Enter the Twilight Zone - Part 1
06 July 2014 - by Lizzy Browne

I love gardening on the dark side with purple and black plants.  They add glamour and sophistication to any planting scheme. If you want to look  inconspicuous wear dark coloured clothes. But, if you want your garden to stand  out from the rest, use dark coloured plants.
Heres a list of some of my favourites at the nursery.

Ipomoea batatas Sweet Caroline Purple isnt really purple at all its one of  the blackest plants we grow. Its 5 fingered leaves carpet the ground although  it would quite happily trail from a container and it has very pretty purple/pink  flowers. The small tubers of this sweet potato are edible, though not as well flavoured as other varieties.

Iresine herbstii Blazing Rose forms the little hedge at the entrance to the  Edible Jungle. Its called the Beefsteak plant but it doesnt have any edible  use that I know of. The leaves are puckered and quilted and are a deep purple  black with heavy pink/purple veining.

Persicaria microcephala Red Dragon is a fast growing hardy perennial of the  knotweed family. It's very vigorous but not invasive like the dreaded giant  knotweed. It has arrow shaped purple leaves with a pewter-coloured  chevron, unfilled with deep purple/black. It can become leggy but cutting back  keeps it bushy. The deer have been pruning ours for us recently.

Colocasia esculenta Black Magic is one of the blackest  of all plants. Its huge mat black leaves on dark purple stems absorb all light.  The last few summers haven't been ideal for growing Colocasias - too cool and  dry but Black Magic can reach huge proportions in favourable years (2003) and we  have grown it to 1.5m.

Colocasia esculenta Diamond Head has equally black  leaves but with a soft metallic sheen - lovely with rain drops.

Nymans lettuce should be cropped before it starts going to seed as the leaves  become bitter and unpalatable. Weve left ours and theyve formed these metre  tall towers of intense purple/brown foliage so ornamental. We have replacement  plants ready but are reluctant to pull these out of the garden.

Ensete ventricosum Maurellii, the Abyssinian black banana has the most  tremendous leaves in the garden; great paddles, well over a metre long. These vary greatly in colour but on those with  really good colouration they can be streaked in tones of green, red and almost  black.

Heuchera Obsidian makes lovely clumps of overlapping deep  purple/black leaves.  Amazingly these are evergreen and extremely hardy. It does well in shade and can  even tolerate dry shade, at the base of a tree or hedge as long as its given a  little help to establish.

Cotinus coggyria Royal Purple, the Smoke bush, has deep purple leaves, turning  redder in autumn. You can cut it back hard each spring to maintain it as a large  leaved, short shrub.

Only Platts Black is darker than Phormium Black Adder but  it lacks the vigour  of its larger relative. Black Adder has rich purple/black foliage and is  outstanding.

Coprosma repens Pacific Night is captivating with highly glossed rich  purple/black/green foliage. This lovely shrub from New Zealand isnt quite hardy  enough to survive a hard winter outside and the flowers are pretty insignificant  but as a foliage plant alone it warrants space in a greenhouse over winter.

Oxalis triangulis subsp. triangulis pops up every year  all over the nursery. Funny that it used to be sold as a houseplant. I love its  deep purple, velvet, shamrock leaves, and they way they close like butterfly  wings in the evening. It has small, pretty pink flowers in summer. Its little pink shrimp-like tubers are  allegedly edible but I havent tried them yet.

Pittosporum tenuifolium Tom Thumb is a delightful small, rounded, evergreen  shrub with rich, glossy purple/black foliage. New growth is green, quickly  turning darker during summer and very black during winter. It has very tiny, honey-scented flowers. A tough  little number, this winter really put it to the test at the nursery. The plants  in the ground survived outside with little or no damage.

Phyllostachys nigra (black bamboo) is a popular bamboo, but it needs a little  pruning to look its best. We strip the leaves and branches from the lower metre  or so to reveal the shiny, ebony canes. Nigra needs to be planted in full sun  for really black canes to develop.

Aeonium urbicum Zwartkop

Aeonium Voodoo

Aeonium urbicum Zwartkop intensifies in colour in warm sunny weather. In  winter its green but as spring turns to summer its large rosettes turn a  polished deep brown/black. Chopping off its head can encourage branching.

Aeonium Voodoo can reach monster proportions but never quite attains the same  intensity of black as Zwartkop.

But the title of blackest plant of all must surely be awarded to  Ophiopogon  planiscapus Nigrescens, the Mondo grass. Its a dense, tuft-forming little  evergreen perennial (its not actually a grass) with arching deepest black  leaves and pink flowers in summer followed by shiny black berries.

More dark plants to follow in the next blog.

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