Gardening on the Dark Side

Planning ahead creates a dramatic fall display.

by Charlie Thigpen   

Photography by Chuck St. John   

Last spring, I stepped into the dark side as I planted the flower border. I looked for plants that had dark burgundy or blackish foliage to combine with annuals and perennials. Echoing these hues throughout the border created repetition, and the dark colors looked nice all summer but really came into play in the fall when mixed with yellow, orange and red flowers and pumpkins. These colors combined to make a Halloween treat.


Look High and Low 

Dark-colored foliage plants come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Perennial plants such as “Wyoming canna” or “Black Coral” Colocasia have big, bold foliage and can grow 4 to 5 feet in height. There are also tall, wispy, and arching ornamental grasses such as “Purple Fountain” grass and “Vertigo” Pennisetum. Low growers that hug the ground and produce dark foliage include “Trailing Burgundy” coleus, “Persian Chocolate” Lysimachia, “Little Jewel” Alternanthera, many Heucheras and “Blackie” sweet potato vine. Good mid-sized plants include “Dark Star” and “Chocolate Mint” coleus along with Persian Shield.


In the Mix 

Whether used in the foreground or as a backdrop, the dark colors make a dramatic statement mingling with bright blooms and chartreuse foliage plants such as “Wasabi” coleus, “Margarita” sweet potato vine or creeping Jenny. I love to set plants  that contrast next to each other, and anything with a light green looks great against dark colored foliage.

Cool season flowering plants such as chrysanthemums, marigolds, pansies, violas and snapdragons partner well with dark leaves. For Halloween, place pumpkins and gourds around some of the showy foliage. If you don’t have any dark-leaved plants in your garden, it’s not too late. Set out “Giant Red” mustard, “Red Bore” kale, purple leafed cabbages and “Bull’s Blood” beets to get you through the winter. Don’t be scared to step into dark side. Be brave and set out some dark-leafed plants and see how great your garden will look.

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