japanese forest grass
Photo: Cillas
Try massing Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra) in partial shade
1. Mass a single type of plant for impact. With so many foliage plants to choose from, it can be daunting to decide which ones to grow. Go easy on yourself and start with just one. To enliven a bed in partial shade, try golden Japanese forest grass (shown, left image 1). For a long border in full sun, consider edging it with dusty miller, and to brighten a shady spot, try variegated white-and-green hosta.

2. Go for bold color combos. Focus on color pairings, such as light silver foliage plant with a dark shade. Here, pale artemisia 'Powis Castle' contrasts beautifully with deep 'Purple Knight' calico plant (shown, left image 2) . Yellow hostas pair well with red or chocolate-brown coral bells. Chartreuse and purple are sensational in shade; look for a coleus that has both colors and pair it with another purple or chartreuse plant. In sun, try gray (perhaps dusty miller) and red (canna) together.

3. Create variations on a theme. Choose one leaf shape, and select plants that carry out that theme in various colors or sizes. Here, a sun-loving light-green grass is paired with New Zealand flax (shown, left image 3), which has big spiky leaves. In partial shade, you might play off leatherleaf sedge (Carex buchananii), which forms 3-foot-tall clumps of reddish-bronze blades, against the dark-green stiff leaves of 'Ice Dance' (C. morrowii), a low-growing sedge only 1 to 2 feet tall.

4. Choose contrasting shapes. Place a plant that's soft and round next to one with tall arching leaves, and both will stand out. A good combination would include purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea) forming a striking backdrop for green-leafed 'Lance Corporal' fleeceflower (shown, left image 4), and another leaf shape, 'Caramel' coral bells, running like a river through the fleeceflower.
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