Discovered | Leaves so lovely

Aeonium 'Zwartkop,' top, 'Nero di Toscana' (black Tuscany) kale, from "Foliage: Astonishing Color and Texture Beyond Flowers," a book by Nancy J. Ondra spot- lighting the durability and beauty of foliage.

A charcoal-gray planter on my patio is filled with Persian shield, an old-fashioned plant that gardeners have enjoyed since Victorian times. The other night, a friend marveled at its aluminumlike halo and iridescent purple leaves. "This plant is so beautiful, you don't even need a flower," he said.

That's the idea behind a new book by Bucks County gardening author Nancy J. Ondra and photographer Rob Cardillo of Ambler: Foliage: Astonishing Color and Texture Beyond Flowers (Storey Publishing, $24.95). Astonishing is the operative word here, though Ondra thinks gardening with foliage foremost in mind is "embarrassingly easy" to execute.

Ondra has nothing against flowers. She simply thinks leaves have much to offer. "Leaves are so much more dependable than flowers. They're there all the time," she says.

And are they gorgeous.

She especially likes bright greens and yellows as partners for colors like purple. Cardillo, who traveled to gardens near and far to find images for the book, captures this combo in a photo on Page 31. Wispy golden sedge is wedged inside a purple carpet of creeping ajuga.

The shot was taken at a "near" garden - Chanticleer, in Wayne, which both Ondra and Cardillo cited as an excellent place to see creative foliage planting.

This duo have collaborated before and are already at work on a book about perennial-garden maintenance. Till that one's out, I'm heading for my garden center - there to join a new breed of "leaf peeper."

- Virginia A. Smith