The Magic of Dark Foliage
When it comes to color, gardeners tend to adopt one of several styles. There are those enamored of big, bold, brightly colored flowers; the prom-dress style. Others enjoy a softer palette of muted blues and whites; the evening gown style of gardening. Some appreciate the shadings of natural greens, and use variations in texture and form to create the desired effect in their gardens; that’s the jeans and t-shirt school of garden fashion. And then there are those who embrace the subtle, sophisticated look of dark foliage, the landscaping equivalent of the classic basic black dress.
The magic of black foliage is that it’s the perfect foil for other colors. Used as a backdrop in gardens viewed from a distance, dark plants enhance the colors of other plants in the foreground. There are endless possible combinations. for a hot tropical look, try a backdrop of black-leaved cannas such as ‘Intrigue’ or ‘Black Knight’ behind a planting of deep orange marigolds and dwarf yellow sunflowers. An elegant mix for winter color combines bronze fennel with pastel pink snapdragons and china blue pansies.
Black liriope used as edging for a white flagstone pathway makes an interesting variation on the classic theme of black and white. And for a bizarre, but fun twist, how about a checkerboard combination of black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscarpus ‘Nigrescens’) and silver mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus).
These both grow well in a shaded site and make a fantastic groundcover combination.
Luckily, over time the availability of dark foliaged plants that do well in our area has increased as their popularity has grown. Think of black-leaved plants as being as essential to, and versatile in, your landscape as your ‘basic black dress’ is to your wardrobe!
Here’s a list of great dark foliaged plants, for different areas in the landscape:
Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus)
Purple Queen (Tradescantia pallida)
Oxalis (regnelli var. triangularus)
Coleus Darkstar (Xanthosoma violacea)
Partial Sun Lovers
Loropetalum, so many to choose from! Plum Delight is outstanding.
Alternanthera – Black Knight
Black liriope – Ebony Knight (Ophiopogon planiscarpus ‘Nigrescens’)
Heuchera (somewhat short-lived, but beautiful)
Red Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)
Canna, Intrigue and Black Knight
Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’ Elephant ear
Loropetalum (many varieties)
Cordyline australis ‘Red Sensation’
Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy ’
Ipomoeaa batatas ‘Blackie’ sweet potato vine
Purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’)
Tradescantia pallida ‘Purple Queen’ spiderwort
Crinum augusta ‘Queen Emma’
Alternanthera – Black Knight
Ebony Knight Black Mondo
‘Purple Majesty’ ornamental millet
‘Abysinian Banana’, Ensete ventricosum Maurelii
Don’t be afraid to let your garden take a walk on the dark side. Remember that basic black is usually a backdrop. Nobody looks at the dress, they look at the jewelry. Using the beauty and mystery of dark-foliage to highlight your landscape will allow your prom-queen, evening-gown, and even your blue-jean plants to really stand-out.