foliage for flower arrangements

For a diverse composition, texture, shape, and color factor into the selection of foliage for flower arrangements. Photo by PhotoSunny/Shutterstock

We flower arrangers and gardeners know that any bouquet appears more gardenesque with foliage integrated into the arrangement. It simply seems more natural to retain a flower’s foliage or use it in some way rather than discard it. I often make rose arrangements in an Oasis ring and use the foliage of the roses as a filler. It’s a little tedious and time consuming to put the leaves into picks and incorporate them into the arrangement, but the effect is more desirable.

Greenery for Flower Arrangements

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greenery for flower arrangements
Leucothoe (leathery leaves, evergreen, bronze-tinted in winter)
"I like leucothoe foliage because of the shape and distribution of the leaves on the stem."—Kaylyn Hewitt of True Vine
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Greenery for flower arrangements
Galax (long-lasting, glossy, heart-shaped with serrated edges)
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Greenery for flower arrangements
Calathea leaves (tropical, large, green and white stripes, contrasting purple undersides)
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Greenery for flower arrangements
Scented geranium (fuzzy texture, fragrant, multi-lobed leaves)
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Greenery for flower arrangements
Salal lemon leaf (long-lasting, evergreen, leathery appearance)
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Dusty miller (soft and velvety texture, silver leaves)
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Greenery for flower arrangements
Ivy (long-lasting, green leaves with three to five points, woody stems, trailing and cascading)
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greenery for flower arrangements
Eucalyptus (leathery leaves can have a silver cast, long-lasting, fragrant)
greenery for flower arrangements
Magnolia (glossy leaves, fuzzy textured underside, sturdy branches, long-lasting)
Kale (ruffled leaves, green or boldly colored and can have contrasting veins (purple kale seen here))
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greenery for floral arrangments, camellia
Camellia branches (evergreen, small glossy green leaves, sturdy stems)
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greenery for flower arrangements, ferns
Ferns (varied textures, leaves may be leathery or feather-like, fronds range from spear-shaped to delicate and airy)
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Gardenia (long-lasting, dark green glossy leaves, evergreen)
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Greenery for flower arrangements
Mint (bright green, fuzzy textured leaves, fragrant)
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Greenery for flower arrangements
Monstera (tropical, long-lasting, large leaves with a striking form)
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greenery for flower arrangements
Variegated pittosporum (glossy oval leaves with white-streaked margins, evergreen, long straight stems)
TIP: With greenery stems and other materials, be sure to remove all leaves that will be under the water level, because they will rot and cause bacteria, shortening the lifespan of your arrangement.

The English flower arranger and garden designer Sheila Macqueen was renowned for her use of foliage in creating her masterpieces. The English garden designer Rosemary Verey used foliage to great effect in her designs, including the potager at her home, Barnsley House.

I once created an ornamental potager for the Nashville Antiques and Garden Show in Verey’s memory. The centerpiece of the garden was a magenta urn filled with dozens of beautiful apricot Avignon tulips. The filler for the arrangement was dusky purple cabbage, pale and dark-green leaves of bok choy, and bright yellow and red stems of Swiss chard—most unusual, but most appropriate. I knew the plants would not last for days, but they were sensational for a one-night stand.

Chlorophyll is the green pigment found in all plants, but many plants have colored pigments that are masked for at least part of the year by chlorophyll. Those other pigments provide us with an array of colored foliage that is most evident in early spring growth and in the fall as the chlorophyll waxes and wanes. For spring and fall arrangements, this beautifully colored foliage is essential. I often walk through my garden in these seasons and find myself inspired to make arrangements of foliage alone.

foliage for flower arrangements

Leaves of a dusty plum smoke tree

The genus Cotinus, commonly called smoke tree, has varieties with golden, plum, and purple foliage. In the heat of summer, they all become more green, but in the spring, they are as beautiful as any flower. Japanese maples provide another source of color with their array of reds, bronzes, and purples.

foliage for flower arrangements

Variegated leaves of golden Euonymus and scented geranium

My golden-edged Elaeagnus and golden Euonymus are evergreen and provide colored foliage all year round, but they are especially useful to me during the Yuletide season. Many golden and variegated hollies and conifers become more available during that season as well, and I find them essential for embellishing garlands and wreaths.

Foliage provides more than color and texture for a bouquet. It is also a source of fragrance. When invited out, I often walk through my garden picking sprigs of flowers to make a tussie-mussie for my hostess. I keep several pots of scented geraniums in my glass house and use the leaves to make an aromatic collar for these delightful bouquets. Sprigs of rosemary, lemon balm, and other herbs are equally useful to enhance a gathering of flowers.

Green, green, green. As Kermit the Frog says, it’s not easy, but it is so essential these days. I quote E. I. du Pont: “I think perhaps my favorite color is green.” I wonder if he meant foliage.

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By Ryan Gainey | Photography by Alecia Lauren Kowalik

The late garden designer and author, Ryan Gainey wrote a regular column in Flower for many years, sharing his remarkable gardening knowledge and stories.

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