Shrubs with variegated leaves

Plants with variegated foliage

Plants with variegated foliage have leaves that are edged or patterned with different colours, in the form of splashes, spots, stripes or intricate patterns. White, cream, silver and gold are the most common colours, but you can also find vibrant shades of purple, pink, orange or red.

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Browse our plant database for plants with variegated foliage.

Variegated foliage is useful in the garden in various ways. It can add interest among a lot of plain green foliage – in front of a hedge, for example, or among shrubs; a large, variegated shrub can act as a focal point. Variegation also helps to lighten up shady places – plants with white, cream or gold markings stand out best.

Some variegated plants may be affected by sun scorch, while some ivies will revert to green if they don’t have enough light, so make sure you place them correctly.

Here are some beautiful variegated plants to grow.

Plants with variegated foliage have leaves that are edged or patterned with different colours, in the form of splashes, spots, stripes or intricate patterns.

Euonymus

Several varieties of euonymus have variegated foliage, including Euonymus fortunei ‘Silver Queen’, which is edged with white and pale pink. It makes an good specimen shrub and can be clipped into a hedge; it can also be trained up a fence. Grow in full sun or partial shade.

Acer palmatum ‘Kagiri Nishiki’

Acer palmatum ‘Kagiri-Nishiki’ is a variegated Japanese maple – the pretty, mid-green leaves have a slightly bluish tinge and have pink and white margins. The leaves turn crimson-gold in autumn. Grow in full sun or partial shade and protect from harsh winds.

Begonia rex

Begonia rex varieties are grown for their colourful, dramatic foliage, which can bear streaks, spirals or veins in splashes of silver, pink, purple or burgundy. The flowers are inconspicuous and usually removed. They are usually grown as houseplants but can enjoy a spell outside during the summer months.

Weigela

Weigela florida ‘Variegata’ is a compact shrub with attractive cream and green leaves that are a feature before and after the pretty, rose pink bell-shaped flowers appear in summer. Grow in a warm, sunny spot.

Ilex aquifolium ‘Silver Queen’

Ilex aquifolium ‘Silver Queen’ has distinctive silver margins on its spiny and glossy green leaves. The stems and young foliage are purple. A handsome evergreen shrub, it brings interest to the garden all year round and can be grown in sun or shade.

Canna

Cannas have large, paddle like leaves, which have a tropical look and can be attractively variegated – such as those of Canna indica, shown here. Cannas aren’t fully hardy, so give them some winter protection or grow in a pot that can be brought indoors in winter.

Euphorbia martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’

Euphorbias have attractive foliage and can add structure to the garden. The leaves of Euphorbia martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’ emerge with a pink flush and develop a red-marked, creamy yellow margin with age. They may also develop pink colouring in winter.

Hostas

Hostas are grown for their attractive leaves, which are often variegated in shades of cream, white, lime green, yellow or dark green. Be sure to protect them from slugs and snails, which will make a beeline for them. Hosta ‘Frosted Mouse Ears’, pictured, is a miniature hosta with blue-green leaves and a white margin.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ is an unusual grass, named for its bright green foliage decorated by horizontal cream bands. Although its foliage is its main attraction, it may also bear silky, slender flowers in summer, which last well into winter. Grow at the back of the border.

Agave ‘Cornelius’

Agaves are known for their spiky, glaucous foliage but some, including Agave ‘Cornelius’ are variegated. Grow in well-drained soil in a sunny spot. This agave is hardy but needs to be protected from winter wet – grow it in a container so that you can bring it inside in autumn.

Abelia x grandiflora ‘Hopleys’

Abelia x grandiflora ‘Hopleys’ is variegated form of Abelia x grandiflora, with green leaves and yellow margins. It bears masses of fragrant pink and white flowers throughout summer and into autumn. Grow in a sunny, sheltered site, ideally in front of a south-facing wall or at the back of a border.

Ivy

Many varieties of ivy are variegated, in shades of lime green, gold, white and silver. They look especially good climbing up a wall or fence among other green-leaved climbers; grow a large leaved variety such as Hedera colchica for extra impact.

Oleaster (Elaeagnus)

Several forms of Elaeagnus are variegated, including Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’, which has golden leaves with irregular green margins. It makes a colourful winter foliage plant. Grow in well-drained, fertile soil in full sun or light shade.

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Other variegated plants to try

  • Houttynia cordata ‘Chamaeleon’
  • Cyclamen hederfolium
  • Phormium tenax ‘Joker’
  • Spotted laurel

Actinidia kolomikta, a standard of reference among variegated plants. Photographs on these pages by W.G. Waters.

The author’s departure on a protracted horticultural tour in Europe left the manuscript without reference to variegated privet and myrtle. These omissions in no way detract from the value of his survey of the variegated plants of greatest value in western landscapes.

When I think of the great many kinds of variegated foliage and the many effects they can have on those who appreciate them, I feel sorry for my gardening friends who determinedly shut out this entire range of plants from their gardens. Consider, for example, those somewhat anemic beauties with leaves that are partly green and partly cream or white, often with a pink tinge. They include such plants as Actinidia kolomikta and Acanthopanax sieboldianus ‘Variegatus’ and Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ — surely these are wonderful and appealingly delicate garden subjects. To persist in thinking of them as sick is somehow analogous to dismissing the more sensitive forms of human communication as neurotic; in both cases there is a graceful departure from a more robust norm. Some prize variegated plants are grown almost solely for the intricate design and color of their leaves, which can be intriguing almost in the manner of flowers. The variegated star jasmine, for example, I find most beautiful when it is not flowering, even though it flowers as abundantly as the plain green one. Another class of shrubs with variegated leaves is grown primarily for its garden effect in the same way as plants with overall colored foliage. In still other cases — and perhaps these are the best of all — varicolored leaves complement and provide a handsome setting for flowers or fruits; perhaps the most exquisite example is the variegated Ampelopsis brevipedunculata, which has masses of white, pink and green leaves among which, in fall, the turquoise and pink berries appear like jewels.

I realize that all this is a little elaborate for some tastes, but I think we must surely long ago have lost those readers who prefer quiet greenery and simple formats for their gardens. For my part, I think broad ranging plant collectors are condemned to baroque effects. Their gardens are perhaps less to be likened to paintings, as Gertrude Jekyll would have it, than to novels that unravel as we travel through, with plots and sub-plots, dramatic confrontations and lots of unexpected and exciting characters — well blended we hope, but at least with distinctive ingredients, blended or not. These are the places where colored and variegated foliage is most apt to be used and enjoyed in a way that can dazzle.

If we plan to use them, there are some things we should keep in mind about variegated plants in general. One is that, since they are at least to some degree lacking in chlorophyll, they are slower growing than their all-green equivalents and more time should be allowed for them to fill their allotted spaces in the garden. Slow growing, of course, is not the same as dwarf. Thus, a new variegated sweet gum is said to be smaller than the non-variegated, but there is a strong possibility that it will in time reach something approaching full height for the species. Another fact to bear in mind about variegated plants is that those with a central blotch of some color other than green on their leaves are far more apt to revert than those with colored margins. I don’t know why this is so, but it is invariably true. To maintain an all over variegated tree or shrub, it becomes necessary to cut out those new growths that are all or nearly all green, and this practice is apt to leave us with a misshapen plant. Finally, some variegated plants must be positioned with considerable care. Most of those with yellow or gold variegations are perfectly hardy to sun, even in very warm climates, but those with cream or white markings are usually considerably more tender. Some of the latter will take full sun without exactly burning, but there is nevertheless a tendency for the white or cream to turn yellowish. Thus, the ideal position for a plant of Actinidia kolomikta is the north side of a tree, hedge or mixed shrubbery, where the delicate whiteness of the plant will be protected and where it can be enjoyed against a darker, shadowy background.

Large Deciduous Trees

One of the most beautiful of all variegated large trees is Acer platanoides ‘Drummondii’ whose large, glossy leaves have a clearly defined white border. The effect of this marvelous tree is one of overall decoration, quite different from that of the ghost tree, Acer negundo ‘Variegatum’ whose leaves are also green and white, but irregularly so and with more white, resulting in the pale tree that justifies its common name. Both of these are excellent in their different ways in the northwest; in California they are best grown where they have some afternoon shade to prevent yellowing of the white parts of their leaves.

Liriodendron tulipifera ‘Aurea Marginata’. Photograph by W.G. Waters.

There are several variegated cultivars of the tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera, perhaps the best being ‘Aureo-marginatum’ with leaves margined deep gold — a very handsome tree. There is also a form ‘Aureopictum’, which has leaves with a central gold blotch but I have not seen it. Liriodendrons are deciduous trees of large size, and, while I have never seen a full grown plant of L. tulipifera ‘Aureo-marginatum’, it is not difficult to imagine the splendid sight it would be.

Some variegated cultivars of the London plane tree, Platanus acerifolia, have yellow and others creamy white variegations. The most effective of these, I think, is ‘Suttneri’, some large specimens of which can be seen in England. This excellent tree has variegation that includes leaves blotched with creamy white and others that are almost wholly of that color.

I have seen two variegated forms of the sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua, one with leaves patterned throughout with yellow and another — the more handsome of the two — with a broad golden edge to its leaves. Both of these are new cultivars. Finally, there are two forms of the Spanish chestnut (I have seen neither). One, Castanea sativa ‘Albo-marginata’, has white leaf margins and the other, ‘Aureo-marginata’, has yellow margins. The latter is said to be a very handsome tree.

Another large deciduous tree I know only by reputation is Populus balsamifera ‘Aurora’ whose foliage was like that of Actinidia kolomikta, large and irregular white variegations which are often flushed pink. A native of central Canada, this tree has been subject to attacks of a bacterial canker in Great Britain, which may or may not occur in our climate. Like other poplars, the tree, I understand, can be pollarded to produce masses of this beautiful foliage.

Large Evergreen Trees

Some years ago a new golden cultivar of Tristania conferta appeared in Western Australia and was seen in California nurseries not long afterward. It has a large central golden blotch in its leaves which makes it a very bright object in the landscape. It is, however, very slow growing. No one knows what its eventual size will be, but T. conferta is a giant of the forest, often two hundred feet high and widespreading.

The variegated Metrosideros excelsa also has leaves with an irregular central golden blotch, and it, too, is a cultivar of a rain forest giant, although, again, no one knows how large it will become in time. Judging from the young plants I have seen, it is an altogether less appealing variegated tree than the tristania, with more of a spotted and less of an overall golden effect. The appearance of the brilliant red metrosideros flowers against this foliage is hard to imagine.

Medium Sized Deciduous Trees

The variegated Cornus controversa is a tree of almost unrivaled splendor. It has lanceolate leaves, considerably narrower than the non-variegated, that are bordered with creamy white and often pink tinged. This marvelous a light, creamy yellow. ‘Karasugawa’ is like ‘Asahi zuru’ except that there is more pink in the white parts of the leaves and the new growth can be astonishingly pink and white throughout before many of the leaves turn green. l must refer the reader to Mr. Vertrees’ excellent study for a better idea of the sweeping range of these remarkable trees and bushes.

Several other oriental maples less well-known than Acer palmatum have cultivars with leaves splashed with white or white and pink. Among these are Acer buergeranum, A. crataegifolium and A. truncatum subsp. mono. One of the most beautiful is A. cratae­gifolium ‘Veitchii’ with many blotched leaves and others that are wholly white.

Small Evergreen Trees

There are a number of small to medium sized evergreen trees from the southern hemisphere with pleasantly variegated leaves, some of which are just now being introduced into Pacific Coast gardens. The most outstanding of these and one of the most beautiful of all variegated plants is Agonis flexuosa ‘Variegata’. This striking, large shrub or slow growing small tree with its elegant masses of rather small lanceolate leaves appears from a distance to be all over cream and pink. Unfortunately, it is extreme­ tree grows to thirty-five feet or so with wide spreading, horizontal branches that give it an elegant layered look, and the flat clusters of small white flowers in late spring are beautiful. The tree must be given room to spread in the garden and, if possible, a dark background for a dramatic effect.

Surely no plant in the history of horticulture has had more attention from nurserymen and gardeners in the selection of promising variegated seedlings than the Japanese maple, Acer palmatum. There are forms of this famous tree with red, pink, white, cream, yellow and light green variegations; indeed in a few instances all these colors appear on one plant. In his monograph, Japanese Maples, J.D. Vertrees lists fifty cultivars that are chiefly known for their variegation, a figure that does not include many more that are primarily remarkable for other features but also have variegated leaves. Many of the most striking, in my estimation, have highly irregular variegations more or less in the manner, again, of Actinidia kolomikta (a plant so strikingly variegated that I find it a valuable standard of reference). Acer palmatum ‘Asahi zuru’, for example, has some leaves entirely white and many others spotted white, usually with some pink, all seen against a background of leaves of ordinary coloration. An interesting variant is ‘Kagero’ which has yellow instead of white variegation; here and there about the tree whole patches of leaves will bely difficult to propagate and remains rare even in its native Australia. There are two variegated cultivars of Hoheria populnea, a small tree from New Zealand that blooms copiously in late summer. One, ‘Alba Variegata’ has leaves irregularly margined with white; there is an excellent specimen twenty-five feet high in the Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco. The other, ‘Aurea Variegata’, has leaves irregularly blotched yellow. Both of these plants can easily be kept to shrub size.

The variegated pittosporums are numerous. The two cultivars of Pittosporum tobira, ‘Variegata’ and ‘Wheeler’s Dwarf’ are too well known to need description here. More handsome than these, I think, is the variegated form of Pittosporum crassifolium, which has leaves with creamy white edgings that are gray-felted below, as in non-variegated plants. Similar, except that the leaves are larger and more heavily covered with whitish indumentum, is P. ralphii ‘Variegatum’, one of the most prized of all pittosporums in New Zealand. P. eugeniodes with its wavy-edged, light green leaves is always a cheerful small, narrow evergreen tree, and its variegated cultivar with white leaf margins is still lighter and more pleasant.

Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Marjory Channon’. Photographs by the author.

Recent years have seen the introduction of a number of variegated cultivars of Pittosporum tenuifolium. The ordinary variegated form makes a striking, silvery small tree, but P. tenuifolium ‘Silver Queen’ has whiter and larger leaf margins and is even more effective. A newer cultivar ‘Rotundifolium Variegatum’ has creamy-white edged very small leaves that show off the black twigs that are a feature of these pittosporums. The cultivar ‘Garnettii’ is similar to ‘Silver Queen’ but has deep pink leaf edges in the winter months, at which time it makes an extraordinarily handsome tree. We have recently acquired a pale golden variegated form of P. tenuifolium for which we have as yet no name. Before we leave the pittosporums, we should note that the Australians are fond of a variegated form of the Victorian box, P. undulatum.

Ilex aquifolium ‘Ferox Aurea’.

Cultivars of the common holly, Ilex aquifolium, were once among the most frequently seen variegated small evergreen trees. If their vogue has declined it is, I think, partly due to their rather stiff, and therefore some would say, formal, habit and partly because of their association with badly planted and often badly maintained old gardens. This is regrettable, since there are so very many elegant variegated cultivars of this great traditional and deservedly beloved tree. In fact, Ilex aquifolium is for the English what Acer palmatum is for the Japanese; hundreds of cultivars have arisen in the course of several centuries of the cultivation of this plant in the British Isles. In 1874 Thomas Moore began a series of articles in the Gardener’s Chronicle entitled The Common Holly and its Varieties; the series ran in fourteen installments over the next two years. Bean notes that in the eighteenth century holly cultivars were given pleasing common names like Eales Holly or Painted Lady Holly, most of which were lost late in the last century in an unfortunate but fashionable attempt to substitute latinized and scientific names. It was not understood that when vegetatively reproduced, as most cultivars of woody plants are, they remain individuals despite duplication, and individuals, as we know, can only be referred to by proper names. Thus, if a cultivar is called ‘Aurea Medio-picta’ and there is only one plant that can be so described, then the only damage done is to the language. But if there are several cultivars with golden leaf blotches, then the damage is much more serious. Catalogues are then often reduced to describing different selections of ‘Aurea Medio-picta’, which is, of course, a contradiction, since, by definition, each is a separate cultivar. In short, the damage has been great and any number of cultivars have been lost irretrievably because their differences were not recognized and they were denied names. Considerable confusion exists to this day among the remainder.* It is fortunate that, for historical reasons, the Japanese maple did not suffer this fate. (Japanese names become for us, who do not know the language, proper names. Proper names point to unique individuals and are not intended to describe properties which may occur in several individuals.)

One plant of the Aurea Medio-picta group was extensively marketed as ‘Golden Milkmaid’ with the result that many similar plants have become known as golden milkmaid hollies. Some of these are beautiful plants with graceful, irregular golden patches on their shining leaf surfaces. There are both male and female plants with this configuration; the berries are a doubtful addition to the overall effect, but, as Christopher Lloyd has pointed out, the birds soon resolve this issue for you.

The various hollies with gold margins to their leaves were named ‘Aureo-marginata’, which also describes many plants. These gold-edged hollies are often the best of all since they are very colorful and much less apt to revert than plants of the Aurea Medio-picta group. They give decorative effects depending upon the size of the leaves, the width of the gold band, the number of spines and so on, and distinctive names are being given to the best of these. An excellent plant already named is ‘Golden King’ (although it is apparently a female) which has a very narrow gold band around a comparatively smooth, very dark green leaf. ‘Golden Queen’, a female, has smaller, more prickly leaves with a wider but less bright gold edge. There are many more.

The silver blotched hollies came to be called Argentea Medio-picta, and, again, several plants were called silver milkmaid hollies after a cultivar with very wavy, spiny-edged leaves irregularly blotched with creamy white. Two others with almost smooth leaves are called ‘Argentea Picta’ and ‘Lactea Picta’.

The silver edged holly that is frequently seen is known as ‘Argentea Marginata’, but, as usual, there are others that could be so described. There is also ‘Argenteo-marginata Pendula’ with gently weeping branches and ‘Argentea Stricta’ with upright branches.

Mention should also be made of the hedge­ hog or ferox hollies, with spines on their leaf-surfaces as well as on their edges. Perhaps the best of these is ‘Ferox Argentea’ which has white margins and white spines. ‘Ferox Aurea’ has a golden center to its leaves.

To sum up, I should say that it is difficult to give a good account of the best of the variegated common hollies. There are, however, many beautiful small trees of this class. These, I think, should be propagated, grown experimentally, named and marketed. The holly is often associated with northern gardens and with such plants as rhododendrons and camellias. However, Ilex aquifolium has a wide range in nature and many of its forms are good, fairly drought tolerant and quite reasonably sun tolerant plants for almost all parts of our Pacific Coast Mediterranean climate area.

Ilex x altaclarensis is the name of a group of hybrids between I. aquifolium and I. perado, the Madeira holly, which has, normally, larger leaves than I. aquifolium. The variegated forms of these hollies are handsome, comparatively large-leaved evergreens. The cultivar ‘Belgica Aurea’ has leaves three and a half to four inches long, and one and one-half to one and three-quarter inches wide, edged pale yellow. ‘Golden King’ has leaves three to four inches long by two and one-quarter inches wide, edged rich gold. Another cultivar ‘Lawsoniana’ has a central gold blotch on its leaves. All of these will in time make sizable trees — up to fifty feet.

Several of the many variegated forms of the common box, Buxus sempervirens, are handsome permanent features of the garden. I have never regretted planting boxwoods, although they were at first maddeningly slow. They now form pleasant backgrounds for herbaceous plants as well as occasional columnar or weeping features that are well furnished and never need pruning or care. They are much to be preferred to fast growing shrubs such as xylosmas and pittosporums which soon need cutting back. They have another virtue not readily appreciated but nonetheless real: they are ordinary, or, rather, they have a kind of aristocratic reserve that allows them to fit well into almost any planting.

Unfortunately, boxwoods also suffer from the now old-fashioned effort to give universal latinized names to cultivars. Thus I know of several plants that could be called ‘Argentea’. One is of very narrow columnar growth and has leaves outlined with an extremely narrow white band; another is more pyramidal in habit and has leaves that are more white than green, and there are more that lie somewhere between. Some of these can be used to brighten very dark corners, since box will thrive with less light than almost any other shrub, certainly less than any shrub of its kind; others are excellent wherever a spire-like effect is needed. A very pleasing box is the golden weeping ‘Aurea Pendula’, which has gently pendulous secondary branches and leaves splashed with or wholly yellow.

Two golden cultivars of Elaeagnus pungens are among the brightest of large shrubs for the garden. The best of these is ‘Aurea’, which has leaves margined with gold; and the upper third of many leaves has this same brilliant golden hue. I have seen this plant in England, Canada and New Zealand; it is vastly preferable to those offered as ‘Aurea’ in our nurseries. The cultivar ‘Maculata’ is still brighter, with a large golden blotch in the center of each leaf, but it is, unfortunately, apt to revert and spoil the general effect. The silvery scales for which Elaeagnus pungens is well known add a touch of brilliance which no other shrubs can equal, to its variegated cultivars.

This is perhaps the place to mention variegated cultivars of Euonymus japonica. I am not fond of these plants but they are extremely serviceable in Mediterranean climate areas. The brightest of them, and it is very glossily bright, is ‘Ovata Aurea’, which has leaves margined with rich yellow and which does not easily revert. ‘Aurea’ with a yellow blotch on its leaves is so prone to revert that I think it should never be planted. There are also two with white margins: ‘Albomarginata’ with a thin edging of white and ‘Latifolia Albomarginata’ with a wider creamy white margin. The latter is sometimes marketed as ‘Silver Queen’. (It should by now be obvious that cultivar names suffer markedly from a lack of imagination. However, this does not mean that the plants for which these banal names stand are not often exceedingly beautiful.)

Two sizable evergreen shrubs that are excellent for shady parts of the garden are the variegated cultivars of Osmanthus heterophyllus and Rhamnus alaternus, although, in all other respects, these are such different shrubs it is a little jarring to mention them in the same sentence. The osmanthus has highly decorative, holly-like, silver-edged leaves. It is an elegant, well-behaved shrub, although it will grow into a small tree if left to its own devices. A native of Japan, it needs regular irrigation to look its best. The variegated Rhamnus alaternus is a less elegant and less dense shrub, and its individual leaves have no great beauty. It is, however, lighter, brighter and more cheerful, and it is a tough native of the Mediterranean that will not only take drought but will also compete with the roots of nearby trees.

Deciduous Shrubs

There are a number of supremely beautiful large deciduous variegated shrubs. In fact, as a class, these are more effective than their evergreen counterparts, although, naturally, not in winter. In most cases, their new growth in spring is somewhat lacking in chlorophyll and therefore tends to assume shades of pink, lavender, cream or very pale green, and this, in itself, often makes these plants worth growing. Then, too, the overall freshness of the foliage in early summer together with the normally thinner and greater frailty of the leaves make for an exquisiteness that evergreens usually lack. Frequently, again, being somewhat low on chlorophyll, the leaves often assume beautiful pastel hues as they fall. The price paid for this is the tired look of so much deciduous foliage in late summer and, of course, bare branches in winter.

There are perhaps no more beautiful variegated shrubs than the two cultivars of Aralia chinensis, one with broad silver, the other with gold edges to its leaflets, ‘Albo-Marginata’ and ‘Aureo-Variegata’. Allowed to luxuriate in part or full shade in a damp spot, these large shrubs will in time form impressive clumps of brilliant foliage, crowned in late summer with creamy masses of flowers in panicles up to two feet long. Since they are difficult to propagate, they are fated to remain rare and expensive plants.

Acanthopanax sieboldianus is a smaller shrub in the Araliaceae that also has smaller and more delicate leaves and leaflets. In its variegated form these are bordered with creamy white. It is, as Bean has remarked, one of the daintiest of variegated shrubs. There is perhaps no more effective plant for the shade garden or the back of the perennial border.

Among the aristocrats of variegated shrubs is Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ which also has the coloring of Actinidia kolomikta; some leaves are edged white while others are nearly all white. On C. alba ‘Spaethi’ I shall again quote Bean, since I know of no better judge of trees and shrubs:

Undoubtedly the handsomest of all variegated cornels and perhaps the most effective of all deciduous yellow variegated shrubs in cultivation. A mass on a lawn has the most striking aspect all the summer through, for the plant has the great virtue of never having its foliage scorched by summer sun, although the major part of the leaf is bright yellow, nor does it become dull as the season advances, like so many of the shrubs of this color do.

A larger shrub, the cornelian cherry, Cornus mas, also has two good variegated cultivars. C. mas ‘Aurea-elegantissima’ has leaves with a wide border of soft yellow tinged pink. C. mas ‘Variegata’ has creamy white markings, again with a pink tinge. The cornelian cherries are also valuable for their late winter flowers which are yellow and in hanging panicles.

Pieris japonica ‘Variegata’.

Among smaller shrubs, the most effective I know is the variegated Pieris japonica, which has longer, narrower leaves than non-variegated plants, and these are edged cream. It is rather startling when the plant is flowering, because leaf color and flower color are almost the same. There is also a variegated rhododendron and an azalea, but I find neither of them outstanding. Among very small shrubs, the variegated Daphne cneorum is a rather pretty oddity and the variegated Euonymus fortunei ‘Minima’ is pleasant. However, I know of no dwarf shrubs that are in a class with the medium and large shrubs described above.

Before we close this somewhat sketchy account of the range of colored and variegated broad-leaved woody plants, note should be made of a handsome class of trees and shrubs whose new growth becomes green by midsummer but whose leaves in spring and early summer can be variously colored. There are by now many such plants although few have appeared in Pacific Coast gardens. A good example is Acer pseudoplatanus ‘Brilliantissimum’ which is a slow growing bush — eventually a small tree — with leaves of a beautiful apricot pink for a long period in spring. Another example is Pieris japonica ‘Bert Chandler’, an Australian grown cultivar whose young leaves are at first bright salmon-pink, then fade to cream and white before becoming green. Berberis thunbergii ‘Kelly’s Variety’, from Australia, has spring foliage with red, pink and white markings, which slowly change and assume green and white variegation. It is to be hoped that these and many of the other cultivars I have attempted to describe will be propagated in our nurseries. Whether our aim is a riotously colorful or a carefully restrained garden, we can achieve the best results only with a wide choice of plants. Speaking for myself, at least, I know that it is when I have had to make compromises because of the limited availability of plants that overall effects have been least satisfactory.

Variegated Shrubs For Your Landscape

Shrubs and shrub-like perennials make up the majority of plants in the landscape, especially the variegated landscaping shrub. While often the result of a mutation or virus in nature, many variegated shrubs are now bred for their exceptional foliage. These plants are great for adding interest and color to dark corners of the landscape.

Deciduous Variegated Shrubs

Deciduous variegated shrubs are among the most versatile and can brighten up shady areas with ease. Try some of the following:

  • Hydrangea – Variegated hydrangea shrubs, like H. macrophylla ‘Variegata,’ not only provide stunning flower color but have attractive silver and white foliage for additional interest.
  • Viburnum – Try the variegated shrub variety (V. Lantana ‘Variegata’) with pale, creamy yellow and green leaves.
  • Cape Jasmine Gardenia – Gardenia jasminoides ‘Radicans Variegata’ (may also be called G. augusta and G. grandiflora) is a variegated gardenia with fewer flowers than your average gardenia. However, the beautiful gray-tinted foliage, which is edged and speckled with white, makes it well worth growing.
  • Weigela – Variegated weigela (W. florida ‘Variegata’) welcomes the landscape with white to pale pink blooms from spring through fall. Yet, its distinctive green foliage edged with creamy white is the shrub’s major attraction.

Evergreen Variegated Landscaping Shrubs

Variegated evergreen shrubs provide year-round color and interest. Some of the most popular varieties include:

  • Euonymus – Wintercreeper euonymus (E. fortunei ‘Gracillimus’) is a creeping evergreen shrub with colorful white, green, and purple leaves. The purple wintercreeper (E. fortunei ‘Coloratus’) has foliage that is green and edged with yellow, which turns pink in winter. Silver King euonymus (E. japonicus ‘Silver King’) is an upright shrub with beautiful, dark leathery green leaves and silvery-white edges. Occasionally, pink berries follow its greenish-white flowers.
  • Jacob’s ladder – Variegated Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium caeruleum ‘Snow and Sapphire’) shrubs have green foliage with bright white edges and sapphire blue flowers.
  • Holly – Variegated English holly (Ilex aquifolium ‘Argenteo Marginata’) is an evergreen shrub with shiny dark-green leaves and silvery white edges. The berries help set this shrub off, especially in winter, though you must have both a male and female to produce them.
  • Arborvitae – The Sherwood Frost arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Sherwood Frost’) is a beautiful slow-growing shrub with a dusting of white on its tips that become more prevalent during late summer and fall.

Perennial Shrub Variegated Varieties

Perennials offer a wide range of variegated options. Some of the most common shrub-like varieties include:

  • Autumn sage – The variegated autumn sage (Salvia greggii ‘Desert Blaze’) is a round bushy plant with bright red flowers nestled amongst its beautiful cream-edged foliage.
  • Perennial wallflower – The shrub-like perennial wallflower (Erysimum ‘Bowles Variegated’) has attractive grey-green and cream foliage. As an added bonus, this plant produces stunning purple blooms from spring through fall.
  • Yucca – Variegated yucca varieties include Y. filamentosa ‘Color Guard,‘ which has bright gold foliage edged in green. Once the weather cools, the foliage becomes tinged with pink. Variegated Adam’s Needle (Y. filamentosa ‘Bright Edge’) is a striking yucca with leaves that are edged with creamy white to yellow color.

Variegated Acers

Variegated Acers – Acer Palmatum Butterfly, a most popular variegated acer with uniform markings

Down through the centuries, few countries have given as much to the horticultural world as Japan, a land where variegated plants, and indeed variegated acers, have always been held in high esteem.

Acer Palmatum, endemic to Japan, is no exception and this passion for variegation (termed Fu in Japanese) ensures that the choice of variegated acers continues to increase thanks to a careful and constant process of selection and cross breeding. New and beautiful forms of variegated Acer Palmatum continue to be introduced, but these days, propagation tends to be a worldwide phenomenon.

Leaf Variegation could be termed somewhat an oddity of nature. The level of variegation varies widely among cultivars and tends to be caused by a lack of chlorophyll (the green pigment). Plants can range from extremes of no chlorophyll whatsoever (in which case the leaves have no trace of green) to relatively new varieties such as Acer Palmatum Shirazz which has predominantly creamy pink and maroon with just erratic splashes of green.

Variegated Acer Palmatum Cultivars
Acer Palmatum Shirazz, developed in New Zealand, emerges in spring with a rich pink foliage with light pink streaks which turns purple with cream streaks during the summer interspersed with green. The foliage turns bright red-purple in autumn.

Variegated Acers – Acer Palmatum Shirazz in elegant half standard shape

Acer Palmatum Butterfly is a most popular variegated acer with uniform markings. It has pale green leaves with a pale pink and white margin. This type of uniform variegation is referred to as Fukurin Fu in Japanese.

Acer Palmatum Pink Passion – Another new introduction, Acer Palmatum Pink Passion has similar coloration to Shirazz with variegated pink foliage, tinged with cream, maroon and green colouring, the colours changing throughout the growing seasons.

Acer Palmatum Orido Nishiki is a rare variegated cultivar with pink and white foliage in spring, maturing to a pink and vibrant green in autumn.

Variegated Acers – Acer Palmatum Orido Nishiki a rare variegated cultivar with pink and white foliage in spring

Acer Palmatum Ukigumo is a cultivar with soft and harmonious colouration. It has varying degrees of variegation but is mainly white with green and pink blotching. In autumn, the foliage changes to a fiery orange-yellow glow. This variegated pattern of small green flecks on white foliage is known as Goma Fu in Japanese.

Variegated Japanese maples: Colorful Wonders

We finally have proof that spring has arrived: the Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum) are showing their colors at Puget Sound Plants. While we have several incredible varieties in stock here at our growing site, today we wanted to feature the variegated varieties. A variegated maple refers to the varied colors on the leaves. Variegation often shows up as white, pink or peachy patches on otherwise green leaves. These patches can look like stripes, spots, mottled areas or even off-colored margins. The affect, as you can see below, is striking and beautiful; variegated maples are extremely popular and create eye-catching focal points in many landscapes. Here are a few of our favorites:

Butterfly: The ‘Butterfly’ is a delicate, unique tree on the smaller end of the scale. It reaches a shrub-like height of 10-12 feet or so. Its distinctive beauty comes in its foliage. ‘Butterfly’ has deeply divided, gray-green leaves with creamy margins that are often tinged pink in the spring and scarlet in the fall. This is a detail-oriented Japanese maple. It looks lovely from afar but, to see its true splendor, one must look up close.

Ukigumo: A colorful but petite tree, the ‘Ukigumo’ reaches about 6 feet both in height and width. It’s deeply dissected foliage is a gorgeous mottled green, with white and pink patches throughout. It’s often called the ‘Floating Cloud’ maple, for the pastel palette splashed across each leaf. Fall colors blaze in shades of crimson and firey orange. Try adding outdoor lights beneath this beauty for a 24 hour display. Best in partial shade.

Orido Nishiki: This maple is one of the best for creating a focal point in the garden. The foliage can be extremely diverse so it’s fascinating to keep a close eye on it. Variegation begins in spring with bright pink, white and cream foliage, with some green. Some leaves are even entirely white! Create a luminescent glow by placing outdoor lighting beneath this gorgeous specimen. It grows quite slowly, reaching 15-18 feet in as many years, and has a lovely natural shape.

Beni Shishihenge: This tree is most noted for its unique foliage. Leaves appear green in the center, with pinkish-white borders, giving a lovely mottled effect. In the fall, the effect remains dramatic, with the addition of bright red and orange accents. In Japanese, its name means “red and changing”. This small, upright tree will eventually reach 10 feet but is quite slow-growing. This maple is more tolerant of bright sun and warmer temperatures so it can withstand hotter summers than most.

Toyama nishiki: A creamy, pinkish spring delight! This gorgeous Laceleaf maple produces light green foliage with lightly rosy variegation each spring. It’s a delicate, unique specimen with fine features and deeply cut leaves that give a very artistic appearance. Fall foliage changes from creamy pastels to fiery reds and oranges, to light up the landscape. It reaches its full height of 6 feet in about 12 years and prefers sun or full shade.

Check out our full inventory of Japanese Maples on our website and call today to place your order!

(888) 816-5080

All photos curtsey of Northscaping.com

Yuck…as one visitor described a variegated plant. When I asked why, he likened using variegated plants to trying to match plaids with stripes…hmmm. Variegated plants suffer from the outdated belief that all plants are supposed to be green. Plants which aren’t green, are somehow seen as sick or unworthy of cultivation.

Agave xylonacantha ‘Frostbite’

Variegated plants are most appreciated by serious plant collectors, probably because of their uniqueness. If everyone has a green form of plant X, then the plant collector naturally wants to have the variegated form, often simply to be different. One mail order nursery, Glasshouse Works in Stewart Ohio, has as one of their goals to be the best source of variegated plants in the country.

Many variegated plants are so unusual that they will forever be relegated to the status of collector plants. Being a plant collector, I value these plants some for their beauty, but most for their being unusual. The challenge of blending large numbers of these plants into the garden is one worthy of even the finest designer.

Some gardeners like the patterning in the leaf…usually the arts and croissant crowd. Designers often like the ability of variegated plants to lighten up a normally dark landscape. In a landscape design, variegated plants are often used as the center of attention or as a focal point in the landscape. Despite the prejudice against variegated plants as a group, there are many that have still become mainstream landscape plants.

Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’

Inquiring minds want to know what qualifies as a variegation. Variegation in plants is defined as the normal green portion of the plant leaf being replaced by white, cream, yellow, or occasionally other colors, which may be in the form of blotches or stripes. The variegations can occur on the edge of the leaves (marginate variegation), or in the center of the leaf (medio variegation.) Variegated plants which have neat regular leaf margins of white or gold and tend to be the most accepted by gardeners.

Less accepted by gardeners are variegated plants whose foliage is streaked with uneven patterning. These plants are often highly prized by plant collectors and completely shunned by most other gardeners. I must admit that most of these plants have foliage that sometimes resembles a classic case of micronutrient deficiency. The most common example is that of the variegated canna lily (Canna Nirvana …syn Minerva). The strangest of variegations of course are the horizontal banding, seen in some of the ornamental grasses.

As a general rule, the variegated forms of most plants are far less vigorous than their green counterpart. This can easily be accounted for by the lack of chlorophyll in the variegated sections of the leaf. Many variegates lack enough chlorophyll to live once they are severed from the mother plant. Research has found that many variegated plants also tend to suffer more insect damage on the variegated parts of the foliage than in the green areas, obviously due to the weaker tissue. This is certainly not true on all variegated plants, but varies tremendously from plant to plant.

If the variegated sports are strong enough to support themselves, the questions of stability enters the picture. Many variegations will not maintain their identity, as they often have a tendency to revert back to their original more vigorous parents. If a solid green branch or shoot appears, then it should be removed immediately to retain the integrity of the variegated plant. Often seedlings will have streaked variegation when young, but will eventually settle down with age, either to an edge, center, or back to solid green.

Ajuga reptans ‘Binparcol’ PP 20,293

While we may be fond of variegated plants on their own merits, they require much more effort to blend into the landscape. Plants with bold variegation seemingly scream for attention in the garden, hence their use as accent plants. As with all brightly variegated plants, they show off best when contrasted against a dark background. Whether planted against a mostly green hedge, or a larger backdrop of deciduous trees, some background is needed to properly display variegated trees and shrubs.

One of my favorites is the giant variegated dogwood, Cornus controversa Variegata. This spectacular tree is unfortunately seldom seen in this country. The wonderful specimens at White Flower Farm in Litchfield Connecticut are well worth the drive to view. The variegation is a good wide clean white edge contrasted against the dark green leaf center, and the nearly black stems.

There are other wonderful variegated dogwoods, both in the small tree and bush forms. Cornus florida has yielded many selections such as Cherokee Daybreak (white variegation and white flowers), Cherokee Sunset (yellow variegation and pink flowers), First Lady (yellow variegation and white flowers), just to mention a few.

Not to be overlooked is another species, Cornus kousa. Two great selections exist, Cornus kousa Snowboy with spectacular white edged foliage, which looks as though each leaf was hand painted. My personal favorite is Cornus kousa Gold Star, which has been on my lust list since seeing a spectacular specimen at John Elsley’s garden in South Carolina, and at Jim Crosses nursery Environmentals on Long Island. Gold Star has a wide creamy yellow band through the center of each leaf. Although some specimens seem to revert, others appear completely stable.

Alstroemeria psittacina ‘Variegata’

Less heat tolerant (through zone 7), but no less wonderful are the variegated bush dogwoods. These bush dogwoods are another great example of variegation in the genus, with Cornus alba Elegantissima (green with white edge, red stems) being the most popular. Cornus sericea Silver and Gold gives the same leaf pattern, but with yellow stems. Cornus alba Gouchaultii is a lesser known cultivar which has yellow leaf margins combined with the red stems. As you can easily see, there is no shortage of variegation in the Cornus family.

Shrubs comprise the majority of mainstream variegated plants due to their potential use, or in many cases misuse around homes. The backbone of most gardens is the euonymus, of which variegated forms abound. My favorite of the upright forms remains Euonymus japonica Silver King. This upright growing form has beautiful dark green leaves with wide creamy white edges. The upright euonymus make great vertical accents in the garden. As with all euonymus, scale insects are a great concern. I have found that by limiting the number of euonymus in my garden, I have never had a problem with this insect.

Of the ground cover euonymus, Euonymus Emerald ‘n Gold (green and yellow variegation), and Emerald Gaiety (white and gold variegation) are two favorites. These semi upright spreaders make large mats of evergreen color. Their versatility of growing both in sun and shade has made these plants a staple of every discount grocery store in the country. Another lesser known, but equally wonderful cultivar is Euonymus fortunei Harlequin. This new cultivar has mottled dark green and white leaves, and is quite striking…watch for it in your area soon.

In most of the country (zones 4-8), even the conifers have joined the picture, although variegation in this family is far from common. The most popular variegated conifer is the dragon’s eye pine. Pinus densiflora Oculus draconis makes a spectacular sight with its horizontal banding of yellow and green. There are several fairly similar cultivars of Pinus densiflora and Pinus thunbergiana with reversal of color patterns which are extremely difficult to find in the trade.

Aristolochia fimbriata

The false cypress have as their representative Chamaecyparis pisifera Snow. This dwarf has light green foliage, tipped with a dusting of white ‘Snow’. The light color on the tips burns easily in the south and must be grown in partial shade. Cryptomeria japonica Albo Spicata has a very similar habit with a nice dusting of white over the branches of this slow growing cultivar.

Not to be outdone are the backbone of the garden conifers the arborvitae. Thuja occidentalis Sherwood Frost is a beautiful slow growing cultivar with a dusting of white that becomes more prevalent in late summer and fall. One of my favorites Thuja plicata Zebrina has stunning variegation of gold and green, but unfortunately does not color well in our heat. Perhaps in the pacific northwest and in more northerly climates, this cultivar would be highly prized.

In the deciduous shrub category, the choices are more limited than in most groups. Forsythias are a group of plants from which several variegated cultivars have been selected. Unfortunately all of them have been dogs (at least in the south), until now. From Duncan and Davies Nursery in New Zealand comes Forsythia Fiesta. I fell in love with this several years ago, when I acquired the plant from Roy Klehm of Illinois. This dwarf forsythia (3′ x 3″) has beautiful gold foliage with a stable green edge. This is a plant which is still quite unknown in American gardens.

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Maculata’

Down here in the south, we can grow many of the more tender shrubs such as variegated aucubas, variegated hydrangeas, variegated viburnum tinus, and variegated gardenias. Even here in the warmer section of zone 7b, however, a severe winter will take a toll on some of these choice plants. Many variegates have proven less hardy than their green counterparts.

Perennials offer a wide range of variegated choices, from the ground covers, to variegated choices of mainstream perennials.

Ornamental grasses are a personal favorite for that sunny spot in the garden. From zone 5 southward, folks are gradually learning about the variegated miscanthus. The most common of course is Miscanthus sinensis Variegatus, a relatively large clumping grass with dynamic vertical striping, giving an almost white appearance from quite a distance. The biggest breakthrough for smaller gardens was the introduction of Miscanthus Morning Light. This very narrow leaf variegated cultivar is at home in even the smallest city gardens. The variegation on Miscanthus Morning Light is so subtle, and the texture so delicate, that even those who hate variegated plants would fall in love with this grass.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gold Bar’ PP 15,193

As I mentioned earlier, the miscanthus also contain some horizontal banded grasses. Miscanthus sinensis Zebrinus is a large imposing clump, while Miscanthus sinensis Strictus is a heavier striped, but very upright selection. A new selection from North Carolina is Miscanthus sinensis Kirk Alexander. While not as heavily striped, the dwarf stature and wonderful plumage makes this a certain hit with the owners of small gardens.

Other variegated grasses of note include the fabulous Calamagrostis ‘Overdam’. This new striking medium size clumper is one of the finest, yet virtually unknown variegated grass available. When used against a background of blue or green, the leaf variegation is accented even more. Another grass that has never caught on is the dwarf striped tuber oat grass (Arrhenatherum elatius bulbosum Variegatum). Perhaps the ridiculously long name, keeps gardeners from growing this striking white edged grass, that looks great through the winter, and only goes dormant during the summer when other plants easily fill the void.

Carex is a similar group of plants that share the grasses affinity for variegation, but prefer to grow in part sun to light shade. The most widely sold sedge is Carex hachijoensis Evergold (or Old Gold). This striped weeping sedge is the perfect foil for a water feature with it’s graceful foliage. Carex morrowi temnolepis is similar in stature, but with much finer texture, and an overall silvery cast.

Carex siderosticta ‘Banana Boat’

For a border in the garden there is none better than Carex conica Marginata, a spectacular green edged white sedge. This Carex would quickly replace clumping liriope if known in the commercial landscape trade. The true Carex morrowii, both the variety Variegata and Gilt Edge make spectacular clumps with age. Their upright rigid growth habit makes these clumps a distinctive contrast from other plants in the garden.

Perennials are of course the easiest of variegatedplants to work with in the garden. Because of their size, they can easily be plugged into the landscape to provide the needed accent or touch of color. For a sunny garden, from zone 4 southward, there is nothing better than the variegated yuccas. Both Yucca smalliana Bright Edge (green with yellow edge) and Yucca filamentosa Golden Sword (green with gold center) are quite handsome in the sunny garden. My favorite, however is Yucca filamentosa Variegata. This medium size yucca has wide ivory white edges that makes for one of the most eye catching plants in the garden. This plus the towering bloom spikes of white are a most wonderful combination.

Sedum ‘Frosty Morn’

Other variegated sun perennials are not as prevalent. While the variegated Physostegia and Phlox ‘Nora Leigh’ are around, they are too weak growers to ever become mainstream garden plants.

One of my personal favorites are the sedums, primarily Sedum lineare Variegatum, a low growing needle leaf type with green leaves and a nice white edge. For something a little more bold, try Sedum alboroseum Mediovariegatum. This bright gold sedum with a green edge is a great accent against darker colors such as blues.

Here in zone 7b, the cannas are a great perennial (annuals in the north). Canna Nirvana (syn. Minerva) is a beautiful white and green striped leaf with matching buttery yellow flowers. For something different, Canna x Generalis Aureo Striata offers the same foliage with brilliant orange atop the flower stalks. This striking canna lily is also sold as Canna Pretoria and will be introduced by Wayside as Canna Bengal Tiger.

Hosta ‘Autumn Frost’ PP 23,224

In the shade, of course the leader is hostas. Other wonderful perennials are not far behind, including the likes of the ajugas, solomons seal, pulmonarias, ferns, and lamiums. My favorite of this group must be the variegated solomons seal (Polygonatum odoratum Variegatum). This perennial seemingly grows anywhere and at near the perfect growth rate…never too fast, never too slow. The arching stems of green foliage edged white is supplemented with tiny white flowers dangling from beneath. Variegated solomons seal seems to blend with anything, from dark blue hostas to almost any type of fern.

Lamiums are a wonderful ground cover for shady areas. Lamium Beacon Silver (silver center and purple flowers), Lamium White Nancy (silver center and purple flowers), and Lamium Pink Pewter (silver center and pink flowers), are perfect to lighten the woodland floor. The lamiums all will grow to nearly 12 inches tall and spread nearly four feet. Lamiums should not be planted around very tiny woodland plants which might get overrun.

In the fern family, one fern stands out as the variegated leader for most parts of the country. Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum Pictum) is a striking addition to the shade garden. Although it varies tremendously from spores, the characteristic purple, grey, and green variegation can be standardized by dividing the clumps. Another lesser known, but no less wonderful variegated fern is Athyrium otophorum. The variegation is similar, but this fern has a much more open and stately habit.

Hosta ‘Bridal Falls’ PPAF

Hostas are indeed the variegated King and Queen of the shade garden. I always enjoy meeting folks that have grown both types of hostas, the green and the variegated one. Interestingly enough, variegation is a strong selling point in the hosta world. In the popularity poll of the American Hosta Society, eight of the top ten hostas are variegated.

The most common variegated hosta, Hosta undulata has probably been grown by everyone who has ever grown hostas. The popularity of Hosta undulata is due to its propensity for vigorous growth and its ‘tough as nails durability. Unfortunately for all its attributes, the poor leaf substance and horrendously ugly flowers make this cultivar among the worst choices for a garden.

This is certainly not to say that all of the older variegated cultivars are unworthy of being grown. Hosta Francee and Hosta Antioch are still among the finest of all variegated hosta. Francee has wide green leaves of deep green, surrounded by a thin white margin. Francee will eventually become quite large with a spread of four feet. Antioch is still one of the best and largest of all variegated hostas. Antioch emerges in the spring with an light green leaf with an edge of yellow. As the season progresses, the edge changes into a wonderful creamy white. One clump of Hosta Antioch with its five foot spread can transform a dark garden. variegated hostas are available from the large Frances Williams, down to the small clumpers like H. Kabitan and H. Allen P. McConnell.

Hosta ‘Great Expectations’

One of the best and newest variegated hosta is the strikingly beautiful Hosta Great Expectations. Hosta Great Expectations is one of the few white centered hostas that actually grows well, especially when planted in partial sun. Since the lack of chlorophyll in the main portion of the leaf allows less tissue to produce food, usually the white centered varieties are tougher to grow. By growing these varieties in more sun, the green portion of the leaf can often produce the extra food needed for the plant to survive. Hosta Great Expectations is a sport of Hosta sieboldiana that emerges with a yellow center, which gradually turns to creamy white.

One of the hosta species with an array of wonderful variegations is Hosta montana. Hosta montana Aureo Marginata, although it emerges early and is often burned back is always a popular favorite. The green centered leaves are edged in a vivid yellow band. Hosta montana Mountain Snow has the same green center and a nice white edge, and Hosta On Stage (prefering morning sun), gives a spectacular yellow center and green edge, sure to catch everyones eye.

Hosta ‘Frances Williams’

One of the oldest variegated cultivars of hosta is Hosta Frances Williams. This large blue leaf H. sieboldiana has a wide yellow edge and is still quite popular. The tissue in the yellow edge of Hosta Frances Williams is less tolerant of adverse weather conditions than the center, and consequently often tends to burn. The hosta world is currently full of Hosta Frances Williams look alikes that reportedly have cured this problem.

Another attribute to the variegated hosta is fragrant blooms. There are several wonderful variegated fragrant hostas thanks to breeding efforts of the last decade. Hosta Sugar and Cream, Iron Gate Glamour, Summer Fragrance, and So Sweet are all worth growing. The best in the variegated hostas so far, however is Hosta Fragrant Bouquet. This lime green centered hosta has a wonderful white edge, topped by masses of very fragrant white flowers. Be sure to plant this hosta where it can be enjoyed often.

Hosta ‘Pineapple Upside Down Cake’

Variegated hostas work great when combined with green, blue, and gold hostas, or simply with other woodland plants such as ferns. In designing a woodland garden, it is very difficult to use several different variegated hostas in an area without some other type of plant dividing the garden space. Not only can the garden look jumbled, but the beauty of the individual leaf patterning is often lost without some type of backdrop.

Now I hope you are ready to give a variegated plant an even break. Don’t try to collect everything variegated, but instead use the variegation as a design tool to highlight not only the variegated plant, but the rest of the garden also. Careful placement, integrating both texture and color can make variegated plants an essential element of the garden.

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