Yellow-leaved plants offer welcome contrast to the sea of green in a garden. They are especially valuable for lighting up shady areas. Most prefer a site with at least afternoon shade, so their leaves don't burn. Look for plant names with "aurea," "aureum" or "aureus" in them, which is Latin for "golden." The word most commonly refers to the plant's leaves, but also can refer to its flowers.
Shrubs for Sun
New cultivars of Japanese spiraea, such as Goldmound, Limemound and Goldflame have pure yellow foliage or foliage variegated with yellow, green and red. The 4-foot-tall plants bear clusters of pink-purple flowers in early summer. Colour is most vibrant in sun, but spiraeas will take part shade, too. Golden mock orange (Philadelphus cornonarius Aureus) has fragrant white blooms, and golden ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius Nugget) is a compact plant with crinkled golden leaves.
Shrubs for Shade
Golden Mexican orange (Choisya ternata Sundance) has shiny yellow foliage and orange-scented white blossoms. Deutzia gracilis Chardonnay Pearls is a compact shrub with tiny, fragrant white flowers. Viburnum opulus Aureum is a golden-leaved cranberry bush whose white blooms are followed by red berries.
Perennials for Sun
Yellow spiderworts (Tradescantia andersonia Sweet Kate or Blue and Gold) have bright yellow leaves with deep purple flowers. Caryopteris Worchester Gold produces spikes of blue flowers against yellow foliage in late summer. It grows to 3 feet tall. Yellow-leaved cape fuchsia (Phygelius rectus Sunshine) bears tall stalks of coral-red blooms beloved by hummingbirds.
Perennials for Shade
Heucheras (coral bells) have many golden-leaved cultivars, which produce tall, thin flower stalks covered with masses of tiny white or pink blooms. Varieties include Citronelle, Tara, Key Lime Pie, Amber Waves and Electra. Gold-leaf bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis Gold Heart) produces the familiar pink and white heart-shaped blooms against yellow foliage. Fuchsia magellanica Aurea has golden leaves, and dangling red and pink flowers.