Black Leaves

Plants with leaves a color other than green-exotic.  I have never counted the numbers of plant species in my yard, but every one of them has green leaves. In my green world, a red/black or purple/black leaved plant would most surely be exotic. That exotic quality attracts attention. The numbers of urban properties featuring a Bloodgood Japanese maple somewhere in the landscape is an indication of the attraction of black.  Central to the color composition of these four containers of mine several years ago pivoted around purple oxalis triangularis and purple threadleaf alternanthera.  The purple black oxalis in the center pair of rectangular planters has the best black color of any black leaved plant I know.  It is not muddy.  The black/red alternanthera is not bad either.  But critical to the appearance of that black has to do with the choice of company.  Gartenmeister fuchsia has black/green leaves.  Variegated licorice provides startling contrast. These plantings are all about good company.

Black calocasia has plenty going for it.  The very large wavy leaves are a standout.  Its willingness to grow is only limited by the size of the container in which it is grown.  For me, the difficulty is finding suitable companion plants.  As a general rule, once I start a container planting with other than green leaves, I need the companionship of some other than green-leaved cast members to make the entire picture work.  Inky fingers coleus is a favorite. The black leaves are outlined in the most outrageously electric kelly green.  In this container, the color black is the dominant element.  The contrast of leaf size is swell.  A small dash of lime licorice, which in this instance reads as green tinged yellow, is just enough to keep all that big black from looking gloomy.

Black sweet potato vine is a beautiful color and texture, provided you plan for the cascade. This is a good ratio of plant to pot.  Pots completely smothered in black sweet potato vine have that Cousin It look.   In this planting, I knew the green leaves of the white petunias would never be a part of the big picture.  Petunias bloom so heavily one can ignore the size, shape and color of the foliage.  The double, or hose in hose datura has green foliage, but it is very dark green.  Moody, this planting.  Moving off moody, it has balance.  Black can be dominant, or fade away.  Container plantings are all about partnerships, relationships.  Like any other partnership or relationship, things can be difficult.  Most of what I do as a gardener is weed, and mediate. 

The leaves of Persian Shield are a color complex of purple, green and black. A dark foliaged dahlia harmonizes.  The lavender flowers contrast in such a way to assign depth to this discussion of black. 

The canna Australia is a better black than Calocasia black.  I attribute this to the substance of the leaf.  Calocasia leaves are very thin; they transmit light.  That transmitted light dirties the color.  Canna leaves are very thick; these leaves are emphatically black.  Opaque-not transluscent.  The representation of color is strong and dramatic.  The edges of the leaves of the coleus Arizona Sunset repeat that wine red black in a different texture and dimension.  The Misty Lilac wave petunia skirt lights up the night life going on above.

This planting of Persian Shield, pink New Guineas, peach petunias, and variegated licorice is from my yard a few years ago.  The variegated licorice picks up the cool green of the Persian shield.  A little intermediary peach petunia action and some hot pink New Guinea flowers feature the iridescent quality of those featured black leaves.  

Moses in the Cradle is a common name for a black variegated Wandering Jew-I think.  I have always known this plant to be a tradescantia, but some literature indicates otherwise.  That said, this black foliaged trailing tropical is amazingly tolerant of cold, sun, shade,-whatever weather comes its way.  Planted in early spring with Italian cypress, yellow dahlias, annual phlox, this planter still looks good in August.  Imagine this planter without that frothy skirt of Moses-boring at best.  On the outs, at worst. 


Hibiscus Red Shield is a red/black foliaged plant that will grow to astonshing proportions over the course of one season.  Not surprisingly, the flowers are insignificant.  Note that I underplanted it with a red coleus with lime edges, and lime licorice.  Green leaves underneath would have put out the fire.  Mix the variegated plants with more variegated plants.  Should you decide to go for black, chose your chorus accordingly.

Dark And Dramatic

What makes dark leaved plants so irresistable?  Their relative rarity attracts the eye in an instant.  Of all of the thousands of green leaved plants in my garden, I have no plants with “other than green” leaves.  Were I to plant a red-leaved plant there, it would attract attention.  A red-leaved Japanese maple stands out from the crowd by virtue of its color alone-never mind that it is a tree with many virtues.  Red leaves can create excitement in a visually sleepy place; the color is unexpected.  Though I would not be inclined to indroduce red leaved plants into my landscape, I like them in containers.  These old red leaved spikes provide a dramatic accent to this grouping of pots.  The choice of lime licorice as an underplanting reflects my general rule-if I use dark leaved plants in a container, I stay away from green leaved companion plants.      

Once I make the decision to feature a plant with dark foliage, the supporting cast plants need be friendly to that color.  Lime licorice verges on yellow; inky fingers coleus has a deep purple ground, with just a hint of bright green on the edges.  Medium green and medium red make mud together.  I like sharp, crisp, delicate and dramtic color-no mud.  Big black foliage needs more black foliage to make a dramatic color statement.  The rim of bright green on this Inky Fingers coleus describes its small texture-it brings all of the color to life.  Medium green foliage in this container-thud.    

This red/black foliaged hibiscus is a very strong grower.  It can easily attain 6 feet in a single season.  The red and lime bicolor coleus and lime licorice light up that dark color from below.  I have thought on occasion to pair it with the big ruffly leaved farfugium; the contrast in texture would be great.  The red and green color combination I am reluctant to try.  Want an other than green foliaged scheme?  Follow through with every move you make.

I did make an exception in this case.  The strap leaved New Zealand flax, or phormium, is black leaved; perhaps there is a hint of brown.  The large, bright flower heads of the peach geraniums attract the eye; its great leaves fade away into the distance.  The violet petunias are so covered with blooms that the green foliage is scarcely visible.  This planting is dark and dramatic.

This large and black leaved canna is a boldly sensational plant.  It has great stature, texture, and mass-there is no missing it.  The red violet and lime yellow coleus Arizona Sunset repeats that dark foliage color in a different hue, and leavens it with lime.  The delicate and pale lavender petunias are a sharp contrast-all of that lavender brings out the purple in the canna leaves.  The flowers have all but obliterated any view of its green foliage.  

This centers of these canna leaves appear green when the sun shines through them. This made it fine for me to plant an olive green coleus with a red violet obverse next to it.  The red thread leaved alternanthera appears to darken as it matures-a large mass of red leaves traps light, rather than reflecting it.  The pink petunias and creeping jenny define the lower edge of the alternanthera mass.  Very dark foliage benefits from some lighter company-any other color than medium green, please.

Malabar spinach has very dark green leaves which are red violet on the reverse side.  The stems and knobby flowers are also dark red violet.  Though I love how it climbs to great heights in just one season, I also value that dark foliage.  Persian Shield and black sweet potato vine mirror that color quite well.  This pot was dark up 12 feet into the sky, and just as dark, down to the ground.  This made me think a big button of green-foliaged Red Sun zinnias would work.  

The very dark purple oxalis triangularis is one of my favorite plants.  That rich dark red violet leaf-so beautiful.  I especially like it with Solenia orange begonia.  Very little of the green leaves of the begonia are visible-this is a study in orange and dark red violet.  The varigated licorice is not your garden variety green-it looks as fresh as the description mint green suggests. The big idea here-should you choose to include dark foliaged plants in your landscape, garden, or containers, pay even more attention to the color you put with them.

A Celebration

I am hard pressed to remember the last time it was my pleasure to live through such a benign August, but I have no plans to look this gift horse in the mouth.  Tomorrow is Buck’s birthday; this terrace will my contribution to the celebration.  They have to be the best they have ever been-although Buck says I tell him this every year.

aug-22-056I like the fireworks going-on feeling of my terrace pots this year.  Most of that has to do with how they have grown.  I picked the colors and plants yes, but nature has proved unusually cooperative.  We have had cool temperatures all summer, and now, regular rain. The usual bugs and disease must be at someone else’s house.

aug-22-0601The Mital terra cotta gargoyle pots on their pedestals have never looked so rowdy and profuse.  I grow nicotiana mutabilis every year for exactly the reason you see here. The showy oregano in this pot gave up and died, but I hardly notice.  Besides, this pair of pots started out mismatched-I like that they will end up mismatched.

Variegated licorice has thick felty leaves and stiff stems, but it will dance through a pot in a lively way. It is a welcome contrast to the mounds of begonias and purple oxalis.  Plant habit can be as important a part of design as color and shape.

aug-22-071These two licorice plants have made a flared skirt of themselves.  The shape is especially attractive with the garland pattern on the pot.  Did I plan this part-absolutely not.  Anyone who gardens gets to enjoy the unexpected.

aug-22-081The New Guinea impatiens this year are unbelievably gaudy-what fun.  Even my million bells, which usually sulk as I have very alkaline water, are cooperating.   My dahlias do not have mites or mildew.  The cool weather has slowed the flower production on the cannas, but the foliage alone is well worth having.


Thriving and saucy-this is how I would describe my pots.  As Buck  has to cook his own birthday dinner, I am glad these pots look how they do.  It is a whomping lot of work to look after all this every day, but every day I am glad to get home and see what’s doing.  I like being ready for a party, every day.


This Fourth of July feeling suits me just fine.