What's going to be left?

That's the question many of us are asking as we watch our gardens zooming ahead of the typical bloom schedule. Plants that would normally be flowering now have come and gone. Aside from a few sun-faded coneflowers, what am I going to look at later in August?

Luckily, there's always foliage. Bright blooms steal the limelight, but leaves do more than play a supporting role. Especially now that there's such a wide variety, from the deep burgundy of Hillside Black Beauty bugbane to the pretty patterned leaves of Jack Frost brunnera.

Foliage can even outshine flowers. Take coral bells. The tiny blooms are cute, but hardly the stars. Ditto with many hosta. Who remembers what the flowers of a Hadspen Blue hosta look like when they see those giant gray-blue leaves? And foliage offers much more than just color. Shape and texture add rich variation, from the spiky fronds of a Dre's Dragon fern to the lacy Maiden Hair.

Of course, you can overdo anything. (Ask me why I now consider variegated artemsia a weed.) But I've had plenty of pleasant foliage surprises, too. I once planted some Japanese aster (Kalimeris variegata), only to find it also offered a mass of blooms. As a gardening buddy noted, "Oh, so it's not just another pretty leaf."

Not that there's anything wrong with that, especially come late August. □

Martha Buns is one of the Star Tribune's Greengirls garden bloggers. Join the growing conversation at startribune.com/greengirls.