Many plants have distinctive spring foliage, often appearing for a short period before the leaves mature and settle to their generally quieter summer shades. In some cases there is the bonus of a beautiful autumn display before leaf fall, so a single plant may have three distinct foliage colours.
The most dramatic large-scale spring colours are found on large trees. There are two notable examples: the first is the shrimp-leaved maple Acer pseudoplatanus ‘Brilliantissimum’, while the second is a horse chestnut Aesculus x neglecta ‘Erythroblastos’ which also has a shrimp pink interlude that scores high on the wow factor scale. Neither of these have particularly beautiful summer foliage, but their visual effect in spring is so stunning they justify the ample space they will occupy when mature.
On a more modest scale, the Japanese maples often combine their brilliant autumn tints with striking spring foliage. Acer palmatum ‘Corrallinum’ resembles a large helping of candy floss when the leaves open, while Acer palmatum ‘Kamagata’ has deep red foliage in spring, is light green in summer and turns orange and yellow in autumn. The rare Toona sinensis ‘Flamingo’ is a brilliant and improbable pink shade in spring and follows this show with fragrant white flowers in early summer. The amelanchiers such as Amelanchier lamarckii briefly display young leaves coloured in red, copper or bronze shades in addition to heavenly white flowers and autumn tints.
A number of shrubs have beautiful spring foliage, perhaps the best example being varieties of the compact Spiraea japonica, including the red and gold foliage of Spiraea japonica ‘Goldflame’. The large warm yellow of the lilac Syringa vulgaris ‘Aurea’ makes a strong yet gentle contribution to the spring garden. For a long season of interest that goes into summer, the popular photinia forms exhibit large young leaves that are coloured bright red, Photinia x fraseri ‘Little Red Robin being a good example.
A number of herbaceous plants surprise with their spring foliage and these include the eye-catching lobed lemon yellow leaves of Valeriana phu ‘Aurea’ and the vibrant yellow of hearty Geranium Patricia = ‘Brempat’ that follows with an all-summer show of dark-eyed magenta flowers. Many hostas have yellow spring foliage and their large unfurling leaves have a beauty all their own. Hosta ‘Sharmon’ combines leaves that are largely creamy yellow in spring with grey summer tones, a beautiful foil for the lavender grey flowers. The spring foliage of the modest woodland Epimediums have a subtle beauty all their own, often having mottled foliage, while Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Lilafee’ is bronze or purple in spring with tiny purple dancing flowers.
Finally, even the quiet ferns can have a surprising spring fling with the copper young foliage of architectural Dryopteris erythrosora var. prolifica. The aristocratic Adiantum aleuticum ‘Japonicum’ has exotic red-brown young fronds and then settles to a summer of green beauty.
Add a new dimension to your garden with some ‘colour-changing’ plants.
Susan A. Tindall