Fine Foliage



“Love the trees until their leaves fall off, then encourage them to try again next year.”
― Chad Sugg



I have always felt “foliage challenged” in my garden.  Flowers were my obsession and I plunked down flowers that I adored, that seemed to work together, but never quite looking at the foliage.  And I had meant to work on the deficiency when I had IMG_4042time.  But where to start?

While creating weekly vases this summer and fall, I have come to appreciate foliage found throughout the garden and usually more showy now as the flowers fade.  You can see, above, one of the vases I created this week entirely from grasses, cattails, rose hips and foliage.  No bright, showy flowers at all.  And working more with foliage in vases has piqued my interest again regarding foliage so I have sought out some resources.

I saw this book and was intrigued to see if it would be a beginning.  Could I find ideas, design information and some inspiration in this little book?  And where would this thirst for foliage knowledge lead?








Author:  Karen Chapman  and Christina Salwitz 

Paperback:  160 pages

Publisher:   St. Lynn’s Press (March 1, 2013)

Amazon Price:  $12.71(Hardcover)




In A Few Words

The authors begin by giving a succinct description of how to design with foliage using the ideas of color, light, texture and form.  The next section is on How To Use This Book.  They give details about the site or amount of sun or shade the plants need, the soil requirements, hardiness zones and seasons of visual interest for the combinations they highlight.  This basic information helps to know if the plants used in the book will fit into your garden habitat.  IMG_3677

The book is then divided into two sections:  Sun and Shade.  The authors provide over 50 different combinations of foliage plants using perennials, annuals, shrubs and ornamental trees.  Each combination is detailed on 2 pages.  One page gives a full color picture of the combination in the garden or container.  On the opposite page, two to four plants are highlighted with specific information about the plant, how big it will get and its specific zone.  There is an overall zone listed for the combination too which can differ from the individual plants.  The authors also give a brief description as to why this particular combination works well together.




What I Liked

I found this book to be useful because it goes beyond the plants and pictures listed.  As the authors say:

Unless you understand why a design works, creating new combinations can be a frustrating series of trial and error.  The key to inspired design comes from careful observation of the smallest detail. 


IMG_3989I have to say the mix of color, light, texture and form in the combinations in this book are exquisite.   I love the names they give these combos too…very clever and they point out the details the combo is showcasing.  

I spent a lot of time reading and highlighting some looks I would like to achieve.  Then I studied the details they spoke about and looked for these in plants I already have and in those I want as I considered sections of my garden that need a change or uplift.  It was like making a vase or container arrangement but on a much grander scale.




Not So Much

Now I will warn you that many of the plants used are not the everyday plants you find in most gardens or even most garden centers I have visited.  Many are specific cultivars needed because of the color or texture of the foliage such as gray or copper-colored heucheras and orange or bright green sedges.DSCN6975

But you can use the ideas here to make the combinations with plants you have that may be similar if you do not want to go to the expense of obtaining new plants.  

And they do not use many native plants in the combinations.  But again I think the design principles they teach throughout the book and combinations can be used easily with natives too. 




Final Thoughts

DSCN7359The authors went out of their way to showcase some beautiful combinations of foliage in many zones.  Even though I found many of the combinations were not hardy for my zone 5b garden, I realized I could replicate them or come close with plants I already had.  And that will be my challenge as I redesign the gardens.  The paying attention to the details of the foliage in the garden and how to achieve some beautiful mixes.

Many times gardeners wonder if a book is for beginners or more expert gardeners.  I can safely say that the authors took this into consideration when they wrote this book.  There is something for beginners as you learn the basics in what the authors call ‘the recipes’.  And intermediate and advanced gardeners will enhance the skills they already have.  As a beginner with foliage, but an intermediate gardener overall, I know that I will be learning from this book for a while to come.

On another note:  At this year’s GWA (Garden Writers Association) Annual Symposium in Pittsburgh, Pa, this book was honored with the Gold Award for Best Overall Book.  Quite an achievement.

And great news just released, the authors are writing the next step in using foliage in the garden called, Foliage First.  You can read about it on the Fine Foliage website.


…this time we will show you how to build a foliage picture frame or backdrop and layer in other design elements such as flowers or artwork. In other words we’ll show you the next step in our design process. We’ll have ideas for all four seasons and the clear layout you love will be essentially the same if not even better. If everything goes to plan it will be released in 2016. 



Do you consider foliage first when you garden?  Do you have a favorite foliage gardening book to recommend to others?




“The leaves fall, the wind blows, and the farm country slowly changes from the summer cottons into its winter woods.”  ~ Henry Beston 



In A Vase On Monday


As I do every Monday (or before Monday sometimes), I wander the garden looking for what plants might make for a lovely vase to bring indoors.  [email protected]Rambling in the Garden hosts this wonderful meme, In a Vase on Monday.   And I also love to link in with [email protected]Lavender Cottage who hosts Mosaic Monday.  Of course I had to create a couple of fall foliage vases inspired by the book I reviewed.  



small fall vase

The first vase used more of the cattails we cut last week.  I also included lots of the re-yellow peony foliage, Northern Sea Oat grass heads, and yellow foliage from the gorgeous Clethra bush with its spent flowerheads.  And nestled in the front were a few rose hips.




large fall vase1


The second vase also featured lots of cattails, peony foliage and rose hips with loads of foliage and seedheads from Baptisia for a wonderful full frothy look.  In addition there were some grassy flowerheads, and purple fall colored foliage and spent flowerheads of Obedient plant and Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’.

You can see another picture of this vase at the top of the post.  I really love how both fall foliage vases came out this week.  There are a few flowers left in my late October garden, and warm weather predicted this week, so I may have one more flower vase next week before the freezing temps rush in at the end of October (yes they are predicting that frozen mix again, but I am only whispering it again….)



Next up on the blog:  Wednesday I hope to have a fun, spooky holiday garden post.  And Monday marks the time for another garden journal and review of my October garden  sharethelove

I am also joining in I Heart Macro with [email protected]Shine The Divine that happens every Saturday.     


66 Replies to “Fine Foliage”

  1. Sounds like an interesting book; did they suggest taking images in monochrome to help highlight texture and form, I find it such a useful tool, we can become misled by foliage colour as much as by flower colour, don’t you think. I always think about foliage but wouldn’t say I had an area of the garden that was only foliage. It is the most important element but not the only element; I’ll look forward to seeing how you change the design of your garden and please explain all your thinking behind the changes. Love both vases!

    1. No Christina they did not recommend that but I agree it does help especially with foliage texture, form and color. I will be sure to explain what changes I make in the garden and why. Right now I am chopping, removing and looking at all the weeding I can’t do. But the clearing is bringing things more into focus.

  2. Lovely vases again Donna. I have also found I am looking at foliage more since joining in with the Monday vase meme. I would like more grasses and I love Heucheras, especially in autumn or winter, but in summer I want big flowers!

  3. Although I don’t have a particular book on foliage for reference, when I give presentations I stress the importance of it for form and colour, especially in a shady location.
    The book sounds like it could get the creative juices flowing.
    Thanks for linking to Mosaic Monday Donna.

  4. Your arrangement is a work of art, Donna! I’m so glad you reviewed this book; it’s been on my to-read list for a while, and I still haven’t gotten around to getting it. Also, I met Christina, one of the authors, at the Portland Fling this summer, and I wished I had had a copy of the book then for her to sign. This has to go to the top of my winter reading list! Like you, I started my gardens thinking only about flowers and big, showy blooms. As time has gone on, though, I’ve realized flowers don’t last forever, and how important foliage is in creating beauty in a garden.

    1. Darn, that would have been nice to have the author sign the book Rose. Enjoy the book and the foliage in your garden!!

  5. I love your beautiful vase arrangements. And good information onthe foliage book. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Great post and it is good to focus on foliage, isn’t it? I do take the leafy in my gardens into consideration, but I have to admit, like you, I’m a flower girl. I do love seed heads and grass foliage/plumes and they add such beauty to a garden–and to your vase!

  7. Wonderful bouquet Donna! I think I am more drawn to foliage than flowers but have to say I think I chose most of the plants for my garden based upon wildlife value and when in the season they would bloom – foliage was lower on the list although I was sold on Amsonia because of its incredible fall color! This book looks interesting and like one I would enjoy over and over. I own “Designing With Plants” by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury. It covers more than foliage and more than blooms but things like form (which might include spires, plumes, buttons and globes, umbels), and leaves (which might include texture, shape) and even delves into mood and movement. It is a very comprehensive book and I have to thank you for bringing it to mind so that I may study it again.

    1. Kathy, I saw “Designing With Plants” and another one by Piet when I looked on my shelves so I will pull them off and look them over. I also pick flowers and shrubs for their wildlife value, and I am sure I will continue to do so even when I add more foliage.

  8. I love your very fine foliage vases, Donna. I bought this book this year and made note of some combinations to try, but didn’t do it yet. My one concern was the authors’ use of some plants, such as barberry, that are aggressive in my area. I do agree with them, however, that ‘it’s not just about flowers any more.’ P. x

    1. That is a concern Pam about some of the plants listed being aggressive. I will be substituting many of the plants while keeping the same style elements which will be interesting. Let me know how you make out as you try the combos from the book. Happy you enjoyed the vases.

  9. Your autumn vase is stunning, love the cattails.
    The book you reviewed sounds really good, I feel that foliage is so important for when the flowers are having a rest, if you have good foliage contrasts then your borders will never be dull!

  10. It sounds great the idea of arrangement of foliage in garden… interesting, indeed!! and you pics are so beautiful!! a sunny week of autumn!

  11. I love your autumnal vases, Donna. The cattails are wonderful and you’ve added enough bright color to make them zing.

    I have a copy of “Fine Foliage” and enjoyed it, although, like you, I found that much of the featured foliage wouldn’t survive in my climate. I also have a foliage-centric book entitled “Variegated Leaves” by Susan Conder in my collection, which I recall is quite good. If you don’t already read Nan Ondra’s Hayfield blog, you might want to take a look at that – she always has scrumptious foliage photos and her climate may mirror yours more closely.

    1. I will make a point to visit Nan’s blog more Kris. The authors let me know that the majority of plants in their book are found in the Pacific NW which is why you and I would have to substitute. And they will be addressing that issue in the new book.

  12. I love your autumn vases, they are stunning. This book sounds really interesting, you are right foliage is so important. I have a great book by Christopher Lloyd called ‘Foliage Plants’ but it was published in 1973 so I don’ t know how easy it is to find.

  13. Your vase epitomises the attractions of foliage and other non-flowery material in the garden, Donna – it can be easy to forget seedheads and berries and grasses as they are part of the whole but we would miss them if they weren’t there. Like you and others, filling my vase every week has encouraged me look at them in a different way, as has Christina’s foliage meme. I especially want to add more grasses, but will wait till the spring as some of the prime varieties seem to be generally out of stock. Thanks for your on-going support and encouragement with the meme.

    1. It has been an amazing experience participating in your meme Cathy. And I agree Christina’s meme has been great in keeping foliage as a focus.

  14. I’d say you are a master of flower/foliage arranging! Always impressive 🙂

    I do consider foliage quite a bit when I garden. Flowers come and go (even though I seek out long-flowering plants) but foliage, stems and woody parts are the bones of a good garden.

  15. Beautiful and elegant vases Donna. So lovely and fitting for this time of year. The book you describe sounds interesting.

    1. Thanks Susie. I will be looking for and using more foliage and grasses as the seasons march on as most flowers are gone now.

    1. I would love to come and make your arrangements Susie. Actually I hope to be with family in AZ for the holiday, and you can be sure I will be making an arrangement for the table.

  16. I am definitely a flowers first person. I confess that foliage is usually an afterthought for me – the only exception being with grasses.

    1. I think most gardeners are flower people…the big splashes of color just keep us enthralled and why wouldn’t they. Missing mine already.

  17. A beautiful autumnal arrangement Donna!! It is very inspiring to see something made without flowers. I am increasingly adding foliage to my garden as I love to have a permanent structure to my borders throughout the winter months. My initial drive when we moved here 5 years ago was to create borders full of much needed colour, but now as I go back and edit those borders many of my new additions are foliage focused.

  18. Foliage has always been a priority to me…textures, color, whether sun or shade, natural surroundings…ferns, mosses…integrated with plants on and along stonewalls….I just love it all! Great collage and nice write up on the book too!…:)JP

  19. Great post, Donna! I LOVE your bloom-less arrangement. Wow! It reminds me of an arrangement one might see in Better Homes and Gardens or Ideals magazine. Gorgeous fall arrangement!

  20. I don’t usually think about foliage until I could use some in a bouquet, I’ll have to consider it a bit more seriously having been inspired by your post!

  21. Beautiful arrangements….it’s lovely how nature has something to offer in every season. Thanks for sharing the beauty!

  22. I love seeing those cattails in there…used to pick them all of the time when I was a kid and we lived out in the country! 🙂

    Here, I have used my barberry and smokebush and tall grasses as accents in a bouquet sometimes but have to be careful with that barberry…ouch! 🙂

    1. I have one barberry left in my garden and was eyeing it the other day for a future vase so I was inspired when I saw yours Deb!

  23. Donna, your vases are wonderful; I love the cattails! My experience in the garden is the opposite of yours. Surrounded by woodland, I must think of foliage first, since flowers are often ephemeral accessories in shady places. And the sunny places I do have are so HOT, many flowers wither in protest. I own the book you profiled and have enjoyed it a lot. I am glad they are coming out with a sequel. My favorite foliage book is not actually a foliage book but one about shade gardening: Making the Most of Shade by Larry Hodgson.

    1. I will have to check out your book recommendation Deb. Actually, your garden has been a foliage inspiration to me. Stunning!

  24. Wow, I like the new look to your blog. I have been away for a long while and missed the new look. Your vase arrangement is very pretty and the foliage is such a nice way in which to decorate and display. No book in particular to recommend, although I do have a couple on the shelf somewhere. Your photos are especially nice also.

    1. Thanks Donna and welcome back. Can’t wait to read more about your trip. Glad you enjoyed the vases and the foliage shots highlighting some of my favorite foliage plants in my garden.

  25. You had me at Chad Sugg’s quote! But those foliage vases…WOW! To be honest, that’s why this is my favorite time of the year. I’m not sure what it is exactly but maybe I really like rustic???? 😀

  26. I love the rich tapestries that contrasting foliage forms and colours can create, I have a project in mind for an area in my front garden to take this further than I have done before, but I fear it will have to wait until next year now. I love your vases, and am off to check out the website. I think if the foliage combinations in a border work well you have a strong foundation for the rest.

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