Plant with leaves like Gladiolus and a tall flower spike with yellow flowers?

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Plants with Dark Foliage

It is easy to add depth to your flower garden by using plants with dark colored leaves.

Burgundy foliage creates a backdrop for the flowers growing around it and adds variety to a sea of green. Plants with dark maroon leaves not only take center stage when they are in bloom but continue to be interesting even when they are not blossoming. Dark colors mix well with silver-leaved and variegated foliage plants as well as with green. Black is a rare color in plants but many dark colors come close.

Dark Plants to Accent Garden

Repetition of colors throughout the garden creates unity in the landscape, but too much burgundy in one place will make a black hole that recedes into the shadows. Use dark-leaved plants as accents and spread them out in a flower bed or border garden instead of grouping them together.

List of Perennials With Dark Foliage

Some perennials with dark foliage that you may want to try include:

  • Heuchera: This plant has changed a lot in the last few years, morphing from meek and mild Coral Bells to plants with daring foliage colors including bronze, gold, chartreuse, variegated silver and green, purples, maroons, and near blacks. Names like ‘Palace Purple’, ‘Licorice’, ‘Obsidian’, and ‘Plum Pudding’ accurately describe the extremely dark shades that have become popular heuchera colors. Their blossoms are small pale pink or white bells on tall spires. They grow well in full to part shade. Too much sun can cause them to change color, becoming more bronze or orange.

  • Ligularia ‘Britt-Marie Crawford’ has big chocolatey maroon leaves and bears large, bright yellow daisy-like flowers midsummer to early fall. It grows to 3 feet tall, likes partial sun and consistent moisture.

  • Actaea is one of those plants that goes by many names. Once it was known as Cimicifuga, but most of us use its common names: snakeroot, bugbane, or black cohosh. ‘Hillside Beauty’ is an excellent dark-leaved cultivar that doesn’t fade over the summer. This is a great back of the border plant growing 2-3 feet tall and wide and bearing tall – sometimes 5-6 feet high – spires of deliciously fragrant, white bottlebrush flowers in late summer. They prefer moist soil and part shade.

  • Eupatorium ‘Chocolate’, also called boneset, is in the Joe Pye weed family. It has dark purple foliage, grows 4 feet tall, and in late summer it produces white flowers tinged with a touch of purple.

There are some hardy blooming shrubs with dark foliage to choose from also:

  • Physocarpus ‘Summer Wine’ has deeply cut, dark maroon leaves and grows 5-6 feet tall and wide. Also called ninebark, in summer it has clusters of pinkish-white flowers. It is very hardy and grows in a wide range of conditions but the more sun it gets, the darker the leaf color will be.

  • Sambucus: Not your grandmother’s elderberry, there are new cultivars with rich, dark foliage such as ‘Black Beauty’ or ‘Black Lace’. Their pale pink flowers contrast nicely with the dark leaves. They can grow to be 8-10 feet tall but can be cut back hard to keep them in bounds in a small garden. They prefer part shade for the best foliage color.
  • Wiegela ‘Midnight Wine’ has deep purple foliage with a metallic sheen that does not fade in the summer sun. It can take some light shade and will still bloom prolifically in early summer with dark pink flowers that contrast nicely with the dark leaves. It is a small shrub growing about 30 inches tall and wide.

Come over to the dark side and turn up the drama in your garden.

10 hardy exotics to grow

Many tropical-looking plants will thrive outdoors, even in the UK’s toughest climates. While some succulents can tolerate British winters, there are larger and more dramatic options if you want to give your garden an exotic look.


Despite appearances, most of the plants listed below are hardy, so they won’t need protecting or moving indoors over winter.

Related content:

  • Plants for a jungle-style border
  • How to grow exotic plants from seed (video)
  • 10 exotic houseplants to grow

Discover 10 hardy exotics to try, below.

Trachycarpus wagnerianus

This palm has huge, fan-like leaves. It’s hardier than traditional trachycarpus and can cope with wind, and temperatures as low as -15ºC. Tall and thin, it reaches heights of up to 5m but the trunk won’t thicken like those of trees do.

Height x spread: 5m x 2m.

Polystichum setiferum

Extremely hardy, Polystichum setiferum is an easy-to-grow and beautiful fern that can survive temperatures as low as -20ºC. It will thrive in a moist but free-draining, shady position. The soft fronds give a Jurassic flavour to tropical schemes.

H x S: 1.5m x 1m.

Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’

This fatsia is a fantastic evergreen with large, variegated leaves – perfect for brightening a shady spot. It reaches a height of 2.5m and is hardy to -15ºC, so is suitable for growing in most UK gardens.

H x S: 2.5m x 2.5m.

Phyllostachys vivax f. aureocaulis

Like the best bamboos, golden bamboo has gorgeous canes and gentle, rustling foliage. It’s perfect as a screen, hedge or standalone shrub and can withstand cold winters between -10ºC to -15ºC. Give it a moist but free-draining spot, sheltered from the worst winds. Use a soil barrier to prevent it spreading too much.

H x S: 12m x 4m.

Yucca linearifolia

Hardy to -15ºC, this is a lovely, spiky plant that forms a beautiful ball of either blue or green leaves, depending on the variety. It originates from Mexico and can form multiple trunks in the right conditions, reaching up to 2m. Give it a sunny spot, with free-draining soil.

H x S: 2m x 90cm.

Kalopanax septemlobus f. maximowiczii

In the same family as fatsia, this prickly castor oil tree is hardy to -20ºC and can reach heights of up to 10m. It’s great for large spaces, where it will make dramatic impact. It has generous leaves and panicles of small white flowers. Shelter from strong winds.

H x S: 10m x 10m.

Schefflera taiwaniana

Depending on how you train it, this can be a multi-stemmed shrub or single-trunked tree, and will reach heights of between 2m and 4m, with a spread of up to 2.5m. It has finger-like leaflets, thrives in a sunny, free-draining position and can handle an average UK winter down to -5ºC and -10ºC.

H x S: 4m x 2.5m.

Phormium tenax ‘Joker’

This New Zealand flax is hardy to -10ºC and makes a dependable addition to a tropical garden, offering a flash of coral against contrasting leafy greens. Grows to 1m if given a sunny, free-draining position.

H x S: 1m x 1.2m.

Macleaya x kewensis

Spires of tiny pink or cream flowers top the towering, chunky stems and large scalloped leaves of this plume poppy. Cut down to the ground in autumn and in spring it will shoot up to 2.5m tall. Hardy to -20ºC and, if sheltered from strong winds, it won’t need staking.

H x S: 2.5m x 1.5m.

Aloe polyphylla

This aloe has a gorgeous sphere of spiky leaves growing in a spiral, which will get no bigger than 50cm in diameter. Treat as a houseplant over winter, but it should grow well outside most of the year somewhere warm and free-draining.

H x S: 50cm x 1m.


Adding other colours

Planting several exotic-looking plants together will create the ideal green backdrop for colourful, flowering plants. Consider plants like tithonia, eucomis, hedychiums, cannas, agapanthus and jasmine to complement the exotic look.

Creating an exotic look in the UK

  • Identify microclimates. In sunny, dry areas use succulents. In shady, damp areas use jungle planting.
  • Make a hardy evergreen backbone. It will give winter interest and protection for more frost-tender plants
  • Look for hardy perennials with large leaves – they won’t need as much care as true exotics
  • Grow the more tender species in pots. Hide the pot in the planting and move to frost-free shelter for winter
  • Use colourful accessories and rattan garden furniture to add to the exotic feel
  • In very cold areas try bringing succulents and smaller exotics in pots indoors, where they will make stylish houseplants

Tropical plants are an amazing statement to add to any garden, offering exotic design sense and wonderful texture and color. Ok, we love ’em ’cause we can pretend to be on a beach in Fiji, or wandering around the rain forests in Hawaii, or pretty much any other place in the world where tropicals thrive. The trouble is, tropical plants are just that… tropical. And most of us don’t live in such exotic growing zones. (All of you lounging under your palm trees in Florida, stop laughing at us. ) However, we found these hardy tropical plants you can grow, just about anywhere! Some of them are pretty hardy in all but the coldest climates (hey, there are places even roses won’t grow!) and some of them need some winter protection. Some of them come back every year, but a few others are annuals you can use to fill in your tropical garden as it grows. All of them are worth a try for any gardener!

How to Grow Hardy Tropical Plants

There are three types of hardy tropical plants we are going to cover for the sake of planning such a space. There are too many to list them all, so if you choose a few in each category, you are well on your way to a tropical zone! Remember, to always have hardscaping structure when trying to grow a “wilder” type of naturalized garden like this. A well placed path, deck, or gazebo will help pull the garden together when those huge leaves, bountiful flowers and dramatic focal points start to make your world their own!

Height and Drama of Tropical Plants


The most cold hardy palm grown in the U.S. is called the Windmill Palm. Hardy down to zone 7, it can be made even more hardy by taking winter precautions. Many gardeners grow palms in Ohio, New York and Virginia, by wrapping the tree with burlap, planting in a wind protected position, and mulching deeply. Generally grows 10- 20 feet tall, in full to partial sun. Can be potted in a large container. Often used at tropical location hotels. Photo from ‘Fast Growing Trees‘.

Clumping Bamboo

If you are thinking about getting some bamboo for your tropical paradise, good choice. And make sure you read our post on how to grow bamboo. The trick here is to know the difference between clumping bamboo, and running bamboo. Plant the latter only if you want your home, yard and the nearest neighbors to be swallowed whole by the plant. Clumping bamboo has none of it’s more aggressive cousins nasty qualities, but all of the good ones. Photo by ‘Bella Bree‘.

Elephant Ears

Elephant Ear is a tender tuber that can be planted anywhere, as long as you lift the tubers after the first frost and store indoors until spring. This mammoth plants can grow to 6 feet tall with 3 foot long leaves, and do well in partial shade. Definitely a plant for drama! Photo by ‘Wayside Gardens‘.

Hardy Banana

The Hardy Banana Plant is hardy down to below zero at the rhizome, but the leaves will freeze and fall off below 28 degrees. If you mulch well and keep the rhizome from freezing, you will have a banana come back year after year. Cisco Morris from ‘The Seattle Times’ has a great tutorial on how to prep your hardy banana for winter. Photo by ‘Amazon‘.

Gunnera, or Giant Rhubarb

Another plant hardy only to zone 7, but can be lifted in the fall and stored in peat or vermiculite. This is one of the largest herbaceous plants on earth, growing 8-10 feet tall and wide. Protect from afternoon sun, and keep well watered. They can also be grown in a large container and moved into a frost free garage to go dormant for the winter. Photo by ‘Missouri Botanical Garden‘.

Hardy Tropicals with Color and Scent

Toad Lily

The toad lily is an exotic looking hardy lily plant that blooms in August and September, in the shade! 1-2 feet tall and wide, this plant is hardy down to zone 4 and is a great filler between and under this larger drama plants, giving you pretty pink flowers that look like orchids. ‘Missouri Botanical Garden‘.

Hardy Hibiscus, Rose Mallow

Hardy Hibiscus grows 4-6 feet high in full sun, and has plate size tropical blooms all summer long. Oh, did we mention it’s hardy down to zone 4? Coming in blues, purples, pinks, reds and whites, this is a show stopper! Photo by ‘White Flower Farm‘.

Hardy Fuchsia

If you’ve never tried the Hardy Fuchsia, and only had the hanging tender variety, you are missing out, Hardy Fuchsia grow 6-10 feet high and as wide as a shrub, with the same gorgeous pendulous flowers. Only this one is hardy down to zone 6! Can you imagine the butterflies and hummingbirds? Protect from afternoon shade and keep moist in fertile soil. Photo from ‘Fine Gardening‘.

Trumpet Vine

A vigorous vine that needs a strong support to grow, but will keep your garden full of tropical looking tubular yellow, orange or red flowers all summer. (And keep those hummingbirds around!) Full sun and something to grow onto is about all this plant needs, hardy down to zone 5. Fine with poor soil, fast growing, but can take a couple years to start blooming.

Fillers and greenery

Sweet Potato Vine

Sweet potato vine is an annual, so not hardy anywhere except the Southern US… It is however, a very cheap bedding plant that grows very quickly to 6 feet long. Great in containers it also can be used as a bedding plant to create some tropical lushness. Both in free and red leaved forms. Our favorite is ‘Margarita’, in a lime green. Sun, partial shade, keep moist, fertilize regularly. We pinch ours back when about 12 inches high to create a busier plant. Photo by ‘White Flower Farm‘.

Annual Vinca

A flowering bedding plant that is hardy to zone 9, but most of us grow it like an exotic form of petunias. They usually grow 6 inches – 1 foot tall and as wide, and are covered all summer long with flowers in pinks, whites and reds. They are self cleaning, which means they don’t need to be deadheaded. Drought resistant, full sun, but do best well watered, with some moderate fertilizer. A workhorse in the tropical garden! Photo by ‘BHG‘.


Here is your colorful foliage tropical for the shade. Caladiums can technically be made to be hardy, because they are bulbs you can dig up in the fall… When the daytime temps drop into the 50’s, dig the bulbs and leaves, let ‘em dry for a week or so, trim off the tops and store the bulbs in a warm (60°F+) ventilated area for planting next spring. Shade and a well drained moist soil is all they need to make a glowing tropical bed or container. There are so many different varieties too! Greens with pinks, reds and whites mixed in so many ways. Photo by ‘Classical Caladiums‘.

Have you tried tropical in your garden? Share how you made it work in comments! Photo below by ‘Balcony Garden Web‘.

If you enjoyed learning about how to grow hardy tropical plants, we think you will love our posts on Privacy with Plants and How to Grow Orchids.

Image Credits: Missouri Botanical Garden, Fast Growing Trees, Bella Bree, Wayside Gardens, Amazon, White Flower Farm, Fine Gardening, White Flower Farm, BHG, Classical Caladiums, Balcony Garden Web

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure for more info.

Prickly pear. Photograph: Gavin Kingcome

The plants are mostly hardy, due to a lesson learned the hard way. In spring 2010, Spracklin filled a skip with a mush of dead plants, including an American aloe (A. americana) he’d had since he was 12. The preceding cold winter followed 13 years of mild ones. Now he covers borderline hardy plants with fleece if sharp frosts or snow are forecast. “British Rail are right when they talk of the wrong type of snow,” he says. “We get the wet, slushy stuff, and it gets into the hearts of rosette-forming plants.”

The area to the rear of the house had a makeover a few years back that took a particular turn after an epiphany in Holland. “We visited an alpine garden and the owner had excavated a sort of rock amphitheatre. Forty years of expertise was distilled into the space, with each plant in the perfect spot and perfect health. I thought, I want to create this but with succulents.”

The result is a rocky valley with a central mound constructed using dry stone wall techniques, but with lava rocks imported from Turkey. A darker seam of rocks stripes the tallest cliff face, a by-product of the once coal-fired Beckton power station. Crevices with perfect drainage form the ideal habitat for Mexican A. gentryi, the whale’s tongue agave (A. ovatifolia) and a silvery beauty from Chile, the pink torch puya (Puya coerulea).

October sedum. Photograph: Gavin Kingcome

Many of these plants are unusual species within a familiar garden genus. Aucuba, or spotted laurel, is ubiquitous and a useful tough shrub. There is also Aucuba omeiensis, with pale green, serrated leaves up to 30cm long. It has company in the form of A. himalaica var. dolichophylla, which has narrow leaves with small dots of yellow and rich purple flowers.

The garden is all about contrasting form and textures, with succulent brightly coloured livingstone daisy relatives, lampranthus and bergeranthus and broad swathes of agapanthus, tulips in spring, tulbaghias in summer, and nerines and sternbergias in autumn.

So is Spracklin running out of space? “With the nature of these lava rocks, I am blessed with a million nooks and crannies.” He has a few more experiments up his sleeve.

Paul Spracklin’s top hardy exotics

Aralia decaisneana Umbrellas of feathery leaves like common garden aralias, but more aristocratic

Fargesia angustissima Bamboo with purplish new canes and slender leaves

Yucca linearifolia A sphere of blue leaves atop a stout trunk

Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’ Delicate, evergreen foliage and spikes of yellow flowers in early autumn

Pseudopanax arboreus A small evergreen tree from New Zealand

Eucalyptus pauciflora ssp. debeuzevillei Gum tree with camouflage bark

Nandina domestica Deciduous. Panicles of white flowers appear in summer, followed by bright red berries amid fiery autumn leaves

Blechnum cycadifolium. Photograph: Gavin Kingcome

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