The following is a guest blog post from Leslie Halleck.
With Halloween just around the corner, I find myself giddy with anticipation. I’ll admit that Halloween is my favorite holiday when it comes to decorating. As the designated “scary house” of the neighborhood, I feel it’s my duty to deliver not only on the sweets when the kids arrive, but also to max out the “creepy” factor. In addition to all the standard decorations that go into creating a house of haunt, I also like to create plant combinations that reflect the season. There’s nothing better than adding plants with black foliage to porch containers to complete the look and feel with some style.
Plant varieties with black foliage are hot right now, but plants with true black foliage are far and few between. One of the newest arrivals is the BLACK DIAMOND™ series of dwarf crapemyrtles. When I first spotted these beauties I knew I had to have at least one, and that they’d be perfect for Halloween container specimens. The plants sport spectacular black foliage that offers up a striking contrast to the five available flower colors. BLACK DIAMOND™ Pure White is my favorite; the bright white flowers against the dark black foliage are stunning. If you’re using the “thriller, filler & spiller” method of container design, these are definitely your thriller (which just happens to work perfectly with our Halloween theme, no?). When mature, these semi-dwarf shrubs reach a maximum of 10- to 12’ feet tall, but can be kept to a container size by tip pruning. Make sure you place them in a full sun location to keep plants in bloom and foliage color strong.
For an architectural modern look, Aeonium arboreum ’Zwartkop’, also known as black rose, is the perfect filler for a Halloween themed container. Aeonium is a striking succulent which forms clumps of tall gray stems that hold shiny rosettes of almost black leaves. These rosettes are often called flowers because of their shape. Another fantastic fall filler for your Halloween doorstep is Petunia ‘Black Velvet’. I adore this variety because the flowers are as black as can be with a velvety sheen to them. Don’t forget about black pansies or violas! ‘Black Devil’ offers up coal-black blooms with a tiny yellow center. They make for the perfect tabletop centerpiece when planted or displayed inside pumpkins.
A good container combination always benefits from a plant that trails over the edge…also known as your “spiller”. ‘Black Heart’ Sweet Potato vine is a vigorous creeping vine with beautiful heart shaped leaves. Foliage color is a deep burgundy to almost black. This annual is easy as can be to grow and can work in a full sun to part sun environment. It will also tolerate dry spells if you forget to water, which is a bonus if you live in a hot climate. All of these black beauties create a striking contrast with combined with silver foliage plants such as dusty miller or Centaurea cineraria ‘Colchester White’.
Leslie is a dedicated horticulturist and gardener with more than 20 years of green industry experience. She earned her M.S. in Horticulture at Michigan State University and her B.S. in Biology/Botany from the University of North Texas. Leslie is also a Certified Professional Horticulturist (CPH). She currently runs her own consulting company, Halleck Horticultural. You can read her growLively garden blog at www.lesliehalleck.com
Smokebush (Cotinus) is one of the great all-time garden plants, IMO. Easy to grow, hardy (to Zone 4), and gorgeous. The plume-like blooms look great from spring, when they emerge, through much of summer. And the foliage is dynamite. This is purple smokebush (Monrovia’s Royal Purple), which as you can see, has great dark foliage. There’s a chartreuse version as well — Golden Spirit — in addition to more conventional green types.
Other plants come in these light/dark pairs too, which I love to combine for foliage contrast. Garden Debut’s Burgundy Hearts and Rising Sun redbuds, or Spring Meadow’s Black Lace and Sutherland Gold elderberries (Sambucus), are two examples.
Love hydrangeas? It’s hard not to with blooms this gorgeous!
Consider pearl-bush (left), a relatively uncommon shrub that’s been around a long time. However, it’s recently been updated. This mid-spring bloomer begins with creamy white pearl-like buds which open to a spectacular show of pure white blooms. In addition to Snow Day Blizzard, which grows to 5 or 6 feet tall, Proven Winners ColorChoice shrubs also offers ‘Niagara’ Snow Day Surprise, which tops out at 3 to 4 feet tall, making it an excellent choice for smaller yards. Both grow in full sun to part shade in Zones 4-8. The shrubs that Proven Winners sent me to trial have performed beautifully. The flowering display that you see in the photo is after just one year in the ground.
Red-veined enkianthus (below) is more subtle in the spring landscape. Its pink bell-shape blooms sport red veins and hang in clusters. The shrub more than makes up for subdued spring color with fiery orange, red, and yellow fall foliage. Grow enkianthus in part shade to full sun in moist, well-drained, acidic soil. It is hardy in Zones 5-7. This shrub, which I received from Bailey Nurseries, is also in its first year.
Add drama to your fall landscape with beautyberry, an easy-growing shrub that lights up in autumn with gorgeous violet-purple berries that attract birds. We’re particularly fond the variety ‘Issai’, which only gets about 4 feet tall and wide — perfect for any sunny garden!