Garden Designers Roundtable – Burgundy in the garden


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 its 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.  

Burgundy also draws attention to the home’s warm tones of the burnt orange walls, and the complementary colors of the surrounding plants.



Here’s another bed where I wanted the entire grouping to look as if it’s a flowing fountain of cascading flowers. 

I placed the strongest color (the dark ‘Bronze Baby’ Phormium) where I wanted the eye to begin the journey – in the very back of the bed. 

From that point, the flowers of the Weigela, calla lily, and million bells now appear to cascade downwards.


This is a fairly small planting bed (10 x 10) yet it looks much deeper because of the appearance of shadows and layers created by the burgundy colored plants.  

The line of sight begins at the lower left with the dark maroon begonia, then travels to the silver Senecio greyii, then up to the dramatic burgundy Hebe, and finally the Phormium.


2.  Manipulation

Maroon is one of the few colors that you can use to really manipulate a design.  

See how the burgundy foliage of the two ‘Bloodgood’ Japanese maples gently leads the eye down the path and around the corner?


Another example of leading the eye are the burgundy colors of the Barberry, crepe myrtle, and Japanese maples along the pathway.

In addition, notice how the other maroon colors highlight and emphasize the varying levels of the raised beds?


The placement of the dark purple Aeonium next to the gate is a fantastic way to encourage your guests to slow down.

The eye is automatically drawn to it, pauses, then travels upwards to the jasmine vine which is about to bloom (also echoing its 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 only shades of green.

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 (not to mention the gate discreetly tucked in the very back).


Again, the maroon color of the Ajuga allows the surrounding colors to stand apart from one another. 

It’s not much easier to notice the gold of the Euonymus and the dark green foliage 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.

It also visually ‘cools down’ the surrounding grey Helichrysum.



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!

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA »
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA »
Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA »
Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO »
Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT »
Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ »


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  • 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.

    • Karen, this is one of the nicest comments I think I’ve ever received. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

  • 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.

  • 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…

  • 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….

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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?

  • 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!

  • Rebecca,

    What lovely and inspiring photos. I learned a lot about how to use maroon in designs and how versatile a color it really it is. I think I’m going to incorporate it more often in my work.

  • 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!

    • Thanks Jocelyn, Germi, Rochelle and Robert! Glad you enjoyed my moody piece! 😉

  • 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!

  • Rebecca,
    You are a gifted and natural teacher. The examples are so clear and your point regarding the use of maroon in the garden very persuasive.
    Loved it.
    Shirley Bovshow
    Garden World Report

  • 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.


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