50 shades of green and more with a flowerless garden

The Associated Press

While beds tumbling with flowers are lovely, there’s an emerging trend in landscape design: the flowerless garden.

Varieties of leafy shrubs, trees, vines and grasses create a verdant vista, even in small gardens.

“The key to a garden where flowers aren’t the focus is foliage,” says Shawn Fitzgerald of the Kent, Ohio-based Davey Tree Company. “Just because there aren’t flowers doesn’t mean your garden can’t be colorful.”

An additional perk: These gardens may be significantly easier to maintain than a plot full of posies.


One approach to the flowerless garden is Zen-like, keeping the focus on greenery that’s calming.

Fitzgerald thinks hardscaping should be a consideration in these gardens.

“A water feature always adds a nice element — a pond, or a creek, with the sound of running water. It’s especially nice if you have some lush foliage over the water,” he says.

He also encourages adding rocks — perhaps some large and small boulders strategically placed.

“And, of course, benches are always great,” Fitzgerald says. “Who doesn’t like to sit and reflect in a peaceful garden, under some nice shade cover?”

Visual Interest 

Justin Hancock of Costa Farms, a nursery in Miami, suggests using variegated shrubs or trees to add color and texture to a flowerless garden. Give similarly hued plants like hostas, dusty miller and succulents a tonal frame by placing them next to bluestone pavers, he suggests.

Or play with scale perception by graduating dark and light greenery along a pathway.

“One of my favorite ways to make a small space feel larger is to plant varieties that have rich green, purple, or orange foliage up front and incorporate white-variegated leaves at the back. Because the light color recedes, it creates an optical illusion of more space,” he says.

No matter what hardiness zone you’re in, there’s one annual he recommends for any non-traditional garden.

“Coleus is one of the most versatile foliage plants you can choose. Some tolerate full sun, but most grow in shade, too,” he says. “You can get varieties in so many colors. Redhead, which is a personal favorite; Campfire, which is purple and orange; chartreuse Wasabi; gold Honeycrisp. Plant these in the spring, and enjoy them right through the fall.”

Sweet potato vine is another easy-care annual, with multi-colored varieties.

“On the perennial side, hostas are beautiful shade plants that thrive from Alaska way down to Texas,” says Hancock. “Variegated liriope has a wide planting range, and has deep green, grassy leaves edged in gold or silver.”

Heuchera, also known as coral bells, is another perennial that offers versatility, with leaves in a wide range of colors, and varieties that thrive in sun or shade.

Hancock’s pick for a great North American native shrub is ninebark.

“It’s practically bulletproof and offers colorful foliage,” he says. “Diabolo is an older variety that has deep purple leaves from spring to fall and grows big, making it a stunner. Dart’s Gold is a smaller variety, with golden-chartreuse leaves.”

Red twig dogwood, elderberry and variegated Japanese white pine also provide all-season interest, he notes.

— The Associated Press