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A variegated kaleidoscope

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As you walk into a garden, you normally notice vibrant colors first, then pale colors and white - especially when contrasted against green foliage. In most cases what you see are the flowers.

Upon closer inspection, you discern the leaves - their varying shapes, sizes, and textures. If there is a variegated plant, you will quickly spot it. Since most leaves last longer than flowers, a variegated plant has the added bonus of standing out even without the benefit of its blossoms.

Variegation simply adds color to what would otherwise be a monochromatic plant.

Variegated means "having marks, stripes, or blotches of some color other than the basic background color, in plants that are green." Variegated plants are rarely considered a group unto themselves. Yet the longer I garden, and the more I travel and see others' gardens, the more I appreciate this wide-ranging group of plants, especially for the unique characteristics that make them so versatile.

The most common variegation is white or cream overlaid on green, yet that is by no means the only combination. Variegated foliage encompasses crimson, purple, orange, red, yellow, pink, apricot, yellow, mauve, and the varying shades and tints of green.

Most variegated plants are bicolor - with one color overlapping the basic green of the leaf.

More rare are the tricolor and multicolor variegations. Even if these plants never produce a flower, they would be real eye-catchers. For example, Houttuynia 'Chameleon' is a knockout with vibrant red stems holding up leaves with red, green, pink, and even a touch of bronze.

This creeper was a standout in a partially shaded corner of my former garden. It can be very invasive, particularly in warm climates, and I am taking advantage of that characteristic in my new garden, where it will provide a lot of color in a short time. (Sometimes keeping it dry and shaded prevents it from overgrowing.)

Variegations come in as wide a range of forms as the shades and tints they wear.

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