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Aspects of Design : Foliage Colour

The green pigment chlorophyll, which traps the sun’s energy, is present in every leaf. It sets the underlying colour of plant foliage. The amount of chlorophyll present changes the quality of the green colour. The range of greens – the dark-green of broadleaved evergreens to the yellow-green of beech in May – is enormous.

As well as the green pigment, there can be red, purple, yellow and orange pigments in the leaves. The combination of these pigments gives coloured foliage; red, purple, bronze, brown, yellow, golden, lime. The withdrawal of the green pigment by plants before the leaves fall in autumn brings about the autumn colour change when the associated ‘masked’ pigments are more dominant.

Another set of foliage colour types comes from the adaptations of plants to resist heat and cold. Leaves covered with fine hairs take on a grey or silvery appearance. Those which cover themselves with wax take on a blue or grey colour.

Mutant forms of plants that have the green pigment in only part of the leaves provide variegated leaf colour. This might be white variegation if there is no yellow pigment present, or yellow variegation if there is.

It is easy enough to mix leaf colour because the common colour green helps them to blend. ‘Ordinary’ green should be by far the most dominant foliage colour with lesser amount of the other colours; gold, bronze, purple. In particular, variegated foliage should be used sparingly, if at all. Too much variegation is gaudy and unnatural.

It is much better not to use strong contrasts, such as golden variegation with strong blue. Variegated foliage is best with ‘ordinary’ green to tone it down. Blue foliage goes well with silver and grey, and perhaps some ‘purple’.

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