Garden Photo of the Day

A Rich Palette of Leaves

Foliage, not flowers, is the star

It is always a treat when Syd Carpenter submits photos from her garden in Philadelphia. If you’ve missed previous photos of this incredible garden, you can see them here:

READER PHOTOS! Syd’s garden in Pennsylvania

Inspired Plant Combinations

Returning to a Sculptor’s Garden

A Sculptor’s Garden

My garden has evolved over 25 years in dappled light under mature maples. I have learned what works after these many years and now am able to achieve a rich palette of color, texture, and pattern using the tried and true along with new discoveries. Although perennials play a strong role, it is their leaf colors and shapes rather than their flowers that contribute to the garden design. These are combined with annuals and tropicals that also have strong leaf colors, shapes, and textures. Because of this year’s generous rainfall combined with many hot and bright days, the garden performed beautifully. It has been a good year.

Foliage first, with a dark, cut-leaf Japanese maple (Acer palmatum, Zones 5–9) taking center stage. The white flowers of a peony behind it complement the garden design created by leaves.

Coleus take center stage, bringing a huge amount of color from foliage, while variegated greater periwinkle (Vinca major ‘Variegata’ Zones 7–9 or as annual) trails from a hanging container.

A statue of the Hindu god Ganesh wrapped in colorful annual foliage. Ganesh is known as the remover of obstacles, a task every gardener needs to be done!

Look closely at this beautiful scene and you’ll see that there are essentially no flowers in view! There are two pink Mandevilla vines on either side of the shed door, but other than that, everything is based on carefully chosen foliage in a variety of colors and textures. And annuals and perennials mix freely. In the foreground, a perennial Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum, Zones 3–8) mixes with colorful annual coleus; closer to the shed, hostas and shrubs mingle with annuals. The greenery even continues onto the shed roof!

Another foliage-centered design, integrating tropical plants often grown as houseplants, including polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) and inch plant (Tradescantia zebrina).


Have a garden you’d like to share?

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To submit, send 5-10 photos to [email protected] along with some information about the plants in the pictures and where you took the photos. We’d love to hear where you are located, how long you’ve been gardening, successes you are proud of, failures you learned from, hopes for the future, favorite plants, or funny stories from your garden.

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View Comments


  1. User avater
    treasuresmom 09/05/2019

    Syd, as usual everything is gorgeous. What tree is that in the garden? Are your plants in containers or in the ground? Does the tree tree up all the water?

    1. sydneyleigh 09/05/2019

      The tree is a cedar. It is within a few feet of the house and has never been a problem. It does not deprive the other plants of water and provides a nice bit of shade. It does shed bark profusely and drops plenty of seeds, none of which have ever germinated.

      1. sydneyleigh 09/05/2019

        All the plants are in the ground except for some of the calladiums this year. I got a little lazy but they did just fine.

  2. avongardener 09/05/2019

    Syd, your garden is beautiful! We gardeners often focus on flowers and forget the foliage. Your garden is proof that with lush colorful foliage, it can be just as beautiful.

    1. sydneyleigh 09/05/2019

      I have learned not to rely on flowers in my garden to sustain color interest. The garden is relatively small so when plants stops blooming, and others are reluctant or slow to take over, the lull is not so pleasant. Good long lasting, increasingly colorful foliage is my preferred alternative. So the garden gets better as the season progresses rather than slowly losing its vigor. Annuals and tropicals love the heat while other plants are exhausted by it over time.

  3. User avater
    meander_michaele 09/05/2019

    Hi, Syd, I couldn't resist revisiting all your previous submissions. As a Philadelphia area resident, I hope you will accept the following observation as high praise...taking a cyber tour of your garden is like enjoying a stroll through a mini Chanticleer...there are just so many quality vignettes to take in and enjoy. Thanks for spoiling us here in GPOD land.

    1. sydneyleigh 09/05/2019

      Thank you! The comparison is humbling. Chanticleer is so inspiring and I know I will never recreate their magic but it’s fun to try.

  4. nwphillygardener 09/05/2019

    I'm a friend who LOVES seeing Syd's garden in person and on GPOD. For those looking closely, one of the fun things you will notice is that pots, sculptures and found objects displayed in the garden don't stay put. That can be said of many of the plants, too. So it's fun to recognize pictures from multiple seasons, with each season offering a fresh perspective as well as some new and exciting plant combinations and object juxtapositions.

    1. sydneyleigh 09/05/2019

      Heh you, Eric. I will be at it again next year as my list of plants to boot out has started to grow.

      1. sydneyleigh 09/05/2019

        A few select expulsions will be at Laura Axel’s plant swap in a few weeks.

  5. btucker9675 09/05/2019

    Just wonderful... Looks like Ganesh is doing a great job for you! : )

    1. sydneyleigh 09/05/2019

      My Ganesh is just one of the “hidden” inhabitants that keep things under control out there

  6. User avater
    simplesue 09/05/2019

    I also went back and revisited your other posts on your garden again. It's a masterpiece! And so true, flowers are fabulous, but so is foliage being such a major part of a plant. I'm so impressed, and so enjoyed drinking my morning coffee while looking at your garden.

    1. sydneyleigh 09/05/2019

      Thanks for looking. I am working on making better photographs that tell the story of this little place. That’s not as much work, but when I do get a few good ones, everything else is worth it.

  7. Bill_Hodgeman 09/05/2019

    Thanks, Syd! You've inspired me to make more use of Coleus!

    1. sydneyleigh 09/05/2019

      Highly recommended. And if you let them flower, you will be rewarded with lots and lots of volunteers for next year’s late summer garden. They are really bang for your buck plants. So versatile

  8. JohnsonofMillCreek 09/05/2019

    A beautiful garden!

    1. sydneyleigh 09/05/2019

      Always a work in progress, but I have the best time trying to keep it going through the season.

  9. marthaveronesi 09/06/2019

    What a beautiful garden you have!!The greenery onto the shed roof it`s lovely! loved the mixe of colors and textures!!! congratulations!

  10. User avater
    BenjaminShaw 09/10/2019


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