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Diggin' It

Fabulous foliage

Plants with colorful leaves liven up the yard - but watch out for purple!

By / June 4, 2008



In talking with Craig Summers Black about his article on how to make your yard colorful all season, he passed along this advice about "the peril of purple" leaves and flowers:

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"The pairing of plants with purple leaves and plants with gold leaves is now almost ever-present. And while this color combo can be quite effective, be forewarned: You put purple in the background of a flowerbed at your peril.

"Dark colors tend to recede in the background, becoming either the Black Hole of Calcutta or murk and mud. But – you knew that was coming, didn’t you? – if you put a plant with light-colored foliage behind the purple, it shoves Mr. My-Name-Is-Mud to the forefront, showcasing him as it were, transforming him to Monsieur le Magnifique.

"Instead of murkiness, the dark blob becomes a defined, delineated presence.
Think of Cimicifuga simplex 'Brunette' (better known as black bugbane to some of us) with a backdrop of light lime-green hostas.

"Or a purple columnar barberry (say, ‘Helmond Pillar’) with a couple of fatter gold spiraeas behind it. Or maybe, on acreage, a purple-leaved catalpa before a blue spruce windbreak.

Craig also added two more to his list of highly recommended plants with colorful foliage. One's a perennial for wet areas and the other's a tree:

"You may have to do a little searching to find yourself a gold oak," he says, "but the hunt is always half the fun. Quercus robur ‘Concordia’ is your objective, a slow grower much smaller than its English cousins.

"Concordia benefits from a hint of shade, because its clear-yellow foliage, which emerges bright yellow in spring, tends to scorch in the heat of summer. If only it held that color all year long. Alas, it gets blue-green toward the end of the season.

"It reaches 10 feet in 10 years, needs dappled light, and is hardy to Zone 4 [no colder than -30 degrees in winter]."

He's convinced me. I'm ready to add a few more plants with colorful leaves to my landscape.

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