Cape Cod and the Islands are uniquely suited for grasses like “Japanese Forest Grass Aureola” (Hakonechlo macra), a gracefully arching fountain of boldly striped chartreuse and deep green leaves that loves shade beds, but can also survive in gardens that are not in the sun all day long. Once it is established, “Aureola” grass will live happily in gardens for decades, anchoring the edges and corners of plantings. A wonderful feature of this 2009 “Perennial of the Year” is the sound of the wind rustling through its foliage.
There are some perennials, such as Heuchera and Sedum, that are grown for both their distinctive foliages as well as their flowers. In the last 10 years, there has been an explosion of varieties in the American genus Heuchera, which grows in low mounds of deeply cut and frilled leaves in gorgeous colors from bright gold through chartreuse and on through deep browns and purples. Heuchera’s delicate, wand-like flowers give the plant its common name, “Coral Bells,” but these specimens are planted mostly for their distinctive foliage on the front edge of both sunny and shady gardens.
With names like “Peach Flambe,” “Caramel,” and “Dark Chocolate,” these delicious little beauties provide a delicate frilly edge to perennial gardens all summer long. And after the last “Black Eyed Susan” has closed up for the year in late fall, their foliage provides geometry and texture straight through until frost. Heuchera can be tasty to slugs and insects, but with tins of beer bait placed strategically under large foliage plants and an occasional spray with an organic insecticide like Spinosad, these pretty plants are easy to grow. The 2004 “Perennial of the Year,” Heuchera is a low-maintenance, uniquely effective foliage choice.
Cape and Islands gardeners worth their salt will confess that they love foliage plants as much—if not more—than all the flowering stars of their perennial gardens and foundation plantings. The radiant bursts of color and texture provided by foliage plants brighten even the darkest autumn day easing the regret of our spectacular summer’s passing.
Susan Dewey is the associate publisher and editor of Cape Cod LIFE Publications, a lover of foliage plants, and an occasional designer for Dewey Gardens of Cape Cod.