Last Saturday afternoon, I spent a few hours browsing garden centers, looking for something fun and beautiful to buy my Mom for Mother's Day. I was planning to pick up a flowering shrub or a hanging basket filled with bright blooms. Then I saw something at Tangletown Gardens ( that made me stop in my tracks. 


It was a hanging basket filled with nothing but foliage: Big velvety Rex begonias, in a fresh spring green with burgundy mottling on the leaves, plus a few small accent plants in eggplant and chartreuse. There were no flowers at all. Yet it was stunning and unusual. Maybe a bit too unusual for my Mom, who likes her geraniums. I looked around some more, but I kept coming back to that basket of begonias, and finally bought it.

Mom loved it (or at least she said she did). And I wish I'd picked up one of those pots for myself.


I haven't planted my own containers yet, but I know foliage will take a starring role. Flowers are fabulous, don't get me wrong. But the longer I garden, the more I tend to choose plants for their foliage rather than their blooms. While flowers bloom for a short time (or not at all), foliage usually keeps its looks throughout the growing season. And leaves come in so many shapes, sizes, textures and colors, that it's easy to combine them to create a great-looking landscape.


When I visit the winning gardens in the Star Tribune's annual "Beautiful Gardens" contest (, I'm struck by how many of them focus on the non-flowering plants. Often the gardeners say they started gardening because they wanted the payoff of pretty flowers or tasty veggies. But they soon got hooked on foliage.

My current favorites are ligularia in my garden beds, and licorice plant and moneywort for my pots, with a big, showy tropical like elephant ear or coleus. And this year, I definitely want some 'Cowardly Lion' begonias, like the ones I bought my Mom.

How about you? Tell us about your favorite foliage plants. What leaves do you love?