Burgundy foliage has been a passion of mine for the past few years. It?s been fun looking for plants with leaves of such a striking colour and trying them in every possible combination throughout the garden. The tones are amazingly subtle ranging from a deep maroon to black (well purple-black) leaves and, it turns out they are? some of the most useful in all of the garden.

Burgundy goes so well with strong colours such as oranges, reds and yellows that they are essential for anyone who wants to have a hot border. But it also goes brilliantly with blue, is a wonderful background to make white plants pop like nothing else and a boon for the masses of green we?ll be getting in a few weeks.

A quick patrol around turns up a lot of extremely handsome burgundy plants. This means that they can grow without eight hours of sun a day (lots of shade here). Some of them are paired obviously with the silvery gray foliage plants such as Artemisia ?Lambrook Silver? and the splendid ?Valerie Finnis? which is probably one of the strongest and best of all the silvers, and A. lactiflora ?Guizho? which will pick up a bit of burgundy in its own attractive leaves.

Lobelia ?Russian Princess? is a new, to me, cardinal flower with velvety magenta foliage and a deeper magenta bloom which will grow to 75cm in either sun or partial shade. I?ve got it behind a small blue and yellow border to brighten up a very shady corner.

After moving out a drift of turtlehead, Chelone glabra, I installed the following three to make a strong contrast with a lovely dwarf birch, Betula pendula ?Trost?s Dwarf?: Sedum x ?Mohrchen? which has? gorgeous thick fleshy maroon stalks and leaves, and clear pink blooms. Since burgundy knows no season, this is alongside an Aster lateriflorus ?Lady in Black? which will flower in early autumn. Since there?s always a search for a darker, deeper black snake root the winner here is a new one called Cimicifuga ?Hillside Black Beauty? which keeps its deep tones even in the shade.
The new tissue culture heucheras that have come out on the market in such abundance over the past few years have fabulous foliage from deep rich red to wine to a silvery purple. I?ve got one in the latter category teamed up with a black viola with a minuscule yellow dot in the centre. Looks great.

Another small pocket has a combination of Euphorbia amygdaloides ?Pupurea? which has graceful arching stems topped briefly by acid yellow cymes (inflorescence) that?s echoed perfectly in a Hakonechloa macra ?Aureola?. This is surely the most useful of all the ornamental grasses with its windswept golden linear leaves.

Nearby there is also has some of the Kryptotania japonica. It?s now had three more weeks to grow and it appears to be on steroids. It looks great, but as a friend of mine says, it?s turning into the goutweed of the burgundy set. Whew, it?s far more rampant that even I could have believed. Watch it like a hawk and know that you?ll be pulling it out for years. Keep it in a container and never, ever let it set seed. This does not mean to say I regret having it.

Another rampant plant I like and keeping on pulling out, is Lysimachia ciliata ?Firecracker? which has? burgundy foliage, yellow flowers and spreads just as willfully as the species form. I don?t care since it will grow in semi-shade. With an Aquelegia ?Norah Barlow? earlier in spring, it was glorious.
In the world of annuals, burgundy also shines. Nasturtium ?Red Wonder? has burgundy tones in its gray-green leaves and though they wouldn?t want full sun they do need at leave five hours a day. The bloom is the most intense red I?ve ever seen. There are a number of new burgundy to purple-black coleus with fanciful names such as ?Purple Emperor?, ?Inky Fingers?, and ?Black Dragon?.
To top it all off, in a place of honour as a focal point, there?s? Cercis canadensis ?Forest Pansy?. I was assured it wouldn?t survive. Though it?s late leafing out, this? is normal and? it seems fine after such a mild winter. I hope that if I can get it through a couple more winters it will thrive in the mottled light and excellent drainage conditions. The heart-shaped red-purple leaves make this a truly elegant small tree the expense.

You can find lots of burgundy foliage at

  • buds, 21 Vaughan Rd., Toronto, On 416-658-9429 and
  • Lost Horizons, R. R. #1, Acton, Ont, 519-853-3085 which also has a $2 catalogue.
  • The wonderful Rainforest Gardens Nursery catalogue, $4, is chock-a-block with good burgundy plants 604-467-4218.
  • And for a look at a burgundy border in action try Mason-Hogue Nursery, R. R. #1 Uxbridge, Ont 905-649-3532.

This is my last column. I?ve enjoyed writing every single one for the past eight years. To the gardeners who became hortbuddies, for your great ideas and? judicious criticisms ? I thank you. It?s been a huge pleasure.

This article originally appeared in the The Globe and Mail on June 20th,?1998.