Dark and Light – Part 1

Capsicum annuum 'Explosive Embers' and Talinum paniculatum 'Kingwood Gold'

Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra

A while back, I wrote a post at Gardening Gone Wild about one of my favorite color combinations: burgundy to black with chartreuse to yellow. Since we’re concentrating on color for this month’’ Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop, I have a perfect excuse to revisit the topic with some more of my favorite combinations. Above is a detail shot of ‘Explosive Embers’ pepper (Capsicum annuum) with ‘Kingwood Gold’ jewels-of-Opar (Talinum paniculatum), two easy-to-grow annuals.

Atriplex hortensis 'Golden' and Berberis x ottawensis f. purpurea 'Superba'

Most of my burgundy-and-gold experiments are in the front garden, where I keep lots of bright colors. The backbone of these borders comes from some exceptional foliage shrubs. Above is the annual ‘Golden’ orach (Atriplex hortensis) backed by Berberis x ottawensis f. purpurea ‘Superba’.

Catalpa bignonioides 'Aurea' against Berberis x ottawensis f. purpurea 'Superba'

On the other side of the barberry (which I’ve since removed because of concerns about it being invasive) was golden catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’). It wants to be a large tree, but I want to keep it border-sized, so hard pruning is in order. In early spring, I cut it back to about 2 feet. That worked for a few years, but then it was still getting too big (about 8 feet by the end of the growing season). So for the past few years, I’ve been cutting it back again at the end of May, and then hand-thinning the new sprouts. It’s time-consuming, but I like the broad, bright foliage so much that it’s worth it. As an added plus, the second batch of foliage seems to be much less prone to the spotting that used to disfigure the leaves by midsummer.

Cotinus 'Grace' and Berberis ottawensis f. purpurea 'Superba' in front garden at Hayefield

At the other end of the border that included that combination is ‘Grace’ smokebush (Cotinus), a hybrid between our native C. obovata and the selection C. coggygria ‘Velvet Cloak’. It’s at the right in the picture above. It’s a very dark reddish purple through spring, eventually turning a grayish/pinkish green in midsummer (and then to a glowing red in fall).

Trollius x cultorum 'Lemon Queen' against Cotinus 'Grace'

Above is ‘Grace’ serving as a beautiful backdrop for the blooms of ‘Lemon Queen’ globeflower (Trollius x cultorum). And from a different angle, it’s sort of in front of golden elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Aurea’).

Cotinus 'Grace' with Sambucus nigra 'Aurea' in front garden at Hayefield

I cut both the smokebush and the elderberry back to about 1 foot each year in early spring. They resprout quickly and have a significant presence through the whole growing season. For more high-contrast combos, see Dark and Light – Part 2.

2 responses to this post.

  1. I admire you trying to keep that catalpa from becoming a big tree, but that foliage color makes it look quite worth it. I just love that dark/light combo of color in the garden.

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

    Hi Carol! At this point, I think it’s easier to do whatever pruning is necessary than to dig out the beast.
    -Nan

  2. Posted by Sylvia on February 4, 2008 at 6:52 am

    I love these colours, I have a lot of dark foliage and plan to add more bright green/yellow this year. Do you add flowers to this combination as well?

    Sorry about the spelling of colour but I can’t decide if I should use our UK spelling or your US spelling in my comments. What do you think?

    Sylvia England

    Hi Sylvia! Yes, there are some flowers later on, mostly in bright orange, purple, and red. And I think you can use whatever spelling you’re comfortable with. I actually prefer the look of “colour” and “arbour” to “color” and “arbor”, and “grey” is infinitely preferable to “gray.” But I don’t have much choice in the matter.
    -Nan

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