Make variegated plants work in your garden

Make variegated plants work in your garden

I hadn’t really thought about variegation that much until I visited a garden where the owner had banned it. Not for him splashed and striped leaves – he couldn’t stand them and saw them as aberrations of nature. Only plain, naturally-coloured leaves were allowed.

His garden was very green and restful as a result, but was he missing out? For other gardeners, variegated plants are a ‘must have’, bringing light and colour to otherwise dull spots.

Bold stripes, splashes of white or warm golden yellow markings will all liven up and brighten your borders, but you do have to be choosy. There are quite a few variegated plants on my ‘you’re never setting foot in my garden’ list, including bergenia ‘Tubby Andrews’, with its violently yellow-spattered leaves and clashing pink flowers, Jasminum officinale ‘Aureum’ which just looks sickly to me and like it needs a really good feed, and don’t get me started on farfugium ‘Aureomaculatum’, which must have had an accident with a bottle of bleach in a former life, persicaria ‘Painter’s Palette’ or traffic-light coloured houttynia ‘Chameleon’, which is not only hideous, it’s practically impossible to kill!

That said, some variegated plants are among the most beautiful plants you could ever hope to find. Use them in the right spot to bring drama – the bolder the variegation the better. Think of plain green hostas and then one with bold white stripes on its leaf edges – the variegated one wins hands down every time.

No woodland border would be complete without splashed pulmonaria and veined Arum italicum ‘Marmoratum’ and in summer borders, stripy Sisyrinchium striatum ‘Aunt May’ looks beautiful with its upright swords of leaves and creamy yellow flowers. Or seek out the wonderful variegated phlox ‘Norah Leigh’, which has cream-edged leaves and pink flowers that hover around ‘clashing’ but just about avoid it!

Just don’t overdo the variegation because too much can give a messy feel to your planting, and steer clear of mixing gold and silver-variegated plants together.


Fuchsia magellanica

A hardy fuchsia that always has lots of pink and purple, against a backdrop of plain green leaves

Fuchsia ‘Tom West’

This variety is very similar, also hardy, but with its beautiful flowers tone perfectly with its white and pink-tinged variegated leaves.

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