When we think of adding warm shades to our garden—yellow and orange, gold, lime and chartreuse—we immediately start listing flowers. But it’s time to think beyond the blooms and consider the leaves. Foliage comes in a variety of warm tones, and the color lasts all season—or longer. We don’t need to wait for fall; many of these plants make spectacular focal points in the landscape all summer long.
For example, consider the large shrub featured at the top of this page. Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) is a large, typically green, shrub/tree native to the northern Midwest. It spreads by suckers and can be quite invasive. This cultivar, ‘Tiger Eyes,’ is a smaller, better behaved version. Its lime-green leaves and its impressive fall color make it an excellent choice where you want a plant that stands out.
Ninebark (below, left) is a Colorado native that does well in a garden setting. Wild plants are green, but the ‘Dart’s Gold’ shown here is a warm, inviting golden-green. The shrubs are medium-sized, prefer full sun, and are drought-resistant. They’re easily found at your local garden center.
Elderberry is another large shrub that does well in Colorado. Native to the northeast, it prefers some shade, especially at our altitude, and ample water. The golden foliage is only one asset—the large, white flowers, which appear mid-summer, are showy and carry a sweet fragrance. They’re followed by plenty of dark purple fruit, which is edible and is often made into syrup or wine.
For a smaller option, consider variegated wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei), one of the few broadleaf evergreens that will withstand our cold winters. And this red osier dogwood will light up your shady spots with leaves in green and lime.
If you have a lot of space to fill, consider arborvitae, an evergreen conifer with cultivars, such as ‘Sunkist,’ that will add a touch of sunshine all year round.
While large plants make a bigger impact, you can include golden leaves in perennial borders, flower beds, and even containers.
Creeping Jenny makes a glowing groundcover, and don’t overlook the various succulents with colorful leaves.
Warm toned foliage also combines well with flowers in similar shades. I love how the warm-toned variegation of the Japanese forest grass and the lime sherbet sedum groundcover combine with the yellow flowers. Similarly, the bright yellow of these daffodils is repeated in the buttery striping of the variegated irises behind them.
On the other hand, you could go for maximum contrast, and pair golden leaves with flowers or foliage on the opposite side of the color wheel. I can’t resist blue and purple flowers, and I have a tendency to plant far too many of them. But mixing them with yellows balances the palette, and it all come together in a vibrant display of color.
The colors in these foliage combinations play against one another; you can’t help but sit up and take notice!
A few plants, such as these cultivars, even include contrasting colors in a single leaf.
When it comes to adding some sunshine to your garden, there are so many options, it’s hard to know where to start!