Photo: Steve Bender

For lasting color in your garden, don't get hung up on flowers. Plants with brilliant foliage can add just as much impact for a much longer time. I saw a great example of this yesterday in a beautiful garden in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Tucked in amid the black-eyed Susans and "Diamond Frost' euphorbia was a mesmerizing foliage plant called Persian shield.

Can you believe that color? Growing 6 to 8 inches long, the stunning, variegated leaves are bright pinky-purple with iridescent silver sheen. The leaf undersides are bright purple. Persian shield can grow 3-4 feet tall and wide over a summer, but just pinch or prune it back to keep it lower and bushy.

I have no earthly idea how Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyeranus) got its name. It's not native to Persia, but Burma. And I doubt that ancient Persian warriors charged into battle against the Greeks carrying gaudy pink shields. Pink hair ribbons with matching lipstick, maybe, but not shields!

How to Grow Persian shield likes full to part sun and moist, well-drained soil. You can grow it in a flower bed or a pot. In my Lower South garden (USDA Zone 8A), it's survived a mild winter, but I wouldn't count on that if the temps drop much below 20. Fortunately, it's easy to save indoors over winter by rooting cuttings in water or taking a pot inside to a bright window.

Look for Persian shield in garden centers now. It's time to get your gaudy on.