lamb’s ear is an attractive and rapidly spreading plant.
botanical-name botanical name Stachys byzantina
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 12-18″
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-9

Soft and fuzzy lamb’s ear is a lovely plant to add to your garden. It has silver foliage that is so irresistible, you’ll want to touch it every time you walk by. While it is not technically invasive, it does spread rapidly. It’s great for large areas, or you will have to keep it under control.

The silver foliage of lamb’s ear makes a great addition to a monochromatic garden filled with Artemesia, sea holly, and globe thistle. Or pair it with a burgundy plant like rose mallow ‘Dark Mystery.’ The combination of rich burgundy and bright silver really pops in a garden.

Lamb’s ear thrives in poor soil conditions as long as the soil is well-drained. It is drought tolerant. Lamb’s ear grows best in full sun.

Lamiastum ‘Jade Frost’

A close-up reveals the serrated edges of lamiastrum ‘jade frost’ leaves, highlighting intricate patterns. The vibrant green hue dominates the leaf, while subtle pale yellow borders add a delicate touch.
Utilize ‘Jade Frost’ lamiastrum as a ground cover for shade-tolerant growth in challenging areas.
botanical-name botanical name Lamiastrum galeobdolon ‘Jade Frost’
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 8-10”
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-9

‘Jade Frost’ lamiastrum is a great deer-resistant ground cover. It also works as a long trailing plant in containers and hanging baskets. It features small green leaves with intricate frosted silver patterns on them.

Use ‘Jade Frost’ lamiastrum as a ground cover in shady areas. It will grow in areas where not much else will. It can be aggressive and choke out other plants, so use it with caution. I just rip it out when it starts creeping close to other plants. I also use ‘Jade Frost’ lamiastrum in containers and hanging baskets as it gets long and trails down the sides of the container. Once you are finished with your container planter, you can plant the lamiastrum into the ground (if you have space for it).

 ‘Jade Frost’ likes part shade to shade conditions. It’s a very forgiving plant when it comes to water and soil conditions. It will tolerate poor soil and wet or dry conditions. This makes it an option for planting under evergreen trees. Ideally, it prefers moist, well-drained soil.

Ligularia ‘Othello’

Ligularia ‘othello’ flowers in close-up, showcasing slender petals painted in vibrant yellow hues. Each petal gracefully unfurls, capturing the essence of nature's elegance and the intricate beauty of this botanical wonder.
Place ‘Othello’ ligularia in part to full shade for optimal growth.
botanical-name botanical name Ligularia dentata ‘Othello’
sun-requirements sun requirements Part to full shade
height height 2-3′
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-8

I love ligularia. It is a giant perennial that thrives in the shade. Since this is a foliage article, I am highlighting ‘Othello’. This variety features lily-pad-shaped leaves with jagged edges. The leaves are dark, glossy green with a burgundy tint and underside. The stems are burgundy as well. It blooms clusters of yellow daisy-like flowers.

This darker-colored ligularia variety grows large in shady areas. It looks great when planted with bright chartreuse and golden plants like golden creeping Jenny or ‘Sun King’ Aralia. Plant the ‘Othello’ ligularia in the background and the brighter plants in front.

Plant ‘Othello’ ligularia in part to full shade. It is one of the few plants that will still grow fairly large in full shade. They like water. You can plant them in sunnier conditions as long as they get a lot of water. They will droop and look dead if they are not watered. As soon as you water them, they will perk back up. Choose soil that retains water and consider mulching it for extra water retention.


A cluster of petite purple and pink lungwort blossoms, sparkling under dewy morning light. In the backdrop, verdant leaves catch droplets of dew, creating a serene, blurred ambiance in the garden.
The ‘Majeste’ lungwort variety showcases elongated, pointed leaves reminiscent of swords.
botanical-name botanical name Pulmonaria spp
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 6-16″
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-9

Lungwort is a hardy perennial that flowers in the early spring. After it blooms, it still provides beauty and interest in your garden with its speckled foliage.  It features long, fuzzy leaves with frosted white speckles all over the foliage.

While the common variety is interesting on its own, some varieties have more intricate foliage patterns. ‘Majeste’ has long pointed sword-like leaves. The leaves of this variety are ever with a thin margin of green. ‘Silver Shimmer’ also has pointed silver foliage. But the edges are mottled and speckled with green.

Lungwort likes part sun to full shade conditions. It is also one of the few perennials that will tolerate dry shade. It can be planted under evergreen trees. Although it also does well in evenly moist, well-drained soil.

New Zealand Flax 

New Zealand flax grasses gently sway in the breeze, their slender leaves catching the sunlight. In the distance, a serene lake mirrors the azure sky, framed by a majestic mountain.
This grass thrives best in full-sun locations with well-drained soil.
botanical-name botanical name Phormium tenax
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 1-6′
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 9-11

New Zealand Flax is a large, sharp grass that comes in a variety of colors. This tall grass adds structure and color to the garden. I plant it as an annual in containers. It makes a great ‘thriller’ plant.

‘Jester’ is a vibrant variety that has blades of grassy foliage that are striped with shades of green, orange, red, and pink. ‘Amazing Red’ is a dark copper brown variety that stands out in a garden full of green foliage.

For the brightest colors, plant New Zealand flax in a full-sun location. Although they will tolerate part sun conditions, the foliage just won’t be as brightly colored. New Zealand flax doesn’t mind poor soil. Just make sure it is well-drained so it can dry out a bit between watering.

Pennisetum ‘First Knight’

A close-up of a Pennisetum 'First Knight' grass, showcasing its slender blades and delicate textures. The deep purple hue of the grass adds a captivating contrast, drawing attention to its elegant beauty in the natural landscape.
Consider ‘First Knight’ pennisetum for a garden with dark and dramatic appeal.
botanical-name botanical name Pennisetum ‘First Knight’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 3-5′
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 7-11

If you want to add dark and drama to your garden, pennisetum ‘First Knight’ is the perennial for you. This tall fountain grass has broad, grassy foliage in a deep purple, almost black, color. It is tall and dramatic. It looks great in gardens and containers. In lower zones, it works great as an annual.

‘First Knight’ pennisetum is so dark and dramatic that it pairs great with bright golden-colored foliage like coleus ‘Wasabi’. I also like it paired with pink flowers such as ‘Galaxy Pink’ geraniums.

If you’re looking for the darkest foliage, plant your ‘First Knight’ pennisetum in full sun. Any less, and the color will fade. It likes rich, well-drained soil that is kept evenly moist.

Purple Fountain Grass

A close-up reveals the intricate details of a purple fountain grass, its slender blades adorned with fuzzy purple flowers gracefully arching. The blurred background captures a lush sea of greenery.
The beauty of purple fountain grass is complemented by surrounding plants like ‘Superbells Pink’.
botanical-name botanical name Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 2-5’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 9-11

Purple fountain grass has beautiful strands of green, copper, and purple blades of grass. Then, it creates graceful tufts of seed pods later in the season. This grass looks great in garden beds and containers. I use it as an annual since I live in a lower zone.

Since purple fountain grass has so many colors, it is fun to pull out the different colors by planting other plants around it. ‘Superbells Pink’ really pulls out the predominately deep purple shades of the grass. ‘Zesty Orange’ zinnias will make the grass’s coppery tones shine. The lime green of a  ‘Margarita’ sweet potato vine will pull out the slight green shades of the purple fountain grass.

Purple fountain grass thrives in full sun. It likes well-drained soil. It needs a lot of water while it is establishing itself, and then you can water it less frequently.

Red Banana

A bunch of red bananas in close-up, showcasing their unique hue and texture. In the background, green leaves create a blurred yet natural backdrop, enhancing the visual appeal of the composition.
These bananas have striking, coppery red stems and large leaves.
botanical-name botanical name Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 6-20’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 9-11

Red bananas are a striking feature plant to add to your garden. They grow large in a single season. The huge leaves are green with coppery red stems and undersides. It can be planted as an annual in colder zones

Red bananas work great as a large focal point in a garden bed or a container. It looks great planted with bright green foliage such as golden creeping Jenny or ‘Vancouver Centennial’ geraniums.

Red bananas can take a variety of sun conditions. Plant it in a protected location. Harsh winds will shred the large leaves. They like moist, well-drained soil that is full of organic matter. They also should be fertilized with an all-purpose fertilizer as they are heavy feeders.

Rex Begonia

Lush rex begonia leaves catching the warm glow of gentle light, showcasing their intricate veins and textured surfaces. The leaves, ranging from pale green to deep green, feature striking purple centers.
The ‘T-Rex Painter’s Palette’ exhibits centers that darken gradually into light pink hues.
botanical-name botanical name Begonia rex-cultorum
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 12-18″
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 10-11

Rex begonias have amazing foliage colors and designs. While they aren’t perennials for most of us, they make great annuals and houseplants. I like using them in full shade where most flowers won’t bloom. The colorful foliage will add all the beauty and brightness.

There are so many varieties of rex begonias that come in all sorts of colors and patterns. ‘T-Rex Painter’s Palette’ is one of my favorites. It features a dark center that explodes into a light pink accented by stripes of green and frosted silver. I also love ‘Fireworks’, which has a deep purple center and then a frosty middle with a lighter purple margin. These leafy marvels add so much color without a single flower. Plant them in the garden or containers. I like to overwinter them inside and then plant them back outside after the danger of frost has passed.

Rex begonias are shade-loving plants. They do best in areas with bright, indirect sunlight. They also don’t mind full shade, but they won’t grow as fast, and the colors will be less vibrant. Plant them in well-drained, evenly moist soil.

Rose Mallow ‘Dark Mystery’

A close-up of two 'Dark Mystery' rose mallow flowers adorned with water droplets. The petals gracefully shift from a deep crimson to a soft, enchanting pink, creating a mesmerizing gradient of colors in nature's artwork.
Plant Rose Mallow ‘Dark Mystery’ in a sunny area with consistently moist soil.
botanical-name botanical name Hibiscus moscheutos ‘Dark Mystery’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 3-6′
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-8

Between the dramatic dark purple foliage and the bright pink saucer-shaped flowers, rose mallow ‘Dark Mystery’ packs a double punch in your garden. It is huge and showy and will make a statement as a focal plant in your garden.

Even when it is not in bloom, the dark purple color is a statement. It looks great planted next to bright green foliage such as peonies. Most peonies bloom in spring, and rose mallow will bloom in the summer, so pairing these will have blooms and colored foliage all season long. It also looks great planted with silvery foliage plants, such as globe thistle or sea holly.

Plant Rose Mallow ‘Dark Mystery’ in a full-to-part sun location. It isn’t too fussy about soil quality. Just make sure it is evenly moist.


A sedum plant flourishes under the radiant sunlight, showcasing delicate pink sedum flowers in full bloom. Surrounding it, other plants boast an array of yellow and purple flowers, creating a captivating tapestry of hues.
These have excellent resilience to various soils and full sun exposure.
botanical-name botanical name Sedum spp
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 3″-2′
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-9

Sedums come in so many brilliant foliage colors. They also come in different shapes and sizes. Some are ground covers. Others are upright perennials. They are low maintenance and look great all season long.

There are so many beautiful varieties of sedum that will add color and interest to your garden. ‘Dragon’s Blood’ sedum is a ground cover that features rosettes of blood-red succulents. ‘Blue Carpet’ sedum is a fleshy blue groundcover. ‘Angelina’ sedum is a bright golden ground cover. ‘Sunsparkler Blue Pearl’ sedum is an upright variety with fleshy purple leaves and stems that have a bluish tinge in the center.

Plant sedum in full sun locations. They don’t care about soil conditions. They need well-drained sandy soil.

Silver Mound

A silver mound plant with delicate foliage, flourishing amidst rich mulch, showcases nature's resilience. Behind the silver mound plant, large rocks stand as guardians, lending stability and contrast to the greenery.
The silver mound’s feathery silver foliage adds texture and softness to gardens.
botanical-name botanical name Artemisia schmidtiana
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 6”-1’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-8

Silver mound is a perfect orb of feathery silver foliage. While it will never be the star of your garden, it adds texture and softness to your landscape.

Every time I come across a silver mound in the garden, I can’t help but brush my hands through it feel its feathery silvery foliage, and smell its spicy fragrance. It looks great as a border plant. Plant multiple to create a neat little line of orbs along your garden’s edge. It also looks great planted next to dark-colored foliage, like the upright perennial ‘Dark Magic’ sedum.

The true beauty of silver mound is how easy it is to grow. It does not care about soil conditions. Just make sure it is well-drained soil. Silver mound grows best in full sun.


A Tiarella plant displays slender stems rising gracefully, adorned with delicate white flowers. Behind it, a vibrant backdrop of lush green foliage accentuates its elegant presence in the garden landscape, offering a serene ambiance.
Shade-loving Tiarella features beautiful sprays of flowers and varied foliage.
botanical-name botanical name Tiarella cordifolia
sun-requirements sun requirements Part to full shade
height height 5-12″
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-8

Tiarella, also known as foam flowers, are great shade-loving perennials that have beautiful sprays of flowers. They also have interesting and sometimes colorful foliage, depending on the variety.

‘Sugar and Spice’ has bright green palmate leaves with dark red centers that highlight the deeply lobed foliage. ‘Fingerpaint’ tiarella is a variety of lime green foliage that is round and deeply lobed. It has a dark, almost black center.

Tiarella will grow in very shaded conditions or areas that only receive dappled sunlight. They like rich, evenly moist soil that is well-drained.

Variegated Iris

Variegated irises, with intricate purple veined petals, stand out against the backdrop, displaying their unique floral charm. The blurred background accentuates the tall leaves, adding depth to the vivid composition of the irises.
These flowers flourish in well-drained soil with adequate sunlight.
botanical-name botanical name Iris pallida ‘Variegata’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 2-3′
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-10

Irises are one of my favorite perennials. They have sharp, spiky foliage that adds structure and variation to your garden. The distinct flowers steal the show when they bloom in the spring. One species of iris has interesting foliage color and beautiful flowers; this is the variegated, or Dalmatian iris. It features stripes of creamy white and green in its spiky foliage. I love this because it adds extra interest even when it is not in bloom.

I like adding a few variegated irises to my regular iris bed. It breaks up the monotonous green color and adds some extra depth and color. It also works in a container. The foliage is interesting enough long after the flowers have bloomed.

Variegated irises like well-drained soil. Make sure not to plant them too deep, or they will not bloom. The tuberous rhizome should be at the soil line. Variegated iris like full to part sun. They can take more shade than regular irises.

Final Thoughts

Don’t get me wrong, I am a flower fanatic. But once you start playing with foliage combinations, you will elevate your garden to the next level. Have fun mixing different colors and textures of foliage. Soon, the flowers will just be a bonus.

Delicate blue-eyed grass showcasing sky-blue petals at the edge of the slender, green leaves. The intricate flower cluster forms a stunning contrast against the surrounding foliage, emphasizing its petite yet captivating nature.

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A vibrant bouquet of stock flowers bursts forth in close-up, showcasing a spectrum of pinks, whites, magentas, and lavenders. Delicate, four-petaled blooms unfurl in various stages, with some buds tightly nestled, promising future splendor.


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