Beauty Beyond Blooms – Really!

By George Graine, Fairfax Master Gardener
Perhaps our best hope for gardening as an art is that gardening is an activity whose never-achieved aim is progress towards a never-completed work of art.
–Geoffrey Charlesworth in The Opinionated Gardener (1988)

Foliage garden

Hostas, ferns, hydrangea, aucuba, holly, and euonymus combined in a foliage garden

Recently I saw a horticultural trade publication advertisement extolling the virtue of beauty without blooms. I think it should have said “beauty beyond blooms.” To be sure, this is an interesting departure from the usual approach to gardening. Most of us are taught that flowers are the key element for the garden, aside from magnificent trees and shrubs. The problem is that flowers are transient, and it is difficult to orchestrate four seasons of color.

Perhaps it is time to give foliage a break, especially when considering the longevity of foliage compared to most flower blossoms. If you have successfully planned a garden to produce a succession of blooms, that is all for the good. But how many of us have been able to do that, especially when coping with fickle Mother Nature? Experience tells us you cannot realize an excellent succession of flowers without a lot of effort and, often, without some fair financial re