My Top 10 Indoor / Outdoor Foliage Plants

Reading time 10 minutes


So I forgot. Today’s the day that the London Evening Standard publishes a feature on neon-coloured foliage and I am not even in London to pick up a copy. They say that if you want a job doing, give it to a busy person, but it you want something remembering, definitely don’t. I have a brain like a sieve, except at 5am when I wake up with gazillion ideas and ‘to dos’ boiling in my head. In tonight’s piece, which features my garden at The Watch House, garden columnist Alex Mitchell writes with verve about plants that look ‘more like velvet cushion covers attacked with a highlighter pen’. I had to giggle at that bit, but it’s so true. Those plants we sniggered at through the noughties are coming back with a vengeance – begonias, caladiums, crotons, coleus, tradescantia – all of them dazzling us with their brilliant foliage and endless variety once again.

The brilliant thing about half-hardy and tropical foliage plants is that the majority will flourish outdoors during summer, freeing your windowsills for whatever you like to keep on your windowsills in summer (for me, it’s more plants, which becomes a problem when the tropicals come back inside again!). Most foliage plants prefer a semi-shaded, well-sheltered spot, as well as a warm, humid summer to do really well. They can be prone to attack from slugs and snails, especially coleus, tradescantia and begonias. One should be vigilant at all times, but particularly when the plants come back indoors in autumn. I had the misfortune to step on snail in the shower this morning, the blighter having crawled stealthily from the crown of Aechmea ‘Blue Rain’ on the edge of the bath. With 15 stone of wet, naked man on top of it, the snail did not come off well from the encounter. If you’ve tried flanneling snail slime off your foot in the shower you will know that it’s not the easiest task.

I digress, so here, without further ado, are my Top 10 colourful foliage plants for summering outside and overwintering indoors:


Tradescantia 'Purple Sabre' and Begonia 'Martin Johnson' in the garden room @ The Watch House
1 & 2 Tradescantia ‘Purple Sabre’ and Begonia ‘Martin Johnson’


Tradescantia ‘Purple Sabre’ – a superb trailing plant with the most lustrous, velvety leaves which sparkle like mica in bright sunlight. Propagates with ease so you will soon have more plants than you know what to do with. Often employed as groundcover in subtropical gardens. Lovely in a lead tank allowed to drape over the edge, planted beneath orange fuchsias such as ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’.

Begonia ‘Martin Johnson’ AGM – a real thoroughbred of a ‘Rex’ begonia. Produces maple-shaped leaves with a picotee edge. The leaf is a pale grey-green with a pale mauve centre and margins. Slow-growing in my experience.


Solenostemon 'Henna', The Watch House, NGS 2018
3. Solenostemon ‘Henna’


Solenostemon (coleus) ‘Henna’ – Regular readers of this blog know my passion for this plant well. A very fine flame nettle with Chartreuse-green leaves and henna-red markings and undersides. Grows tall, strong and neat. Will stop anyone with an ounce of interest in plants in their tracks. Roots with ease from cuttings placed in a glass of water.


Cordyline 'Pink Passion', The Watch House, Marianne Majerus
4, 5 & 6 Cordyline ‘Pink Passion’, Solenostemon ‘Pink Chaos’ and Begonia ‘Gryphon’ (Photograph, Marianne Majerus)


Solenostemon ‘Pink Chaos’ – this may be a very petite coleus, but the strength and vibrancy of the pink flash at the centre of each leaf is electric. Fantastic planted with hot pink petunias, or, as here, with Angelonia.

Cordyline ‘Pink Fantasy’ – I can’t decide how much of a novelty this plant is, and I will be interested to discover how it fares in the winter. Surprisingly, considering the tough, strappy nature of cordyline leaves, snails find it utterly delicious. You have been warned! Hard to place, so embrace the fact that it’s going to stand out like a sore thumb and celebrate it.

Begonia ‘Gryphon’ – a large, architectural begonia which is blissfully happy either outdoors or in. Puts on tremendous growth even during cool weather and is excellent even in quite heavy shade. A good plant for a bathroom or a hallway if planted in a nice big pot and allowed to bulk up.


7 & 8 Colocasia ‘Maui Gold’ and Hedychium ‘Verity’ (middle left) (Photograph, Marianne Majerus)


Colocasia ‘Maui Gold’ – I recall it being a toss-up between this and another colocasia at Hampton Court this summer, and I am so pleased my final choice was ‘Maui Gold’. The leaves are a clean, clear lime-green, perhaps yellower in sunshine. The stems are a luminous greenish-white, like the stuff that glows in the dark. My plant has grown and grown, and I love it so much that it’s had to come indoors to keep growing through the winter. Alternatively colocasias can be allowed to die down and be started into growth again in spring.

Hedychium ‘Verity’ – recommended to me by The Salutation’s Steve Edney, this ginger is a real find. Most gingers have very similar foliage, but ‘Verity’ has leaves arranged in a neat herringbone pattern and striped with ivory, verging on cream. I don’t really care what the flowers look like, but kept indoors over winter, slightly on the dry side, it may produce fragrant, peachy blooms.


9 Zantedeschia ‘Hercules’ (Photograph, Strange Wonderful Things)


Zantedeschia ‘Hercules’ – the size of this calla lily is something to behold. It’s a monster! An individual, silver-spotted leaf might measure 3ft in length and the fragrant, white flowers can be carried 6ft above the ground. I did not help mine by falling on it half way through the season (hence no photograph of my own) although it has recovered well now. Would be happy in an unheated porch or bedroom through the winter, provided it’s well watered.

Monstera deliciosa ‘Albovariegata’ – the mother of all naff 70’s plants, the cheese plant, only in variegated form. The foliage can vary from all-white to all-green with every variation in between, including half and half, splashed and freckled. Mine is still a small, 5-leaved baby, but it will grow steadily over winter and be able to fend for itself in the garden by next summer.

I’d love to hear which house plants you put outside in summer and how they grow for you. The bigger and brighter the better! TFG.


Lead Image – Plectranthus argentatus, Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’, Tradescantia ‘Purple Sabre’ and Begonia ‘Benitochiba’ in the Gin and Tonic Garden at The Watch House in 2016.


Foliage effects, The Watch House, August 2016
Other foliage superstars that are ace indoors are Sparmannia africana and Begonia luxurians








Categories: Beautiful Strangers, Begonias, Coleus, Container gardening, Foliage, gingers, House Plants, Photography, Practical Advice, Tropical Gardens, Urban Gardens

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

Greetings Garden Lover! Welcome to my blog. Plants are my passion and this is my way of sharing that joyful emotion with the world. You'll find over 1000 posts here featuring everything from abutilons to zinnias. If you've enjoyed what you've read, please leave a comment and consider subscribing using the yellow 'Follow' button in the bottom, right-hand corner of your screen. You will receive an email every time I post something new.

Leave a Reply

11 comments On "My Top 10 Indoor / Outdoor Foliage Plants"

  1. Love my hedychium (coronaria, nothing as exciting as yours) for the intense honeysuckle fragrance. I’ve got a brugmansia I put out that I had high hopes for, smell-wise, but so far all it’s doing is being a buffet for the snails (and here I thought angel’s trumpet was virulently poisonous). I don’t bring plants in; indoors are for orchids. I was daring; these are in a tropical bed with bananas and strelitzias and lots of other things that pretty much guarantee a mini ice age…

    1. Your are indeed daring! I have not touched my bananas – they are all still flourishing – but I will ultimately dig them up an stick them in the garage in old compost sacks.

      I don’t have a great deal of experience with Brugmansias, although mine also get nibbled. The trick, I think, is to feed and water regularly so that they grow big and strong and ‘get away’ from the blighters, Once they’ve made a small canopy the problem tends to be less, or at least less visible.

  2. Another of your wonderful blogs, just what I need right now. I am going to plan my outdoor pots for next year.
    The Tradescantia you gave me is flourishing, thank you. I think Mr TT is going to have to accept that the sunny and shady spots are going to be ‘pot spots’!
    Pouring with rain here so all your beautiful photos have given my day a lift from the start.

    1. We do seem to be having a very wet autumn. Perhaps a good thing for our gardens, but you’ve had a lot of rain down in the West Country.

      I hope you are feeling a better and are able to hop around a bit more?

      Tell Mr TT that there is nothing wrong with pots. They are a blessing rather than a curse ….. until you go on holiday of course! Dan

  3. I am so lucky to have a lovely friend called Sarah, a very good and Jolly gardener, I can leave everything in her capable hands when we go away.

  4. In coastal regions of Southern California, these live outside all year. If potted, they can be brought in whenever a houseplant would be nice, and then returned to the garden when they get tired of being in the house.

      1. Since I live in Northern California, ans sometimes work in Southern California, I maintain somewhat strict rules about what I grow where. If I can not grow sugar maples or ‘Gravenstein’ apples in Beverly Hills (in Los Angeles County) I will not bring tropical gingers or the more tropical varieties of plumerias back here.

  5. My “houseplants” kicked out for the warmer months used to be Hibiscus – and they still are. Now though I will have to provide shelter somewhere indoors for so many more of my plants as they are not meant to cope with continental winters. Currently worrying about how to overwinter all the (sub-)tropical ornamental sages, for instance: I know the advice is to just take cuttings, but if you want to keep the parent plants, too? Any idea if normal, not overheated, room temperature will cause them to grow weak and susceptible to pests and diseases if you can’t offer light levels of a greenhouse or winter garden?
    As for favourite indoor foliage plants: Alocasias and Peperomias all the way! (Have never yet tried to put them outdoors during summer though.)

    1. I think both would be OK outside in a warm summer but perhaps a bit sensitive? You can but try.

      Sages I would cut right back and keep them in an unheated room in good light. If they are the tuber-forming type (like Patens) they can be kept somewhere cool, dry and dark over winter, after cutting back hard.

Follow The Frustrated Gardener and have new posts sent directly to your inbox

Join 8,225 other subscribers

Wordpress users click to subscribe here

Follow The Frustrated Gardener