Plants with variegated foliage have leaves that are edged or patterned with different colours, in the form of splashes, spots, stripes or intricate patterns. White, cream, silver and gold are the most common colours, but you can also find vibrant shades of purple, pink, orange or red.
Browse our plant database for plants with variegated foliage.
Variegated foliage is useful in the garden in various ways. It can add interest among a lot of plain green foliage – in front of a hedge, for example, or among shrubs; a large, variegated shrub can act as a focal point. Variegation also helps to lighten up shady places – plants with white, cream or gold markings stand out best.
Some variegated plants may be affected by sun scorch, while some ivies will revert to green if they don’t have enough light, so make sure you place them correctly.
Here are some beautiful variegated plants to grow.
Several varieties of euonymus have variegated foliage, including Euonymus fortunei ‘Silver Queen’, which is edged with white and pale pink. It makes an good specimen shrub and can be clipped into a hedge; it can also be trained up a fence. Grow in full sun or partial shade.
Acer palmatum ‘Kagiri Nishiki’
Acer palmatum ‘Kagiri-Nishiki’ is a variegated Japanese maple – the pretty, mid-green leaves have a slightly bluish tinge and have pink and white margins. The leaves turn crimson-gold in autumn. Grow in full sun or partial shade and protect from harsh winds.
Begonia rex varieties are grown for their colourful, dramatic foliage, which can bear streaks, spirals or veins in splashes of silver, pink, purple or burgundy. The flowers are inconspicuous and usually removed. They are usually grown as houseplants but can enjoy a spell outside during the summer months.
Weigela florida ‘Variegata’ is a compact shrub with attractive cream and green leaves that are a feature before and after the pretty, rose pink bell-shaped flowers appear in summer. Grow in a warm, sunny spot.
Ilex aquifolium ‘Silver Queen’
Ilex aquifolium ‘Silver Queen’ has distinctive silver margins on its spiny and glossy green leaves. The stems and young foliage are purple. A handsome evergreen shrub, it brings interest to the garden all year round and can be grown in sun or shade.
Cannas have large, paddle like leaves, which have a tropical look and can be attractively variegated – such as those of Canna indica, shown here. Cannas aren’t fully hardy, so give them some winter protection or grow in a pot that can be brought indoors in winter.
Euphorbia martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’
Euphorbias have attractive foliage and can add structure to the garden. The leaves of Euphorbia martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’ emerge with a pink flush and develop a red-marked, creamy yellow margin with age. They may also develop pink colouring in winter.
Hostas are grown for their attractive leaves, which are often variegated in shades of cream, white, lime green, yellow or dark green. Be sure to protect them from slugs and snails, which will make a beeline for them. Hosta ‘Frosted Mouse Ears’, pictured, is a miniature hosta with blue-green leaves and a white margin.
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ is an unusual grass, named for its bright green foliage decorated by horizontal cream bands. Although its foliage is its main attraction, it may also bear silky, slender flowers in summer, which last well into winter. Grow at the back of the border.
Agaves are known for their spiky, glaucous foliage but some, including Agave ‘Cornelius’ are variegated. Grow in well-drained soil in a sunny spot. This agave is hardy but needs to be protected from winter wet – grow it in a container so that you can bring it inside in autumn.
Abelia x grandiflora ‘Hopleys’
Abelia x grandiflora ‘Hopleys’ is variegated form of Abelia x grandiflora, with green leaves and yellow margins. It bears masses of fragrant pink and white flowers throughout summer and into autumn. Grow in a sunny, sheltered site, ideally in front of a south-facing wall or at the back of a border.
Many varieties of ivy are variegated, in shades of lime green, gold, white and silver. They look especially good climbing up a wall or fence among other green-leaved climbers; grow a large leaved variety such as Hedera colchica for extra impact.
Several forms of Elaeagnus are variegated, including Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’, which has golden leaves with irregular green margins. It makes a colourful winter foliage plant. Grow in well-drained, fertile soil in full sun or light shade.
Other variegated plants to try
- Houttynia cordata ‘Chamaeleon’
- Cyclamen hederfolium
- Phormium tenax ‘Joker’
- Spotted laurel