Plants with dark leaves and stems can be particularly useful in the garden, helping to catch the eye and provide dramatic contrast to plants of other colours.
When combining dark-leaved plants, there are a few important things to remember. Firstly, rather than growing a group of these plants side by side, they’ll stand out more if grown alone as statement plants, or if combined with flowers and green-leaved plants, where the colours can bounce off of each other.
Many dark-leaved plants have foliage that is deep purple or a dark bronze-red colour. Combining them with plants with purple flowers and plants with red flowers will help to bring out these undertones, resulting in beautiful pairings.
More foliage features:
Discover some of the best plants with dark foliage to grow, below.
Purple basil foliage
If you’re after dark-leaved plants that you can eat, purple basil is a good place to start. Varieties to grow include ‘Crimson King’ and ‘Dark Opal’. Other edibles with dark foliage include Chinese basil, red orache and some lettuce varieties.
Dahlia ‘Magenta Star’
Of course, not all dahlias have dark foliage, but there are some notable cultivars that do, including ‘David Howard’, ‘Yellow Hammer’, ‘Tally Ho’ and ‘Magenta Star’ (pictured). Try combining them with green-leaved plants to help the darker foliage stand out.
Actaea ‘Pink Spike’ foliage
Actaeas are gorgeous, shade-lovers producing tall spires of bottlebrush blooms. For dark foliage, go for cultivars like ‘Brunette’, ‘Pink Spike’ and ‘Queen of Sheba’. They enjoy moist, well-drained soil.
Chinese witch hazel, Loropetalum ‘Hot Spice’
Loropetalum chinense is a beautiful evergreen shrub, with deep pink, scented flowers, similar to those of witch hazel, to which it’s related. For dark foliage, go for a cultivar like ‘Fire Dance’ or ‘Hot Spice’ (pictured). Frost hardy, so may require winter protection.
Castor oil plant (Ricinus communis)
Castor oil plant, Ricinus communis
The castor oil plant, Ricinus communis, is a stunning architectural plant, popularly grown in exotic gardens alongside plants like cannas, tetrapanax and persicarias. For the darkest foliage, choose a cultivar like ‘Carmencita’ or ‘New Zealand Purple’.
Smoke bush (Cotinus)
Smoke bush, Cotinus ‘Purpureus’
In the summer months, smoke bushes (Cotinus) are covered in a haze of feathery flowers, giving them their name. Cut them back hard in spring to produce large, vibrant leaves at the expense of flowers. ‘Royal Purple’ and ‘Purpureus’ (pictured) have especially dark foliage.
Dark-leaved elder (Sambucus nigra)
Elder, Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’
Like smoke bushes, dark-leaved elder (Sambucus nigra) varieties like ‘Black Beauty’ and ‘Black Lace’ can be pruned back to ground level in early spring, to produce a fantastic display of foliage and the best-coloured leaves.
Cherry plum, Prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra’
There are several dark-leaved varieties of the cherry plum, Prunus cerasifera, to grow, including ‘Nigra’ and ‘Pissardii’. The dark foliage provides gorgeous contrast with the pale-pink spring blooms.
Cercis ‘Forest Pansy’ foliage
Cercis are grown for the profusion of small, pea-like flowers in vivid shades of pink and purple that open in spring. They look lovely grown at the back of borders. Choose cultivars like ‘Forest Pansy’ and ‘Ruby Fall’ for dark foliage.
Ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’
Physocarpus are deciduous shrubs, particularly suited to growing in borders, where they can be surrounded with a tapestry of complementary plants. It also produces pollinator-friendly summer flowers. Try ‘Diabolo’, ‘Diable d’Or’ or ‘Little Devil’ for especially dark foliage.
More plants with dark foliage
Hylotelephium ‘Purple Emperor’