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What's Your Color? Black

Learn about ways to use black in your garden, along with some plants you can use that have black foliage.

Contributors: Kerry Meyer

Using Black in the Garden

Gardens in many ways are all about color.  The colors you choose give your garden its personality.  Well, the specific plants combined with the colors you choose, give your garden its personality.  If you want a boisterous garden then red, orange, yellow and fuchsia are probably going to figure prominently.  On the other hand, if you are looking for simple and elegant white and black might be just the ticket.  Still, whatever look you like - and it can change from season to season, I know my garden does - black can play a role. 

So what exactly does black give your garden?

Black functions in the garden much as it does in your wardrobe.  It is a neutral and a foundational color and works well with every other color in your palette. Dark colors tend to recede when you look at them, so they create a sense of more space when utilized in the garden.  Bright colors, on the other hand, tend to seem closer to you.  Black is best when used as a contrast against other colors, with the black plants helping other colors pop.  Where black doesn't have presence is when viewed at a distance.  Black viewed up close creates contrast.  Black viewed from a distance simply disappears, your eye will be drawn to lighter and brighter colors.

Now the caveat when it comes to black foliage.  True black is hard to come by.  So when we talk black foliage, usually we really mean really dark green, really dark purple, really dark burgundy or really dark bronze.  Also the deepness of the foliage color is usually at least somewhat dependent on how much sun the plant gets.  For sun plants usually this means with more sun gets you darker foliage, for shade plants less sun will usually get you darker foliage. 

Now let's talk plants!

Combination Ideas

Ipomoea (also known as sweet potato vines) ornamental grasses and coleus are three of the major classes of plants that have black foliage, and they are certainly some of the best combination plants around.  Here are some ideas on different ways to use dark foliaged plants, starting with black combined with purple.


Combinations with orange

 Combinations with red

Combinations with yellow

Combinations with pink


Combinations with white


Create Contrast - All in One Plant

Usually when you are talking about using black as a contrast, you think of using two plants, but some plants create contrast all on their own.  Some of the most stunning plants for gardens are flowering plants with dark foliage and brightly colored flowers.  Like these examples.  From left to right - Mystic Illusion DahliaJazz Hands® Mini Loropetalum, and Nonstop® Mocca Deep Orange Begonia.


While bright colors give you the most pop, softer colors are also shown to great effect against dark foliage. From left to right, Infinity® Pink Frost Impatiens, 'Perfect Storm' Hibiscus and Rock and Grow 'Maestro' Sedum.

Shrubs are in the middle of a revolution, with selections that feature interest in multiple seasons.  Foliage plays a big part in creating interest in more than one season. Here are just a few shrubs with dark foliage to check out. First row from left to right Black BeautySambucus, Black LaceSambucus and Jazz Hands® Bold Loropetalum.  Second row from left to right Spilled Wine®Weigela, Summer Wine®Physocarpus and Tiny Wine® Physocarpus.

Black is a great accent plant for any garden and is a great foil to show off all of those other colors.  Changing one plant can change the whole look of a combination.  To see how switching out a black foliage plant for a chartreuse foliage plant changes the feel of a combination, check out "What's Your Color?  Chartreuse."

If you enjoy using Pinterest, we also have a Pinterest board on dark colored plants.

Patent Info:  Jazz Hands® Mini Loropetalum chinense 'Beni Hime' USPPAF; Rock 'N Grow 'Maestro' Sedum (Hylotelephium) hybrid USPP 20,094;  Summerific® 'Perfect Storm' Hibiscus hybrid USPPAF, Can PBRAF; Infinity® Pink Frost Impatiens hawkeri 'Visinfpifr' USPP 16,262 ;  Mystic Illusion Dahlia hybrid 'Knockout' PP: 18339 ;  Black Beauty Sambucus nigra 'Gerda' USPP 12,305; Black Lace Sambucus nigra 'Eva' PP: 15575 Can. PP: 2633; Jazz Hands® Bold Loropetalum chinense 'Kurenai Daiou' USPPAF; Spilled Wine® Weigela florida 'Bokraspiwi' USPP 23,781, Can 4,655;  Summer Wine® Physocarpus opulifolius 'Seward' USPP 14,821, Can 2,641; Tiny Wine® Physocarpus opulifolius 'SMPOTW' USPPAF, Can PBRAF;

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