Adding maroon accents to your garden
Garden designers suggest repeating accent colors in your garden to unify the design and add visual interest. Popular accent colors include blue, chartreuse and maroon. Maroon adds really distinct color contrast among a sea of green and can add depth to your garden too.
Many maroon natives available are cultivars or hybrids of native plants. It has recently become popular to call these "nativars." Hybridizing, or mixing straight species native plants with other plants to create more desirable traits can decrease or possibly eliminate the ecological value of that plant for local caterpillars, insects and birds.
Experts are researching the impacts of changing the color of a plant's leaf. While much of this research is in the early stages, preliminary findings seem to suggest that some hybridization, say to create a taller plant or a plant with a stronger stem might not have much impact for caterpillars, insects and pollinators who feed on that plant. On the other hand, it looks like changing the color of leaves may, indeed, be detrimental to caterpillars, insects and pollinators who rely on those plants for food. To read a bit more about this from the Mt. Cuba Center, check this out.
When deciding whether to add natives with altered foliage colors, you may want to consider that doing so may lower the ecological value of your garden. Dr. Doug Tallamy, one of the country's foremost experts on these issues, recommends we all strive to plant about 70% of our gardens in natives to maximize ecological value and create a garden that acts as a big bird feeder filled with caterpillars and insects. I do garden with these altered color nativars but tend to think of them in that other 30% for now.
A big category of perennials that have maroon, burgundy, or dusky purple foliage are the heucheras. These darker colored huecheras are all cultivars of two native heuchera: heuchera americana and heuchera villosa. There are many to choose from. Some do best in shade or part shade. Heuchera 'palace purple' and heuchera 'frosted violet' above thrive in shade and dappled sun and hold these intense colors all season long. For a detailed analysis of which heucheras might be best for you, Mt. Cuba studied 80 heucheras and ranked them here.
White Snakeroot 'Chocolate'
Chocolate White snakeroot (Ageratina altissimo 'chocolate' ) grows to 4 feet tall and thrives in part shade or sun. The foliage is purply green. This does self sow but the self seeded plants revert to a green color. It's easy to pull out where you don't want it.
Penstemon are easy to grow native perennials that do best in full sun. The flowers are similar to those of snap dragons. Penstemon 'Blackbeard' has been bred to have maroon stems and makes a great maroon accent.
Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is a full sun perennial that blooms for sometime with dusky pink inflorescences in autumn. There is nothing like late autumn sunlight catching the colors of muhly grass.
Carolina Allpsice (Calycanthus Florida)
This large shrub blooms with the most unique maroon flowers in very early summer. It grows 6 to 12 feet in sun or part shade and tends to be taller in part shade. This shrub is also often grown for its fragrance.
Ninebark 'Tiny Wine'
Ninebark 'Tiny Wine' (Physocarpus opulifolius), a nativar, grows to 4 feet high and wide and has chocolate colored foliage all summer. This shrub does well in full sun and average to dry soils, as well as in clay soils.
Forest Pansy Redbud
The redbud 'Forest Pansy' (Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy'), a cultivar of the native redbud, has purply maroon leaves. These grow well in part shade and grow up to 25 feet wide and tall. They are fantastic understory trees and a great alternative to Japanese maples.
Maroon, it's not just for fall. Wishing you a peaceful holiday ahead.