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Variegated Plants Shine In Gardens
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
This is the time of the year when variegated plants really start-to-shine in the landscape. Some gardeners consider plants with leaf variegation gaudy or unattractive, but even the much maligned golden Euonymous, when placed against dark evergreens, is like a lantern in the forest. I believe the Euonymous may be a forgotten plant for the Southern landscape.
Winter is a good time to evaluate your landscape. Does it have enough evergreens and are there variegated plants showing winter color? I am often asked what to use for color in the shade, most often in reference to bedding plants. In a shade garden, the easiest way to add definition, color and character is by including variegated shrubs.
One of my favorite shrubs is the Aucuba, which looks tropical but is actually from the Himalayas. It has the common name Spotted Laurel and most definitely cannot tolerate direct sun, so plant it in partial shade to shade. The prettiest Aucubas are grown once you've made adequate soil preparation.
Aucuba's bold, brightly variegated foliage make them wonderful as accents. Plant in groups around fatsia for a tropical look. Fuchsia-colored Impatiens look nice in front of the more brightly variegated forms. Picturata, Sulphur, Serratifolia and Variegata are the most popular varieties.
Another great variegated shrub for the shady area is the hydrangea, although most often the green forms are chosen. Hydrangeas not only give color from their flowers, but some have silver and white foliage.
In the more sunny areas of the landscape, conifers like the Chamacyparis Crippsii or Golden Thread are good choices for variegation. I have been watching these for five years now in Mississippi and keep expecting to see them burn out or develop some other problem. The only problem I have seen is that I do not have any in my landscape yet.
For the tropical-style summer garden, try the variegated shell ginger, caladium, hosta and the new ctenanthe to add brightness to the yard.
Ctenanthe is one of the best-kept secrets; it is often sold so generically that it is called simply variegated plant. During the summer, I grow them under high filtered light in pine trees and they grow and get more beautiful with each passing week. This plant is tropical, so you will need to bring it in during the winter.
Some plants not only give variegation but bright colors as well. For color and variegation as bold as Carnival time in Rio, try coleus like Solar Sunrise and Solar Eclipse. At the Fall Flower and Garden Fest in Crystal Springs, gardeners have been rediscovering variegated cannas like the Tropicana, or Phasion, and the Bengal Tiger.
Most likely there is a variegated form available of whatever plant you feel passionate about. While they are good for collectors, they also can really enhance your landscape.