With Halloween around the corner, what more appropriate topic for the Garden Designers Roundtable to tackle than darkness? Specifically, dark and black foliage. Black is dramatic. Unexpected. It’s all about contrast – between dark and light, living and dead. Like a glittered Day of the Dead skeleton, there’s a playfulness there, along with a somber dignity. Darkness in the garden must be used with intention, because whether you’re using it well or poorly, it will be noticed. Here are some tips to rocking the darker tones:
(Design by Ryan Scott (top), Patricia Wells (bottom left), and Ryan Scott (bottom right).)
Because dark colors often seem to recede into the backdrop, using them can be an easy way of fooling the eye into thinking a space is bigger than it really is.
In the top photo, the dark color and open form of the smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria) lends a feeling of airiness to the planting, and makes the garden feel larger than it really is. Had the designer chosen a green shrub instead, I think the garden could have felt walled-off.
You can see the same concept in play in the bottom right photo, in which the Japanese maple adds a feeling of depth to the garden bed. The ivy-covered wall behind it could feel fortress-like, if not for the skillful use of dark foliage to bring a textural and color contrast to the bed.
In the bottom left photo, this garden path feels mysterious and compelling because of the tension created by the dark-foliaged fuchsia tree obscuring the destination.
Using dark plants to play with shadows is an easy way to bring depth and spaciousness to the garden.