Purple Prose – Part 2

Clematis seedling with Rosa glauca

Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra

Every few months, I start a new list of garden projects I’d like to try. It would be better if I’d keep just one running list, because the many small bits of paper scattered over my desk get used as bookmarks or coasters or end up getting filed with other papers, and I lose track of them. When I do run across an old list, it’s fun to read it over and see what I’d planned and what (if anything) I’ve accomplished. One project that’s appeared on quite a few of my lists is making a black-and-white garden.

So, I’m consistent about wanting to try one, but will I actually ever follow through? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, I’ve been dabbling with some combinations of deep purples to near-blacks with whites, silvers, and grays, and I’ve been learning from the combinations other gardeners have made. At the top of this entry is one of my first dark-and-white combinations, of a no-name clematis wandering among the dark leaves of Rosa glauca (R. rubrifolia). I say it was my combination, but to be truthful, I can take credit only for planting them next to each other; at that time, this clematis seedling hadn’t bloomed yet, so the result was completely a happy accident.

I’m not quite as sure how I feel about another unplanned combination in my front garden: the clump of blinding white ‘Immortality’ iris smack in the middle of a mostly red-and-purple area, shown below.

Front border May 17 06

It certainly adds some liveliness to the scene; that’s not, however, the effect I was going for. It also breaks my rule of no white in the front garden, where I mostly keep the reds, oranges, and purples. Darned if I can remember why I put it there in the first place, but I’m so used to it now that I think I’d miss it, even if I could find a replacement that better suited the other colors there.

Atriplex hortensis 'Rubra' and Gillenia stipulata and Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'

The combination above, of red orach (Atriplex hortensis ‘Rubra’) and Bowman’s root (Gillenia stipulata [Porteranthus stipulatus]) is one I definitely like. The tinier flowers make the white much less intense, and the whole effect is much more balanced. I figure that a black-and-white garden can have lots of silver, too, so that opens up a lot of options for foliage pairings. Below is a high-contrast pairing of ‘Oakhurst’ pineapple lily (Eucomis comosa) leaves with ‘Big Ears’ lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina).

Stachys byzantina 'Big Ears' with Eucomis comosa 'Oakhurst'

The shock value wears off by mid- to late summer, when the pineapple lily leaves turn a bit more greenish and the lamb’s ears are more grayish green than silver-white. In this case, though, I think I actually prefer the high-contrast phase.

Below is a combination that I really thought would be neat, but it missed the mark. Starting with the galvanized container, I figured it would be clever to use silver foliage as well, so I added a clump of ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’ lavender. Then, remembering the black-and-white concept, I tucked in the near-black Eranthemum nigrum and the supposed-to-be brown-black Haloragis erecta ‘Wellington Bronze’.

Haloraghis erecta 'Wellington Bronze' with Eranthemum nigrum and Lavandula 'Goodwin Creek Grey'

Maybe it would have worked if I’d set the container in full sun, as one would normally do for the lavender, but instead I kept it by the front door, so it got just a few hours of evening sun. The Eranthemum stayed dark, but the Haloragis mostly turned green, spoiling my clever plans. I’m almost tempted to try it again, because I still suspect it could work in the right site.

Good combinations of dark foliage with silvery blue leaves have completely eluded me so far. I never even would have tried, except for the combination of ‘Krossa Regal’ hosta and Cryptotaenia japonica ‘Purpurea’ (shown below) in a friend’s garden, which I thought was intriguing.

Hosta 'Krossa Regal' with Cryptotaenia japonica 'Purpurea'

Not having shade, I tried to create a similar effect with sun-loving ‘Dallas Blues’ switch grass (Panicum virgatum) and ‘Purple Majesty’ millet (Pennisetum glaucum).

Pennisetum glaucum 'Purple Majesty' with Panicum virgatum 'Dallas Blues' and phlox

Part of the problem might have been that the textures were just too similar. The pink phlox seedling that inserted itself was an even bigger problem: It would have been passable with either grass individually, but together it’s just awful, to my eye. I think this image has put me off trying powder-blue and black together again – for a while, anyway.

For Part 1 in this series, click here. For Part 3, click here.

12 responses to this post.

  1. Gosh, I’m learning about so many plants that I don’t know about…I have to write them down, look them up and see how they will work here. I love Cryptotaenia, but I have it in sunny spots as well as shade and it does fine. It’s a bit seedy, but not uncontrollable, and since it’s called Japanese parsley, I guess we could eat the extras!
    One combination I have that sort of matches what you’ve mentioned is Thomas Lipton rose with Clematis purpurea (might be C. integrifolia purpurea–too lazy to look up tonight) Purple foliage and small starry white flowers work well against the large white roses and glossy green foliage.

    Right! I think you’re thinking of the shrubby Clematis recta ‘Purpurea’. I totally forgot to include that one. I have the selection Serious Black (a.k.a. ‘Lime Close’): it turns green soon after bloom, but if I cut it to about 6 inches then, it comes back dark and pretty much stays that way for the rest of the season.
    -Nan

  2. OOh, great idea – I’ll have to steal that blue Hosta with dark foliage idea. I have the Hosta, Krossa Regal, & I have dark foliage to pair it with, in my case Heucheras & Heucherellas. Thanks, I can’t wait til Spring!

    Dark heucheras and heucherellas would be great substitutes for the cryptotaenia, because you wouldn’t have the self-sowing problem. Excellent suggestion, MMD!
    -Nan

  3. Nancy: I just found your blog. Didn’t realize you had another besides GGW- which I love too. You are a wonderful writer and for having papers of lists scattered all over the place you certainly have a methodical way of gardening. So much thought and detail going into your projects… it fascinates me. It also challenges me to think outside the “box” better. Love your black and white idea and i think you might be a little too hard on yourself because there isn’t a photo I’ve ever seen of your garden that is “awful on the eye”!

    Hi Meems! I’m glad you found your way here. Now you know why I’ve been somewhat remiss in my visiting everyone else; it’s a challenge to keep up with everything. On the plus side, this has been the happiest February I can remember; blogging is a wonderful distraction from outdoor dreariness! As for the black-and-blue combination, well, maybe it’s not as awful as I thought. Perhaps I will try the colors together again, but not those particular plants.
    -Nan

  4. This was such a plesant read–thank you! I think you did an excellent job with the color combos. It looks rich and soothing. I’m going to add you to my blog. You write like you are thinking outloud and I like that. It is amusing and a feast for the eyes at the same time.

    You’re very kind, Anna. I really appreciate your comments!
    -Nan

  5. Funny how the combinations that don’t work to your eye look wonderful to my lesser vision. I love the black millet and Dalls blues and think the pink phlox adds a lot of interest. I can’t wait to see what you come up with, if ever for the black and white area. Thanks for helping with the fern ID, also.

    Frances at Faire Garden

    See, I *knew* as soon as I said I didn’t like that combo that I’d be in trouble. But I thought y’all might start to wonder if I think everything I do is wonderful, so I had to be honest that I don’t!

    Your very welcome for the fern ID. Glad I could help!
    -Nan

  6. Hey Nan! Your clematis and Rosa rubrifolia is a stunner! Love the ‘Oakhurst’ eucomis and ‘Big Ears’ lamb’s ears, too. And I have to say, I like the ‘Immortality’ iris in your border. Perhaps that’s the best way to use white–as a spotlight, shouting “Look at this!” to bring the rest of the border into sharp focus. The border’s so beautifully coordinated, and that blinding spot of white really highlights it. If it were gone, I’d miss it, too.

    Thanks, Elly! Yes, ‘Immortality’ is staying. The foliage is really excellent even after the first bloom, which may be why I chose it in the first place. And its repeat bloom in fall has been great, too.
    -Nan

  7. I really like how the stamens of the clematis echoes the color of the rose’s leaves.

    Wasn’t that lucky? I’ve seen at least one named clematis hybrid with very similar flowers; it’s a fairly common one, though the name escapes me at the moment.
    -Nan

  8. I’m always interested in combinations and you’ve shown some lovely ones. The Clematis is gorgeous with the foliage of that rose. I’ve had the Purple Knight Alternathera you mentioned in the previous post in a container and loved it, but I think I’ll try it in the ground this year. I seem to be successfully wintering my plant over this time! Last year it died.
    You’ve certainly got a great eye for pairing colors, shapes and textures Nan!

    Thank you, Kerri. Good for you being able to overwinter ‘Purple Knight’! I have to grow it from seed every spring, or else hope I can find it for sale.
    -Nan

  9. I cant breathe…You allways do such beautiful contributions.
    We have a part in our garden there we try to mix black and white.
    Whith the foliage no broblem but when it comes to flower it is a bit more complicated.
    The color of the black flowers are different, It´s hard to now which sort of black flower it shall have, some will be on the purple side and some of them will be redish and I dont thing they mixt so well together.
    So it is much digging in that part of the garden and we are never quite satisfied.
    Ken

    You raise a good point about the challenge of dark flowers, Ken. I take the easier route of getting the black from foliage, than using pure white or white-and-purple flowers.
    -Nan

  10. You have a very nice blog :)

    Thank you, Marie! I appreciate your comment. And thanks for adding me to your favorites list on Blotanical!
    -Nan

  11. You LIKE running across those old lists of things to do? I’m depressed by them. Nothing is ever done…

    Robin at Bumblebee

    Robin, the secret is to seed every list with at least one simple thing you’re sure to accomplish!
    -Nan

  12. I’ve made a white garden in front of my house but I did smuggle a bit as there is a purple Barberry hedge, a soft pink Madame Alfred Carriere rose and lots of Gillenia trifoliata with its white flowers but purple-red stems. Colour scheme’s are great but strict adherence perhaps less so. ;-)

    Love the contrast between the Oakhurst pineapple lily and the lamb’s ears. BTW the lamb’s ears are in my white garden too, such wonderful plants for a touchy feely person like myself. :-)

    Oh, how interesting to hear that you grow Gillenia trifoliata! It is native to our region, but very few people even here grow it. It’s one of my favorites, and you’re right: the dark stems and white flowers make it a great bridge between other darks and whites.
    -Nan

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