Gossip in the Garden

Harmony in the Garden's Chattier Side


Garden Designers Roundtable – Color

Color is the topic for this month’s Garden Designers Roundtable discussion – and once again it’s a MASSIVE topic full of endless possibilities!   How on EARTH can I narrow down such an all-encompassing topic such as this?

I’ve decided to write about the most important color in my designs – Maroon. Or burgundy. Or dark purple.  Whichever term you prefer.

I’m not necessarily talking about maroon colored flowers but am focusing on the color of the foliage.  Foliage is SO important in a garden since the leaves of a plant stick around long after the flowers have been dead-headed and are composting away.

Why is maroon my #1 color of choice? The reasons are many: the deep, dark shades of burgundy create a sense of ‘moodiness’ to a garden, create the illusion of shadows when there aren’t any, create the illusion of depth, visually cool down a garden’s hot tones, separates and highlights other colors, as well as leads the eye to specific destinations.

It’s a powerful color, commanding respect among it’s fellow plants.  It’s got moxie. Take a look below at some examples below which illustrate my point.

1.  Adding Depth

In this photo, imagine if the red fountain grass was another green grass (like the ‘Karl Foerster’ grass next to it).  The bed would be very flat looking with just the lavenders and the green grass.

However, once you add even a single dark burgundy plant like this one, all of a sudden 3 layers of this bed are emphasized.  In addition, the color really draws your attention to the gorgeous burnt orange walls of this home and the complementary colors of the surrounding plants.



Here’s a bed where I wanted the entire grouping to look as if it’s a fountain of ‘cascading flowers’.  So in an effort to draw the eye upwards, I placed the deep maroon ‘Bronze Baby’ phormium in the rear so it would look like the flowers (weigela, calla lily and million bells) were cascading downwards.




This is a fairly small planting area (10 x 12) yet it looks deeper because of the ‘shadows’ and layers created by a few different burgundy colored plants.  The eye starts at the lower left with the dark maroon begonia, then travels to the silver senecio greyii, then up to the dramatic burgundy hebe and phormium.



2.  Manipulation

I love Maroon – it’s one of the few colors that you can use to really manipulate a design.  See how the burgundy foliage of the 2 ‘Bloodgood’ Japanese maples gently leads the eye down the path and around the corner?





Or, how the burgundy colors of the barberry, crepe myrtle and Japanese maples not only lead the eye along the path but also how they highlight and emphasize the varying levels of the raised beds?


Here’s a way to get people to slow down-place a gorgeous dark purple aeonium right next to the gate!  The eye is automatically drawn to it, pauses, then upwards to the jasmine vine which is about to bloom (and, which also echos it’s burgundy colors)

3.  Separate & Highlight

See how the deep burgundy of the ‘Zwartzkopf’ aeoniums really catch your eye?  If it weren’t for this deep color, the bed would be a little ‘ho hum’ with so many shades of green and you probably wouldn’t even notice the little gate tucked back there.  The burgundy colors really stop your eyes in their tracks, causing them to slow down just a bit and notice the other plants around it.


Again, the maroon color of the ajuga really allows the surrounding colors to stand apart from eachother – now it’s easier to notice the gold of the euonymous and the dark green of the liriope.

The maroon color also emphasizes the different layers of the bed, adding further depth and height.



In this planting combination the dark maroon loropetalum adds a lush, dramatic quality to the trio helping to emphasize each color, as well as visually ‘cooling down’ the surrounding grey balotta.


Again, this bed has an awful lot of green goin’ on and really benefits from having a little burgundy thrown in to help break it up!




Some of my very favorite maroon-foliaged plants

I would be absolutely lost without these plants as they’re the workhorses of my designs and some of my all-time favorites for adding interest to a garden.


Thanks for stopping by!  Please set aside some time to read my fellow ‘Roundtablers’ perspectives on color, where you’re sure to get lots of inspiration for your own garden this spring!


Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA »
Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA »
Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN »
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA »
Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA »
Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO »
Rochelle Greayer : Studio “G” : Boston, MA »
Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT »
Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ »


38 Responses to Garden Designers Roundtable – Color

  1. Hi Rebecca,

    I went to your talk yesterday at the SF Flower and Garden Show. I had hoped to thank you in person, but you were absolutely surrounded by admirers. I’ve been doing residential design for 8 years, gone to numerous industry seminars and garden walks, and I can honestly say that I learned more today than I have at any past event. You were very generous with your information and examples, and for that alone I am appreciative.

  2. Dear Sweet Rebecca, a wonderful post and photos and beautiful explanations about why maroon foliaged plants enrich a gardens plant palette. I love the comment about creating the illusion of shadows. Certainly helps to create depth and they are so beautiful! Really enjoyed reading.

  3. Wonderful post and pictures Rebecca! Maroon/Burgundy is one of my favorite colors in the garden also. I am wishing now that Pennisetum ‘Rubrum’ was hardy for us, I love that combo with the Calamagrostis. Really, a terrific post!


    • Thanks Scott – yes, that Pennisetum is a show-stopper, that’s for sure! He ALWAYS makes others look good, while managing to stand out in a crowd, himself…

  4. As always, your Roundtable posts are wonderfully informative – not to mention your photos rock!

    I agree, I can’t imagine a planting plan that doesn’t include some maroon. For an alternative to Purple Leaf Plums, have you tried an Agonis ‘After Dark’? A lovely structural tree that looks great in low water plans.

    • Yes, Susan – I use Agonis here, though it tends to not ‘thrive’ as well as the Purple Leaf Plums. Though I like their black foliage better sometimes….

  5. You always explain the important parts of design so well. I love maroon in the garden and the way it adds power to other colors. I am very intrigued by the snake root. I hadn’t seen that before. Thanks for introducing me to it.

    • Ah yes…snake root. Sounds scary and invasive, but in my garden it’s just stayed ‘put’, only growing taller with age (peaking at about 4′). It’s an awesome, awesome plant!

  6. i totally agree with you – maroon, purple and bronze foliage adds so much interest and depth to planting design. great color choice, great post!

    • Thanks Andrea and Eileen! Glad to find other maroon-lovers out there! I haven’t tried the Dark Ruby Daylillies yet….might have to seek those out!

  7. […] Rebecca Sweet: Gossip in the Garden, Los Altos, CA Susan Cohan: Miss Rumphius’ Rules, Chatham, NJ Ivette Soler: The Germinatrix, Los Angeles, CA Andrew Keys: Garden Smackdown, Boston, MA Christina Salwitz: Personal Garden Coach, Renton, WA Genevieve Schmidt: North Coast Gardening, Arcata, CA Jocelyn Chilvers: The Art Garden, Denver, CO Rochelle Greayer: Studio “G”, Boston, MA Douglas Owens-Pike: Energyscapes, Minneapolis, MN Scott Hokunson: Blue Heron Landscapes, Granby, CT […]

  8. OK… Now I have to revisit that planting plan I posted as my Roundtable post. I need MORE MAROON!

    (It’s OK, I live to revisit a planting plan.)

    If only so many of them didn’t fade in the slightest shade. Sigh. I love all your maroons, and yes, I think my gate needs a purple Aeonium. Thanks for sharing!

    • Andrew – I think you should wait to buy a purple Aeonium….I’ll have an ‘Aeonium bouquet’ to give you when I see you – soon, right?

  9. You’ve convinced me! I’ve long coveted the dark foliage of all those Pacific NW gardens you see in the magazines. Down here in central Texas it seemed like there was none to be had; it was all silvers and greens. But lately I’ve found some I can use. There are cannas, lorepetalum, red cordyline, purple heart, and, as you wisely thought to include, roses. Did you mention ‘Black Heart’ sweet potato vine? That’s one of my faves for threading through a bed of lime-green foliage, and it looks great with silver too.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post. My only wish was for bigger pictures. Your images are gorgeous, and I wanted to see them in more detail. 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Pam! I didn’t mention the sweet potato vine because the awesome photo I have makes it look BLACK, which just wasn’t working for me. And I agree – my pics are too small. Something happened with my settings and the photos are so darn teeny! Thanks for your kind words…..

    • Thanks Carolyn, Michelle and Susan…..swooning, drinking burgundy…you’re all so passionate about maroon! So glad to find other ‘maroon-heads’ out there!

  10. I agree with multi-color foliage. As a nurseryman, I sell a lot of beautiful flowering plants that are just ho hum the rest of the year. As you said, foliage color catches the eye and really draws out of the greens in a landscape.

    One nitpick though. Please don’t recommend barberry as a color plant. It’s highly invasive and just not a good plant to be using. Maybe the universities will come up with a sterile variety but they haven’t yet.

    • Oh Jake – I totally understand your complaint. But did you know that here in NorCal, where we receive absolutely NO summer rain, Berberis rarely (if ever) reseeds? I’m always careful to keep it away from heavily irrigated areas, but (knock on wood) it hasn’t been a problem. I’m waiting for the sterile variety….hoping SOON it’ll arrive on the market!

  11. Okay – here we go AGAIN! BRAIN TWINS!
    Burgundy, Maroon – whatever we want to call it – is my FAVORITE color in the garden. I have to restrain myself! I love the way you explained exactly WHY and exactly how this lovely deep color works its magic. I couldn’t agree more, Sweet One!

  12. Rebecca, as always you blow me away with your gorgeous photos… And you’ve managed to clearly articulate all the best qualities of maroon foliage and how to use it to guide the eye…

    Wonderful, thought-provoking post.