If you take a moment to think about the foliage in your garden, what comes to mind?

What should come to mind is a picture of a lush landscape with different textures or patterns on each leaf.The texture is a furry leaf or a succulentís rubbery feel. The texture is also the velvet feel of a lambís ear leaf.

In addition to the different patterns that Mother Nature creates, there are all of the different shapes of leaves.

Stepping back to look at a shade garden, the first thing you should notice is an absence of a lot of flowers. Most flowering plants need four to six hours of sunshine to flower, so shade gardens rely on green foliage in different textures and hues. When you get the combination right, it is magic.

My shade garden requires 10 times less work than my full-sun gardens. It is 10-15 degrees cooler in the shade garden than it is out in the sun garden. Sometimes a lot of flowers are just the thing in gardening, but a full-shade garden is calming, relaxing and meditative.

There is a reason that a shade garden is an attractive thing. Shade gardeningís main feature is its foliage, no matter what hue the leaves are. So whether you are creating a shade garden or punching up your existing one, make sure that you select plants that will make it sing.

When it comes to shrubs, the choices are many, but there is one small shrub that is worth its weight in gold. Goldmound spirea is a small chartreuse shrub that grows 2 feet wide and 2 feet tall. That is a great size Ö not too big, not too small. It produces tiny pink flowers, but who cares about the flowers? It is the color that makes this shrub great. It will grow in full sun or full shade. The price is right too, as it usually costs about $15.

In any shade garden, there are ferns, which is expected, but adding a few northern maidenhair ferns will make the atmosphere seem magical. Northern maidenhair ferns resemble the houseplant of the same name, but it is perennial and comes back year after year.

The plant is a small one, about 12 inches in height, with delicate fronds that are very prolific. When the wind blows, the fronds ripple in the wind and are very appealing. The delicate nature of this shade plant is what makes it special. I buy as many as I can afford and keep adding more and more, just to be sure I am keeping the population up.

One of the most attractive shade plants is Pulmonaria. This shade plant is about 10 inches tall with long, flat, oval-shaped leaves that are laid out much like hosta leaves. There are several species, but my favorite one is pulmonaria moonshine. The leaves are silver with minute spots on them and a nice deep-green edge. Pulmonaria is a dry, shade-tolerant plant with small blue flowers, but here is a real bonus: They are deer resistant.

Todayís garden cannot ignore the family of heucheras. With all the color breeding going on, the plants that are produced have an incredible range of colors. From lime green to dark purple to shades of caramel. Heucheras are great shade-garden plants because of their intricate foliage. The foliage color is one thing, but the scalloped leaves make the plant even better.

Another unusual foliage plant is variegated Solomonís seal. This plant is unlike any other, as it has a single stem with beautiful oval-shaped leaves coming off the stem. In the spring, the plant sends out small, white hanging bell flowers under the leaves. This is a must have a plant, as it is one of the best foliage plants.

I have saved the best for last: Epimedium is a woodland plant that loves to grow and spreads easily in dry, shade conditions. We have all tried to get something to grow under those giant oak trees near the tree trunk. Nothing will grow there.

Ah, but epimedium will grow there. They love those conditions. This is an attractive, delicate looking plant with a wire stem and almost heart-shaped leaves about the size of a quarter. In the spring, epimedium sends out tiny but beautiful flowers resembling fairy wings. The plant will spread into a luscious ground cover. Sometimes the new leaves are tinted in copper, bronze or red. This plant is also evergreen.
Pay attention to a plantís foliage. When mixed properly, fern fronds can complement pulmonaria leaves when they stand next to each other. The art of blending together different foliages is a learned skill. A sea of the right foliage can make your all green shade garden a masterpiece.
Linda Cobb is a master gardener who lectures, teaches, and does garden design in South Carolina. Email her at lindacobb@charter.net. Visit her website at mygardenersguide.com