Q&A: Designing with Variegated Plants

I’m thinking about adding some plants with variegated leaves to my garden next spring, but I’m nervous about making the scene too busy. Do you have any advice for how to place them? —BH, Conn.

Answer: Plants with variegated leaves (green broken up by stripes, splashes or spots of white, silver, cream or yellow) can add lightness and definitions to beds and borders and bring interest to a dark corner.

But there are several points to consider when choosing and placing a variegated plant:

  • A bold stripe down the middle of the leaf or a neat outline running the edge of the leaf is more eye-catching than irregular splashes or overall mottling.
  • Too many variegated plants used close together can be discordant. Mix plenty of green plants among them.
  • If placing variegated plants next to each other, choose ones with contrasting leaf shapes. Place a broad-leafed variegated plant next to one with small or narrow leaves.
  • You don’t have to mix variegated plants with just plain green plants. Mix them with all-silver or all-gold foliage too. Match carefully: plants with white or cream markings go best with plants with silver foliage. Plants with yellow or gold marking go best with plants with gold foliage.
  • Variegated evergreens will make an impression in all seasons, so plan carefully. Think about the colors of the flowers near it in spring and summer the colors of adjacent turning leaves in fall; and the colors of nearby bare branches in winter.

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