I think I have a crush on variegated plants. I especially adore the way the light and dark tones mingle into one cohesive, pleasing look; their ability to magically enliven a shady spot; and how the bright tones pop against a solid color. To be clear, the definition of variegated is “marked with different colors,” but here I am only speaking to variegation consisting of yellow and green or white/cream and green. Other variegation exists out there in the crazy world of plants (and I totally fall for them too), but to narrow the topic I’ve chosen my yellowy/creamy/greeny favorites.
Please keep reading to learn about my favorite variegated shrubs:
1. Elaeagnus x ebbingei ‘Gilt Edge’
This problem-solving shrub, also called Gilt Edge Silverberry, is always on my plant list when I need a robust large shrub that 1) deer will leave alone; 2) is not thirsty or needy; and 3) looks good all year round. Rich green leaves are boldly variegated with bright yellow margins. Growing quickly to a dense 4 to 6 feet tall and wide, this shrub is ideal for screening and hedging, and as a foundation plant in a sunny or partly sunny spot.
2. Pieris japonica ‘Variegata’
Here’s another tough shrub that deer will leave alone, isn’t high maintenance, and is interesting all year. Pieris will gift you in the spring with delicate chains of tiny white flowers that complement the creamy white variegated slender leaves. This multi-stemmed upright shrub can grow painfully slowly to 8 to 10 feet and half as wide, and prefers a partly sunny to shady spot in acidic soil. Perfect against a shady house, as a focal plant in a large container, or worked into a woodland or Asian garden.
3. Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Marjorie Channon’
If you haven’t fallen in love with Pittosporums, then now is the time. This variety has it all going: black stems, light green shiny oval leaves sporting creamy margins, and bell-shaped, honey scented dark flowers. While not the fastest growing of the Pittosporums, this luminous plant eventually can reach 8 to 12 feet tall and 6 feet wide, making it the idea candidate for an attractive hedge that takes well to pruning and sheering. Plant it in full sun to light shade and in USDA Zones 8-11. While some sources say it’s deer-proof, I beg to differ; where I live deer like to nibble this plant down to sticks.
4. Buxus sempervirens ‘Variegata’
Ah, boxwoods. The extremely versatile plant. This variety is like other boxwoods in that it is dense, long lived, and has small leathery deer-proof leaves, but what makes this one stand out is the rich, deep green leaves adorned with strikingly variegated creamy white marks. This slow-growing shrub can eventually reach 5 to 8 feet tall and wide, requires little sheering, and makes an excellent hedge, barrier, or foundation plant. It prefers a sunny to partly sunny spot and regular water to look its best.
5. Westringia fruiticosa ‘Morning Light’
Also known as Coast Rosemary, this compact rounded shrub, growing to 3 to 4 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide, is a lesser-known plant but should be used more in the garden. Not only is it drought-tolerant, but it’s deer proof, blooms cutie-pie white flowers nearly year round in coastal gardens and requires little to no care. Hardy to about 20 degrees F, this clean-looking plant isn’t for snowy parts of the world but an excellent choice for sunny seacoast conditions, cottage gardens, and drought-tolerant landscapes where you need solid good-looking structure.
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