May Foliage


Let’s face it, flowers are superior to foliage. This is especially true in May, when some gardeners (I’m not naming names) can be driven into ecstasies by masses of colorful tulips and other spring flowers. However, this does not mean that foliage should be ignored at this or any time of year.


Certainly, Ostrich Ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) contribute some drama to the garden by the end of May. These ferns are in the front foundation bed, and provide a nice background for all the Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis).


Here’s another view of the Ostrich Ferns, backlit by the sun.


Certain persons have suggested my garden needs some tropical plants for bold foliage. To these people I say: have you noticed the leaves on the Sweet Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)?


Or the Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum)? And this is just May, they’re not done growing.


Not that there isn’t plenty of fine textured greenery, like this Palm Sedge (Carex muskingumensis)?


Many spring flowers are ephemeral, fading away after they flower. With sufficient moisture, though, Great Merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora) makes a nice groundcover through the year.


Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) leaves get tattered in the heat of summer, but make a comeback in fall. By now their flowers are almost completely gone. I like the soft, distinctly lobed foliage that is left behind.


Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) is still blooming like crazy, but I also appreciate the shiny, deeply cut leaves. The fallen petals add a dainty touch.


Lady Ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) are not as imposing as their cousins the Ostrich Ferns, but they are compact and elegant.


I really like the rough texture and large Maple shape of Purple Flowering Raspberry (Rubus odoratus) leaves.


Bloodroot is really confusing me. Did I miss the flowers? Or is it not going to bloom at all? Under the leaves there are what look like flower buds, but maybe they are just seed capsules. Interesting leaves, either way.


Now, this is a breakthrough moment for me. I have purchased three Hostas to add to our wheelbarrow planter in the back garden: two ‘August Moon’ and one ‘Orange Marmalade’. In doing so I overcame a longstanding dislike of Hostas.


However, I could not deny that this planter needed something with large leaves to provide contrast to the little ‘Penny White’ Viola tricolor. We’ll see if this is another plant I can become fond of despite my instinctive negative reaction.

I am linking this post to Christine’s Foliage Day meme on her blog, My Hesperides Garden. Follow the link to see more delightful May foliage.


43 Comments on “May Foliage

  1. You’ve shared some great foliage this month Jason. Despite your introductory comment might I suggest that the Lamprocapnos plays a supporting role to the Ostrich Ferns rather than the other way round! Together of course they are perfection; I just advocate thinking about the foliage at least as much as the flowers. I think in your garden you have done that. Thanks for the contribution to GBFD.

  2. I’m so glad you’re getting over your dislike of hostas, I find them invaluable in all the shade that I have in the garden here, I wouldn’t be without them!

  3. Your foliage looks wonderful. I noticed in one photo the ginger leaves. I have a nice swathe of them. They make a fine ground cover even tho it takes a while to get them going. I love ostrich ferns. They can be so dramatic.

  4. Those ostrich ferns are magnificent – it’s as though they’ve thrown their arms up in a ‘Ta da, it’s May!’ way.

  5. I once read a comment by a professional garden photographer suggesting that foliage was the major determinant as to whether a garden was photogenic.

    The more I garden (and I think this is true of many gardeners), the more I come to appreciate great foliage.

    Flowers often come and go in weeks – sometimes in a couple of months – but foliage sticks around through a whole season (if we’re lucky), so the shape, color, texture and fragrance of foliage can be a big deal in a garden.

    I love the selection of foliage you’ve shown in this post!

    And have you had a chance to try the berries on the Rubus odoratus?

    Missouri Botanical Garden says that Stylophorum diphyllum needs a moist-to-wet soil to keep from going dormant in early summer. Would you say that rings true in your experience?

    And does Uvularia grandiflora need a good bit of shade (as Mt. Cuba Center suggests)?

    • I have eaten the berries from R. odoratus – they are quite sour, but not unpleasant. In my garden the S. diphyllum does die back in the heat of summer, but new leaves emerge in September.

  6. Everything is so fresh and new….I love the combination of fern and Bleeding Hearts. Happy Spring!

  7. Now, now–foliage does play its part in the big scheme of things–though, I agree, flowers are the BEST! Nice post, great foliage shots and you can do flowery things for the rest of the summer.

  8. Lovely photos of your plants Jason. You’re right many of them have pretty leaves after flowering. I liked fern and geranium foliage as well. I also love columbine leaves all the summer.

  9. I have fern-envy. We tried to grow ostrich ferns in a nook on the north side of our house, but they didn’t take. The next year only a couple came up. We have perennial foxglove there that does fine, but the ferns have eluded us.

    I did not like hostas the way I had seen them planted –in rows, mostly, and just the smaller-leaved more common ones. But I have a shade garden with several different hostas with a variety of leaf sizes (although most on the larger side) and I love them in such a mix.

    Do you have your wheelbarrow garden inside a building in the winter? I’d think the roots of the plants would freeze?

    • Nope, I leave the wheelbarrow outside. I think some plants are hardy enough to survive in the container outside. We’ll see.

  10. We have a lot of Hosta in Buffalo. You just might not like it here. There are a lot of flowers out now, but the foliage is so important when the flowers fade. Bloodroot already has bloomed here. Maybe you missed yours.

  11. A beautiful mix of foliage, but the bloodroot is my favorite even if it does go messy in the later part of the year…. or at least mine did, until it died completely…
    But there’s always plenty more in the May garden!

  12. I’ve never liked Hostas and don’t think I ever will. I’m curious to see if you will change your mind.

  13. Hostas were never my favorite, but it’s one of the few plants that grow well in my shady– often dry—yard. So hostas I grow. I’ve learned to like them 😉 Ferns, on the other hand, I never had to learn to like—I just love them—and they grow in green profusion in the moist areas at the little house in the big woods.

  14. How do you keep those Ostrich ferns from romping everywhere? My neighbor’s ferns are always making inroads into my garden.

  15. Oh, good on you getting a few hostas, I disliked them back in the day, but their foliage is gorgeous, providing you can keep the slugs off them! Loved all your dramatic greens, especially those ferns, I just love that shade of green as they get

  16. Hostas in a planter are fine, but in the ground…enough already! This plant belongs in China. We need plants that feed the bees and the butterflies.

  17. Another of those “never say never” moments. We could save ourselves a lot of crow eating if we would refrain from declaring any plant (or color) off limits. As for me, I should collect recipes for 101 ways to prepare crow.

    • Several times I have shifted my views on a group of plants. Although not always dramatically. With Peonies, for example, I went from dislike to benign tolerance.

  18. Pingback: WHY FOLIAGE IS IMPORTANT TOO - Garden Pics and Tips

  19. Hello Jason, I love the mass of Ostrich fern planted in a row in front of the window, it’s a really dramatic backdrop to the plants in front. Given enough anti-slug treatment, I find Hostas are very easy-going, low-maintenance plants that you can divide again and again every couple of years to really bulk out the stock from just a single plant. There are so many to choose from too.

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