Almost two years ago I posted about foliage and thought it was about time for an update. This post I'm focusing on Spring foliage from January through May. Foliage is such a key component of flower design. The green in foliage is the perfect frame for making colors pop. Layered foliage adds texture, dimension, and interest and is like a great matte+frame that makes the whole picture stunning.
As we all discovered, weather in January and February in North Texas is a roller-coaster. If you want great foliage in these late winter months, there's a handful of plants you can grow outside. You can also go the extra step of growing in pots. You'll need a place to protect them from freeze: a greenhouse or a spot in your garage where you can move them when those temperatures dip. If your garage is separate from your house, it could also freeze so you designate a spot in your laundry room, dining room, side bathroom, really anywhere with some protective warmth that you're willing to sacrifice for foliage :)
Outdoor: Lavender, boxwood, holly, eleagnus and other evergreens like English Ivy. Dusty Miller survives frosts fine but can sometimes be a little beat-up in late winter. Privet is invasion so please don't plant it but if you happen to have some privet in your hedge, cut the stems for early foliage. In early February - branches can be brought in for forcing: quince and forsythia especially.
Indoor: my potted scented geraniums are my go-to for early foliage. In October, I prune them back and dig them out of the ground (they cannot freeze). Reasonable light and watering keeps them growing and by January, I usually have a lovely amount to cut from.
Depending on the weather, some many shrubs begin to leaf out during a warm late January spell and are then killed by a February freeze. This means early March is pretty sparse on foliage as woody bushes struggle to re-leaf. Cerinthe (honeywort) is a hardy annual that blooms early and is easily seeded straight into the ground in December. Hardy and fuss free, it typically survives frosts without cover (a polar vortex might be too much for it) and begins to bloom early March. Think outside the box for other sources of green - just budded Snapdragons and leafy Star Scabiosa are cuts I take for green pops when everything outside is still waking up.
By mid March (later if a polar vortex has hit) the woody shrubs like spirea, blueberries and blackberries, viburnum, abelia, and nandina have leafed out enough to cut from. Flowering peach, plum, and redbud trees are perfectly in bud and ready to use. In non-polar vortex years, it's possible to have a mid-March foliage haul of forsynthia, spirea, eleagnus, nandina, fava bean foliage, english ivy, sage, Indian Hawthorne branches, and dusty miller as shown below.
In a strange twist of events, I find that early April tends to be a bit sparse on the foliage. My go-to foliage is the blackberry and abelia bushes. They continue to crank out the leaves while the rest of the woody shrubs move on. Cerinthe also gives me a great flush and we use that extensively. My Sage is usually usable and I cave to cutting from the privet hedge. Still green dianthus and budded snapdragons are usable as well.
Mid-to-late April brings me one of my all-time favorite foliage: bupleurum. I can truly never have enough of it's wild-looking form, tiny yellow flowers and perfectly chartreuse-colored leaves. I only have 12 rows to grow in but bupleurum gets an entire row! Airy nigella makes a wonderful foliage and orlaya and cress are also blooming around this time.
If our spring has been mild, early May could still have some nigella and bupleurum side shoots for use. My blackberry bushes are still cranking out the foliage (they are my favorite!) and by mid-May statice and yarrow have arrived and I loosely categorize them as foliage :) Salivas, clary sage, ammi, and my alba baptisia are also ready. Clematis and honeysuckle vines are plentiful as well. If you have shade, heuchera leaves are perfect for vase arrangements and a well-watered sword fern is wonderful if properly hydrated and conditioned.
I hope this lists has proven insightful. A strong foliage foundation is best accomplished using a mix of trees, shrubs, perennials and hardy annuals. Think outside the box with thoughtful foraging and use green buds, pods, or leaves from not-yet-flowering plants (hello ferny cosmos) While technically it's own group, ornamental grasses can also add texture and a pop of green. Always vase-test something you're unsure about before sending it out to a customer!
For summer there's a whole new set of foliages to use: gomphrena, hydrangea paniculata, oregano, basil, feverfew, pokeweed, plectranthus, various mints and others. Autumn brings Eucalyptus (finally!!), green sedums, Mahogany splendor, cosmos ferns, amaranthus leaves and often a second flush of salvias and herbs. I'll write another blog post about those when I have a moment (so much Spring seeding to be done!)