Bright greens pop against deep purples in this five-plant container garden that does well in sun or shade.

A black-based container planting is more than a “because you can” novelty: it’s an exceptionally elegant way to display some truly distinctive and eye-catching plants. When it comes to foliage and flowers, what we call “black” is usually a shade of deep purple to burgundy red. In leaves, the color tends to be most intense in sun, but there are many outstanding black plants for less-than full-sun sites as well. Mixing in a bit of bright green adds a touch of contrast that makes the darker parts really pop, especially in shady sites.

“Back to Black” Container Garden Specs:

  • Full sun to full shade
  • Container: 16″ long x 16″ wide x 14″ high

A light-colored container does a great job showing off dark foliage and flowers, especially in shady sites. Photo © Rob Cardillo, excerpted from Container Theme Gardens

Plant #1: Black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’) | One 3- to 4-inch pot

Other possibilities: Another 4- to 8-inch-tall, mounded or spiky plant with dark foliage, such as ‘Black Knight’ echevaria (Echeveria) or Chocolate Chip ajuga (Ajuga reptans ‘Valfredda’)

Black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’) | Photo © Rob Cardillo, excerpted from Container Theme Gardens

Plant #2: ‘Jungle Beauty’ ajuga (Ajuga reptans) | One 4- to 6-inch pot

Other possibilities: Black Scallop (‘Binblasca’) or ‘Purple Brocade’ ajuga or another 4- to 8-inch-tall, bushy to somewhat trailing plant with deep purple or purple-and-green leaves, such as black rose (Aeonium arboretum ‘Zwartkop’) or Charmed Velvet oxalis (Oxalis ‘Jroxachvel’)

‘Jungle Beauty’ ajuga (Ajuga reptans) | Photo © Rob Cardillo, excerpted from Container Theme Gardens

Plant #3: ‘Gotham’ heuchera (Heuchera) | One 4- to 6-inch pot

Other possibilities: ‘Obsidian’ heuchera or another 8- to 12-inch-tall, mounded or upright plant with dark leaves, such as Blackbird spurge (Euphorbia ‘Nothowlee’) or ‘Black Velvet’ or ‘Midnight Twist’ begonia (Begonia)

‘Gotham’ heuchera (Heuchera) | Photo © Rob Cardillo, excerpted from Container Theme Gardens

Plant #4: ‘Heartthrob’ violet (Viola) | One 3- to 4-inch pot

Other possibilities: ‘Mars’ violet or another 6- to 8-inch-tall, bushy to somewhat trailing plant with black flowers or black-and-green leaves, such as ‘Black Velvet’ petunia (Petunia), ‘Molly Sanderson’ viola (Viola), or ‘Black Snowflake’ or ‘Sugar and Spice’ foamflower (Tiarella)

‘Heartthrob’ violet (Viola) | Photo © Rob Cardillo, excerpted from Container Theme Gardens

Plant #5: ‘Sibila’ coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) | One 3- to 4-inch pot

Other possibilities: ‘Chocolate Drop’ or ‘Inky Fingers’ coleus or another 12- to 18-inch-tall, bushy or upright plant with near-black foliage or flowers, such as ‘Chocoholic’ bugbane (Actaea) or ‘Black Star’ calla lily (Zantedeschia)

‘Sibila’ coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) | Photo © Rob Cardillo, excerpted from Container Theme Gardens

Tidbits, Tips, and Tricks

The right pot. Go neutral with a pale gray or tan, or, for something really eye-catching, choose a ceramic container with a metallic-looking glaze, or even an actual silvery metal, such as brushed aluminum or galvanized steel.

A colorful touch. If you like black- and purple-leaved plants but don’t want to go completely over to the dark side, feel free to add a touch of color to this five-plant collection by replacing one or two of the plants with white-variegated or silver foliage, or with white, bright pink, or red flowers. Or, brighten the mood with a colorful ornament or bit of decorative trellis as an accent.

Sunning back the black. The five-plant grouping can get by on just a couple of hours of sun a day, but be aware that when dark-leaved plants get too much shade, they can look more greenish than black. If you notice that happening to your container combination, try moving it to a slightly brighter site. Just an extra hour or two of sun can make a big difference.

Text and photos excerpted from Container Theme Gardens © 2016 by Nancy J. Ondra. All rights reserved.

Nancy J. Ondra

Nancy J. Ondra, author of Container Theme Gardens, is a garden writer and editor as well as the former owner and operator of a small… See Bio

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