Flowers aren’t the only way of giving your garden colour and interest –plum coloured-foliage adds real drama, depth and contrast. Use in a few key areas with some sun, (it tend to blend into shady spots) to highlight brighter flowers. Here’s my pick of the best:
Heuchera. I’ve recently discovered the appeal of heuchera – they’re easy to grow in sun or shade and their big evergreen leaves and pretty early flower spires provide winter and spring interest. There are lots of purple varieties such as H. ‘Purple Palace’ and H. ‘Obsidian’ but my favourite is ‘Plum Pudding’ with silvery plum veined leaves. They look gorgeously moody with dark blues and stunning with silvers, soft pinks and mauves.
Sedum. S. ‘Matrona’ has dark stems, grey purple leaves and in August, large pale pink flowers – a great combination. The gorgeous S. ‘Blue Pearl’ with deep bluey purple leaves and bright pink flowers is fantastic with silver plants such as Stachys byzantina. Other purple-tinged varieties include ‘Jose Aubergine’ and Sedum telephium ‘Purple Emperor’. They like full sun and well drained soil and go well with drought tolerant plants such as cistus and ornamental grasses.
Anthriscus ‘Ravenswing’. An elegant purple stemmed form of cow parsley that looks great with ferns, iris and foxgloves, which also flower in May and June. Plant in sun or partial shade.
Cotinus (smoke bush tree). This is a stunning shrub with oval burgundy leaves and smoke-like plumes in late summer. Then comes the amazing autumn colour, C. ‘Grace, turning a pinky orange, and C. coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ scarlet. Cut hard back in early spring and they’ll shoot up in summer. Pale bluey purples such as campanula persicifolia, or Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’ look great with it.
Sambuca nigra. Another show-stopper with delicate black purple leaves, which show off the flat pale pink flowers beautifully. I have mine surrounded by pale pink Astriantia ‘Roma’. Silvery leaves of phlomis would shine out against it too. Plant in full sun to partial shade.
Acer. There are lots of acers available with dark leaves including the elegant Acer palmatum ‘Atropurpureum’ and the slightly smaller Acer ‘Bloodgood’ with feathery dark purple leaves, turning an intense red in autumn. Underplant with liriope or cyclamen for a gorgeous focal point. The dinky dome- shaped Acer palmatum dissectum is perfect for a smaller garden. Acers are happy in part shade or sun – but ideally not south facing.
Circis Canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’. Along with the attractive deep purple heart shaped leaves, which turn yellow in autumn, this small tree has the added bonus of bright purple pink flower in early spring. Unlike acers, cercis like a warm south facing spot. Nice with pink camellia and lime green foliage.
Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea ‘Harlequin’. The reddish purple leaves marbled with pink and white provide a contrasting darker leaf to silvers and blues. Pruning it it each year will help it keep its colour.
Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’. A ball shaped shrub with small purple evergreen leaves and almost black stems, it gives winter structure and is pretty in spring when the new green speckled leaves emerge. I’ve seen it looking striking with Anemanthele lessoniana grass and alliums, or as a dark backdrop to red-stemmed cornus. It likes full sun and well-drained soil.
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This article first appeared in the July 2017 issue of SE22 magazine.