7 Plants for Adding Contrast to Your Garden With Dark Foliage

Updated on June 11, 2020
Gloriousconfusion profile image

Diana was a Member of the Royal Horticultural Society. She & her family all love gardening. She enjoys photographing & painting plants too.

This guide will provide a number of suggestions for how to add contrast to your garden by incorporating plants with dark foliage.
This guide will provide a number of suggestions for how to add contrast to your garden by incorporating plants with dark foliage. | Source

I am not a professional horticulturist, just a keen gardening enthusiast. Sixty years ago, my back garden was a boring rectangle containing nothing but rough grass growing out of ridges of clay, with a disused air raid shelter and an outside lavatory in one corner.

Now it has a rockery, a paved pathway, garden furniture, ornaments, and raised vegetable beds. It's bursting with flowering plants, shrubs, fruit bushes, vegetables, ferns, succulents, and a lawn—even the foliage comes in a variety of shapes and colours.

This article will provide seven suggestions for plants with dark foliage to help add contrast to your garden.

7 Dark-Leafed Plants That Can Help Add Contrast to Your Garden

  1. Heuchera
  2. Echiveria
  3. Phormium
  4. Cordyline
  5. Dark-Leafed Dahlia
  6. Sambucus Negro (Elder or Elderberry)
  7. Strobilanthes Dyerianus (Persian Shield)

Heuchera With Purple Leaves
Heuchera With Purple Leaves | Source

1. Heuchera

Heuchera are perennials, popular for their colourful leaves rather than their pretty pink flowers which bloom in spring and summer. You can get heucheras with a variety of different foliage colours, and they look good in a mixture or in a single hue, with leaves from dark purple to pale pinky yellow and dark green to pale yellowy green.

They retain their colour throughout the year and are therefore particularly appealing in autumn, when many plants are dying down for winter.

As they are low-growing plants (12–16 inches/30–40 centimetres), they are best at the front of borders, lining a path, or growing several together in pots. Although preferring half shade, they will grow in full sun or full shade and don't need much watering. Even in dry weather, a good watering once a week will suffice. They need to be in an area that is well drained in slightly acidic, nutrient-rich soil.

Purple and Green Echiveria Succulents
Purple and Green Echiveria Succulents | Source

2. Echiveria

These are low-growing, drought-tolerant succulents. They come in various colours and need very little care. They originate from Central and Southern America, so they need a hot, sunny position, and very little water. They grow well in containers and also make attractive groundcover, as they are low growing. They don't need pruning and are easy to propagate simply by removing a leaf and planting it in soil.

Ideally echiveria would prefer south-facing, sandy, slightly acidic soil with good drainage. They are drought tolerant and, indeed, subject to rotting if standing in wet soil. Because their roots are very short, they can grow in small pots or even between paving stones. Some of mine are flourishing on the top of a wooden dustbin container lined with earth.

As you can see from the picture above, they come in various colours.

Phormium With Purple Leaves
Phormium With Purple Leaves | Source

3. Phormium

Phormium is an easy-care architectural plant with varieties ranging from green to dark red and some have variegated striped leaves. My favourite is the dark-leafed one which I have in my garden. It grows to about 3–4 feet (90–120 centimetres) high and wide.

It is a perennial plant which grows best in well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. It will tolerate full shade and poor soil and is drought tolerant. It also grows well as a container plant.

Dead or damaged leaves are best removed in spring, but I also remove dead leaves whenever they affect the look of the plant, which has all-year-round interest.

Phormium can be divided in spring, spacing individual plants 36–48 inches (90–120 centimetres) apart.

Make Your Garden Look Special and Out of the Ordinary

You can do this by varying the leaf shapes and colours in your garden.

Cordyline With Golden Brown Leaves
Cordyline With Golden Brown Leaves | Source

4. Cordyline

Cordyline has bronze leaves and grows about 10–30 feet (3–10 metres) high. It needs full sun or light shade and will also grow indoors. It is normally frost resistant if grown in a sheltered position, and it needs fertile soil that is well-drained. It doesn't need a lot of care.

Older plants are more frost resistant than young ones. In severe cold, to protect container-grown plants, they should be moved to a sheltered location in a greenhouse—or alternatively set against a wall where they should be wrapped in fleece and the root area should be covered with mulch.

Strong sunlight causes the leaf colour to fade.

Cordyline can be propagated by seeds, cuttings, or rooted suckers.

Dark-Leafed Dahlia Before Flowering
Dark-Leafed Dahlia Before Flowering | Source

5. Dark-Leafed Dahlia

Dahlias with dark red leaves give double interest to the garden, with their beautiful blooms which can flower for several months from about July to October, and their colourful leaves which stand out in contrast against the surrounding greenery.

There are numerous varieties, some with green and some with dark red or purple attractively shaped leaves, with heights ranging from 2–4 feet (60–150 centimetres).

Dahlias require quite a bit of attention. They need fertile, moist, but well-draining soil, in a sunny, sheltered position. In dry weather, they should be well-watered frequently, about every two days, to stop them dying off.

The tubers should be planted from May onwards. They need to be fed occasional plant food and, if they are tall varieties, they should be staked. Deadheading them encourages them to keep flowering longer. After they have finished flowering, the tubers should be dug up and stored in a shed to prevent rotting caused by dampness and frosty conditions.

Sambucus Negro (Elder or Elderberry)
Sambucus Negro (Elder or Elderberry) | Source

6. Sambucus Negro (Elder or Elderberry)

Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ has beautiful dark purple, almost black, foliage in perfect contrast to its abundant pale, creamy-pink flowers. It works well when planted on its own or as part of a hedge.

It is best grown in moist but well-draining soil in full sun to partial shade, but it will grow in most soil.

Sambucus negro grows up to about 19.5 feet (6 metres) high and 19.5 feet (6 metres) wide. It can be propagated by cuttings taken in June to August. To produce the best-coloured leaves, prune plants back to ground level every year in early spring and apply a 2–3 inch (5–7 centimetre) mulch of well-rotted garden compost or manure around the base.

This shrub is popular with garden designers because of its attractive decorative foliage and ease of cultivation. It blooms in May and June, producing large 6 inch (15 centimetre) clusters of flowers which look spectacular against its purple-black, deeply ridged foliage. The flowers are followed by dark red berries in August and September that attract birds to the garden.

Strobilanthes Dyerianus (Persian Shield)
Strobilanthes Dyerianus (Persian Shield) | Source

7. Strobilanthes Dyerianus (Persian Shield)

This evergreen plant is easy to care for. Pinching back the stems will encourage it to be more bushy. It should be watered when the top 2 inches (5 centimetres) of soil feel dry, but in winter it can be watered less often.

Persian shield has spectacular slightly serrated leaves about 4–7 inches (10–18 centimetres) long, with dark green veins and purple and silver over the whole surface. It grows up to 4 feet (1 metre) tall, but shorter if the stems have been pinched back. As it is a tropical plant, it is often grown indoors in cooler climates, as it is not frost resistant. It grows well in a container and may produce slender, spiky flowers in winter, if not too cold

It can be grown in full sun or partial or complete shade in a sheltered position, and it prefers even moisture and a humid atmosphere in organically rich, well-draining soil—sand or loam. It benefits from being fed fortnightly with a weak solution of liquid plant food during spring and summer only.

In hot climates, it can be grown outside as a perennial, and in cooler climates it may be regarded as an annual, unless brought indoors for winter protection.

The plant can be propagated by seed or by cuttings.

Do you consider shapes and colours of leaves, as well as flowers?

See results

Making the Best of Your Garden Means Different Things to Different People

There are no rights or wrongs. We are all individuals with different tastes, perspectives, and ambitions. So it's best to keep in mind that:

  • Some people want a spectacular array of plants.
  • Others want a more natural setting.
  • Some want a place to relax.
  • Others want somewhere to play.
  • Some have gardening as a hobby.
  • Others merely want to enjoy a garden with the least possible physical input.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Diana Grant

Do Leave Your Comments and Suggestions Here

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    • Gloriousconfusion profile imageAUTHOR

      Diana Grant 

      4 weeks ago from United Kingdom

      An alternative to trying to get plants which are in short supply at garden centers this year is to ask your neighbours and friends to do a plant swap, or even just to give away cuttings.

      Because of lock-down my garden is having a complete makeover, as people have more time and enjoy being out in the open.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      4 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

      Contrasting leaves make the garden look alluring. The different shapes and colors capture the imagination. I was sad that this year there are not too many selections of plants in the stores or people just snap them up as they now have time to work on their garden and enjoy it.

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