Few sights are as eye-catching as a stand of deciduous trees decked out in autumn crimson, orange and gold. We're so used to leaves being green that when they turn, we take notice and enjoy the change. But why wait for fall? Throughout the gardening year, there are numerous plants that remain vibrant in their mantles of gold, cream or yellow. Whether yellow tones suffuse their leaves entirely or appear as flecks, bands or streaks, golden foliage plants are uniquely useful for the highlights they bring to the garden. Woven through green, grey and purple, leaves of gold provide colour contrasts that can change a garden from a mere planting to a dramatic picture.
In shady gardens, groups of gold-leafed perennials brighten dark areas and give a dappled effect, like patches of sunlight, when intermingled with green. Shade-loving hostas come in endless colour permutations, and often their names will lead you to gold: ‘Gold Edger', ‘Gold Standard', ‘Golden Scepter', ‘Sunburst', ‘Golden Tiara', ‘Gold Drop' and many others, most of them hardy to Zone 3 or 4. In fact, there are more than 100 gold or gold-splashed hosta cultivars available. Nearby might grow Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart' (Zone 3), a yellow-leafed version of the familiar bleeding heart of spring. A tip: bleeding hearts like at least a square metre of unobstructed room to stretch out.
Ordinary spiderwort appears in golden guise as the recently introduced Tradescantia ‘Sweet Kate' (60 centimetres high and wide, Zone 4). For many weeks, starting in mid-June, its three-petalled, purple flowers open above yellow-green leaves. Few plants are easier to grow than Tradescantia, and you may find yourself rooting out surplus seedlings after a season or two.
Toward the edge of a shady bed might grow one or two of the fancy new Heuchera or x Heucherella cultivars, such as bronze-yellow ‘Amber Waves' coral bell (30 centimetres high, Zone 4) or perhaps x Heucherella ‘Sunspot' (20 centimetres high, Zone 5), with its electric yellow-green leaves splashed with crimson in the centre. For best foliage effect, Heuchera and x Heucherella should be planted in groups of three or more. Newer ones, however, are not cheap—an argument for patience and careful division.
More pedestrian but quite flashy is golden ginger mint (Mentha arvensis ‘Variegata', 60 centimetres high, Zone 6). Sometimes called golden apple mint, its aromatic, dark green foliage kissed with yellow brightens up a somber corner. Pick leaves for tea, or simply enjoy their scent of tangerine and spice. Also fine for herbal brews is the gold-streaked version of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis ‘Variegata', 45 centimetres high, Zone 5), a much prettier plant than either the anemic-looking solid yellow form or the plain green. Mint spreads and lemon balm self-seeds with startling vigour, so yank out (or contain) mint roots and cut back Melissa's stalks before seed ripens.