Can you please recommend a few black-leaved and black-stemmed plants and some good plants to combine them with?
Lane Graham, Redding, CA
Black-leaved plants like 'Black Magic' taro combine well with green-, blue-, or yellow-leaved plants.
Photo/Illustration: Allison Starcher
Cynthia Eichengreen, head gardener at the Village Green Resort in Eugene, Oregon, responds: There are many varieties of black-leaved and black-stemmed plants that can be used to create drama in the garden. The key to planting them is to place them front and center where they will be noticed. I find the deep color of these plants appears more prominent when planted close to strongly contrasting foliage plants in shades of bright green, blue, yellow, or chartreuse.
One of my favorite pairings is black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’, USDA Hardiness Zones 6–10) with scotch moss (Sagina subulata ‘Aurea’, Zones 4–7). A good choice for the Asian garden, the dark blades of black mondo grass make a stunning contrast with a carpet of lime green scotch moss. Though I’m partial to this dynamic duo, I’ve also seen the yellow foliage of golden sedum (Sedum mackinoi ‘Ogon’, Zones 7–10), the blue blades of blue fescue (Festuca glauca and cvs., Zones 4–8), and the seafoam green texture of woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus, Zones 5–9) make excellent companions for black-leaved plants.
Another combination I like for areas located in full sun is ‘Guizhou’ artemisia (Artemisia lactiflora ‘Guizhou’, Zones 5–8) with silvermound (Artemisia schmidtiana, Zones 5–8) and annual Salvia discolor. This trio has the elegance of a black and white ball. The black stems of the ‘Guizhou’ artemisia highlight the black buds of the salvia, while silvermound sets it all aglow. All three plants thrive in dry situations, so they can bring a little drama to a difficult site.
If you have a woodland area, a combination you might try is a pot of tropical black taro (Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’) surrounded by maidenhair ferns (Adiantum aleuticum, Zones 3–8). The bold, black leaves of the taro set off the thin black wires of the maidenhair ferns. It’s a magic combination, but the two plants have different requirements. The taro likes to be kept moist, even soggy, so I plant it in a pot with no hole and keep the water topped up to the brim of the pot. The maidenhair ferns live happily in their own bed of rich, moist woodland soil in areas with high humidity.
Other dark-leaved plants to experiment with include ‘Ravenswing’ Queen Anne’s lace (Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’, Zones 7–10), ‘Chocolate’ Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’, Zones 4–9), Ligularia dentata ‘Desdemona’ (Zones 4–8), Hebe ‘Mrs. Winder’ (Zones 9–10), and ‘Brunette’ black snakeroot (Actaea simplex ‘Brunette’, Zones 4–8).
They all look fabulous with contrasting foliage plants. Visit your local nursery and have fun mixing and matching them with companions that have bright-colored leaves.