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Turn over a new leaf

When we think about colour in the garden, we usually think about flowers. But flowers are seasonal so, while they are fabulous to grow and often very beautiful, we can't rely on flowers alone if we want colour and interest year-round.

This is where foliage comes into its own. Leaves don't have to be green. They can be just about any colour of the rainbow - red, orange, yellow, purple, pink, silver, white, black, and any combination of these colours.

I can't think of any plants with really blue leaves, although plenty do have blue tones of green or grey.

In some cases, the colour of leaves changes with the age of the leaf. They may emerge as pink or red before turning green as they mature. And of course, the leaves of most deciduous trees change colour before they fall in autumn.

The colour variations are caused by the different pigments in the leaves, and the way the pigments reflect light. That's what determines the way we perceive the colour.

The science of foliage colour is fascinating and the effects that it creates are really exciting. Some leaves may be a single colour, others may be a combination of one or more colours, with no particular order to the pattern. And still others are so intricately patterned that they look as though each has been carefully designed and individually painted.

Bougainvilleas, poinsettias and mussaendas get their brilliance not from their flowers, which are quite inconspicuous, but from the brightly coloured modified leaves which surround the flowers. Without these modified leaves, the plants would be nowhere near as showy.

There are plants with coloured or variegated foliage that will grow in full sun to full shade positions, and those that like shady positions are very suitable for growing indoors.

Tropical cordylines, acalyphas and the variegated cannas provide brilliant colour displays in full sun. Many of our native lilly pillies, such as Cascade, have beautifully coloured new growth.

Calatheas, ctenanthes, pothos and stromanthes, as well as some of the variegated bromeliads, are fabulous in the shade and make great indoor plants because can grow without direct sunlight.

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