10 AGM plants for bold foliage

Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’

As a specimen for a sunny patio, ‘Zwartkop’ is superb. Its flattish rosettes of succulent, almost black leaves are carried on the ends of woody stems, giving an impressive effect. It can become bare at the base, though, so slot a few plants of a pale blue lobelia around the edge of the pot.Plants normally grow to around 1m (3ft), occasionally reaching 2m (6.5ft) given time.  Hardiness rating H1c. 

× Fatshedera lizei ‘Annemieke’

This hybrid between a Fatsia and a Hedera (ivy) gives you pretty much what you’d expect. It’s a vigorous evergreen with glossy, five-pointed leaves held on thick stems. Spreading, and not always self-supporting, it can be tied to a wall or fence and is especially good in a shady corner. ‘Annemieke’, has the benefit of brightly yellow-splashed young leaves which mature to two-tone green. 1.5m (5ft). Hardiness rating H3.

Canna ‘Phasion’ (Tropicanna)

With large and impressively-coloured foliage, each leaf is striped in a psychedelic mixture of green, purple and yellow, with orange streaks, topped with orange flowers. Plant three together 30cm apart to provide a large, multi-stemmed clump with real impact. Clouds of yellow and orange Cosmos sulphureus look splendid around the base. At the end of the season the rhizomes can be dried off and stored like dahlias. 1.5m (5ft). Hardiness rating H3.

Cynara cardunculus

Although the leaf stems are still sometimes blanched for use in the kitchen, the cardoon is now more often seen as an ornamental plant for sunny borders. Its huge, jaggedly divided, silver foliage carried on thick stems makes an impressive specimen from early in the season. In summer the plants grow tall stems topped with large purple thistle-like flowers. 1.5m (5ft). Hardiness rating H6. 

Bergenia purpurascens var. delavayi

All bergenias have large, rounded, leathery leaves with a shiny gloss finish on the topside. This one is bronzed green on the upper surface and beetroot red underneath. The colour is especially vivid in winter – in spring the new leaves are bright green and the plant bears carmine pink flowers. Plant bulbs of Crocus tommasinianus amongst the plants for an attractive early combination. 45cm (18in). Hardiness rating H5.

Hedera colchica ‘Dentata Variegata’

This easy, strong-growing, self-clinging, evergreen climber for shade or partial shade features large, folded two-tone green leaves with a broad irregular creamy white margin. Some leaves may be almost all yellow, some almost all green. Needs a little help to get started climbing but then its short stem roots take hold. Also makes impressive, weed smothering ground cover but needs plenty of space. 2.4m (8ft). Hardiness rating H5.

Gunnera manicata

The herbaceous perennial with the largest leaves in this selection, sometimes called the “giant rhubarb” although, in fact, is more closely related to fuchsias! One leaf can be as much as 2m across and carried on stems 2.5m long – it’s a big plant. Clearly, it needs plenty of space although I once saw a specimen in a huge pot in an urban front garden. It appreciates moist soil. 2m (6.5ft). Hardiness rating H4.

Hosta ‘Sagae’

One of the most popular of the large hostas, the leaves are almost triangular, about 25cm long, and deep green but edged in gold which matures to a creamier shade. Like most hostas, ‘Sagae’ is best left undivided to mature into a specimen plant where its presence is an invaluable focus in summer after other, mainly spring flowering, shade lovers are past their peak. 1.25m (4ft). Hardiness rating H7.

Mahonia × media ‘Lionel Fortescue’

An easy-to-grow evergreen shrub whose leaves make a significant impact all the year round. Impressively colourful late season flowers and then berries as well – that’s a plant worth growing. The fragrant yellow blooms come after most other flowers are over, and are followed by strings of blue-black berries – all set against the most attractive foliage, like ladders of holly leaves. 5m (16.5ft) if unpruned. Hardiness rating H4.

Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’

This yucca develops into a colourful clump of around 75cm. Each leaf is vividly striped along the middle in bright yellow. In late summer, mature plants develop a stiff, upright flowering stem carrying scented, bell-shaped, creamy white flowers. Best in sun and well-drained soil, a dark gravel mulch shows it off well. Flower spikes to 1.8m (6ft). Hardiness rating H5.

H1 - H7 indicates the new RHS hardiness ratings.

Full details of RHS hardiness ratings (510kB pdf)

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