Variegated plants come to the garden with contrast built right into each leaf. The contrasting color patterns attract many of us to these plants but they do come at a cost to the overall garden design.
Let me give you one example.
Phlox paniculata, that wonderful garden plant that blooms for a long time in mid-summer and often forms the backbone of perennial gardens, has a particularly heavily variegated form named ‘Norah Leigh’. The flower is a pale pink with a slightly darker eye and the foliage is heavily variegated with cream-yellow and green. In sunlight, the heavy variegation draws out any vibrancy in the bloom, leaving a pale washed out appearing flower stalk. This is one plant that is very difficult to match with other plants.
The attractive leaves of Phlox ‘Norah Leigh’
The loss of contrast as soon as the flowers emerge
In a similar fashion, Chrysanthemum ‘Barbara Bush’ is a heavily variegated green and white leafed fall mum. All summer, it looks wonderful if kept pruned short and bushy, but when the white flowers appear in the fall, I’m tempted to cut them off. White flowers on a heavily variegated green and white leaf disappear into monotony. In your garden designs, add variegated leafed plants sparingly in sunny gardens.
In shady gardens however, variegated plants are treasures that give us some color and contrast all summer long and for this reason they are to be treasured. The wonderful variegations on plants such as Brunnera, Hosta and Pulmonaria almost demand to be let loose in the shady garden. Use them as much as possible.