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I’ll never forget when, in the mid-1990s, I called up a renowned nurseryman in Pennsylvania with questions about a holly, and he shifted the conversation to a new Japanese maple he had bred. “Emperor I®—better than ‘Bloodgood’,” he said. But we have all heard comments like that before. Plant breeders tend to borrow glory from classic plants by claiming their new version is better, but my skepticism about Emperor I® was quashed a year later when I acquired my first small tree. It’s a fast grower—unlike ‘Bloodgood’, which can take years to become a sizable tree. Also, unlike ‘Bloodgood’, Emperor I® holds its spectacular burgundy color all summer in full sun, and when fall rolls in, it evolves to a brilliant fiery red.
If your shade garden needs a focal point, consider this small, rounded Japanese maple, with its lime-to-chartreuse-tinged golden leaves. In fall, its leaves turn orange and red, just like those of a sugar maple. This variety, like other small Japanese maples, needs shade and protection from sun and drying winds to keep the foliage from curling and turning brown at the edges. -Michael Ruggiero, Regional Picks: Mid-Atlantic, Fine Gardening issue #127
This dark-leaved, tropical foliage plant loves heat, and is useful spreading through a bed, border, or in a container where its deep purple leaves can contrast with brightly colored flowers or foliage. Alternanthera are native to tropical and sub-tropical areas of Central and South America. Their flowers are generally an afterthought. This plant works well for edging, as an annual groundcover, or in a formal knot garden.
This hardy annual has vibrant, ornamental red, yellow, and green foliage that lends a tropical effect to the garden. Small flowers, borne from summer to early autumn, are inconspicuous in comparison to the effect of the foliage. Cultivars feature yellow and maroon-shaded leaves, but the species still offers the showiest foliage.
This heirloom beet from 1840 is primarily grown for its tender, sweet, deep red-burgundy foliage, but the beets are tasty when harvested at the 2- to 3-inch size. The glossy leaves reach 18 inches high. Though it is edible, it is often grown as an ornamental, and its dark leaves contrast nicely with many garden plants.
This is a sweet Swiss chard with beautiful candy-apple-red stalks and dark green, crinkly leaves with touches of red. Both the leaves and the stalks are very ornamental and 'Ruby Red' is great in a vegetable or cottage garden, or in an ornamental bed or border. It is especially attractive when grown with plants whose colors call attention to the red coloring. Although related to beets, the root is inedible, but the leafy greens are valued for their mild flavor and high nutritional value.
A better-behaved cousin to the less-than-polite trumpet vine, cross vine is a colorful solution for a fence or arbor with afternoon shade. Although this east Texas native is slow to establish, ‘Tangerine Beauty’ sports brighter, showier flowers than other cultivars and will reward your patience with loads of orange blooms in both spring and fall. Flowers bloom on old wood, so prune this vine immediately only after blooms fade. -Leslie Finical Halleck, Fine Gardening #147 (October 2012), page 74
Rosettes of cabbage foliage are grown as annuals for fall and winter interest. Color intensifies in cooler temperatures (below 50°F). Good for bedding and containers.
This golden-leaved version of the southern paper mulberry can be treated as a cutback shrub to control size and for best production of brilliant golden yellow, large, lobed leaves. Or it can be allowed to grow into a small- to medium-sized tree. It's a most desirable garden plant and looks fabulous with deep blue salvias.
This deciduous small tree initially has a pyramidal form, and later rounded. Cercis-like, opposite, heart-shaped blue-green leaves are borne on stiff, slender, pendulous branches that fan out from the crown and sweep the ground. Caramel-scented foliage emerges bronze or purple-red, turns blue-green, then fades to gold or apricot in autumn. Tiny red flowers emerge in late March or early April before the leaves.
In early spring, 'Forest Pansy' awakens with a long-lasting profusion of bright purplish-pink blooms borne in clusters, before the leaves, along smooth gray branches. Its heart-shaped, blood-red leaves are finely veined and glossy when young, slowly turning a dark, purple-tinged green in full sun. Autumn foliage is a bouquet of reds, purples, oranges, and yellows. The plant's graceful branching structure stands out in winter.
Bright purplish-pink blooms are borne in clusters, before the leaves, along smooth gray branches. Heart-shaped leaves emerge bronze, turning green, then yellow in autumn. Cultivars are available with white ('Royal White') or pink flowers ('Tennessee Pink'), purple foliage ('Forest Pansy'), and weeping form ('Covey'). Grows 15 to 25 feet tall with a slightly wider spread.
Hinoki cypress is a conical, evergreen, coniferous tree with leaves that are actually minute scales on tiny branches in the form of fans. The outer foliage of 'Aurea' is golden and the inner is green. Growth can be slow. Use as a specimen or use several as screening.
Having the striking leaves of a Rex begonia and a vining growth habit, Cissus discolor is excellent in a container and can be trained onto a form. Its oval- to heart-shaped leaves are dark green with frosty silver patterns, while the undersides are red. The vine generally stays to 1 to 3 feet in containers. It may also be used on trellises or arbors.
'Purple Tower' is a cultivar of the New Zealand native cabbage tree, frequently grown in greenhouses, as houseplants, or as large accent plants outdoors. It is hardy to Zone 10. The narrow, plum-purple leaves reach 3 feet long. The fragrant white flowers are small, but they are borne in large panicles in spring and early summer on mature plants. Plants grown in containers only rarely flower, however. Young plants are often sold as houseplants. Mature specimens have thick trunks with foliage at the top, resembling a palm tree. They are striking container specimens and can be plugged into a summer border. The species has naturalized in portions of California and the southern U.S.
This cross of the European smoke bush (C. coggygria) and the American smoke tree (C. obovatus) is a gem in the garden thanks to its multiseason interest. Its iridescent spring foliage is green overlaid with red; then its large pink clouds of blooms in summer are followed by brilliant autumn foliage that ranges from red to orange. 'Grace' combines well with just about anything; asters, ornamental grasses, and Japanese maples are good places to start.
'Purple Fountain' is a deciduous, columnar, dark-leaved tree with bronze-purple, wavy margined leaves and cascading branches. Leaves become more green as summer wears on. It can be used as a specimen tree or for pleaching. It is similar to the purple weeping beech but is much more columnar. Fall color is yellow, then orange-brown.
'Marine' heliotrope has a compact form with broadly oval to lance-shaped, wrinkled leaves tinged with purple. In summer, it bears a profusion of fragrant deep violet-blue flowerheads up to 6 inches across.
This sweet potato vine has lime green leaves that light up in the sunlight and look paler in part shade. 'Margarita' is a real eye-catcher growing over the edge of a wall or creeping along the fringes of a border. -Julia Jones, Designing with Annuals, Fine Gardening issue #120
This vigorous perennial climber bears clusters of plum-colored flower buds that open into fragrant, pinky-purple blossoms. They age to lilac and white, giving older flowers a two-toned effect. Blooms mature to glossy, burgundy bean pods that remain colorful for several weeks.
'Procumbens' is similar to 'Pendula' in color but prostrate in habit, with cascading branches sometimes staying stiffly horizontal. Makes a spreading, undulating, mounding ground cover of silvery white needles.
'Schubert' choke cherry, with its vivid foliage and pyramidal form, makes a fine focal point. Ephemeral, light pink flowers are followed by abundant, dark red-purple fruit that birds love. (Don't plant it near patios or walks, as they'll quickly be covered by bird droppings.) If the tree you buy isn't grafted onto nonsuckering rootstock; otherwise, suckers could become problematic as the years go by. -Ron Smith, Regional Picks: Upper Plains, Fine Gardening issue #120
Lemon-lime foliage, fuzzy stems, and intense fall color make this sumac cultivar a standout. It grows into an upright, rounded form about 6 feet tall and as wide. New growth emerges chartreuse. Fall brings leaves of yellow, scarlet, and orange. Flowers are yellowish green and followed, on female plants, by hairy, dark red fruit. This plant spreads by suckers and can be invasive. The species is native to North America.
This large, fast-growing tree has droopy leaves that stay sunny yellow from spring until frost, spiny shoots, and fragrant white flowers in late spring and early summer on pendent racemes. The flowers are followed by smooth brown seed pods that are also interesting. 'Frisia' is one of the cultivars that is grown more for foliage than for its flowers and it does not flower as freely as the species.
One of the best vines for colorful fall foliage, this woody deciduous climber has graceful purple leaves which redden in autumn for a fiery foliage display. Also in autumn, the vine bears clusters of tiny, edible blue-black grapes that are sweet inside but have bitter skins.
Alliums All Season Long
Deer resistant and dynamic, these bulbs provide color from the first showers of spring to the last leaves of fall
by Stephanie Cohen
Spectacular Spring Bloomers
These perennials are the light at the end of the long, wintry tunnel
by Dave Demers
Find out what all the buzz is about by planting these colorful perennials
by Sally Roth
Enchanting Japanese Maples
Two experts pick their favorites based on color, shape
by Francie Schroeder
How to Grow Trilliums
Plant the best species for your region in fall for a spectacular display in spring
by Gene E. Bush
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