Red makes a re­mark­able im­pact in the gar­den. It is a colour that sig­nals “Stop!” – and this is ex­actly what it does to visi­tors.

NZ Gardener - - Contents -

For­get green! Gar­dens look best in red, says Alan Trott.

Red makes one stand and think, it stirs the brain and blood, and gives the gar­den a wow fac­tor. A red gar­den can be made in a warm or cool cli­mate, and there are many ex­cit­ing plants which can be used to ex­tend the sea­son. Spring can bring joy with its flow­er­ing bulbs but I think it’s sum­mer that brings the best out, and one can ex­tend the sea­son to al­most win­ter.

Plan­ning is essen­tial and choos­ing the right red is al­ways a chal­lenge. I tend to like the blood reds and darker reds but one has to be care­ful not to use pinky reds or or­ange-y reds.

Of course it’s not just the flow­ers that high­light the gar­den – fo­liage also plays an im­por­tant part. There are some won­der­ful dark-, al­most black-leaved, shrubs and peren­ni­als which can bring a dif­fer­ent di­men­sion to the gar­den.

And why not use a red sculp­ture in the gar­den, like a red obelisk or per­haps a large urn and paint it to the red of your lik­ing?

In a dark or shady gar­den, red can be lost, so one must plant where the gar­den gets sun al­most all of the day. Even the early morn­ing light can be a high­light, but it’s the evening light fil­ter­ing through the plants that truly brings out their beauty.

Let’s look at some plants you must use.

Can­nas are a stand­out and can be used in a cooler cli­mate. I don’t cut the fo­liage off un­til af­ter frosts have gone as this gives them pro­tec­tion from rain and freez­ing tem­per­a­tures. You could even dig them out in early win­ter to store in a warm shed. My favourite canna is ‘Amer­ica’ which has dark pur­ple fo­liage but fan­tas­tic big red flow­ers all sum­mer. Do keep cut­ting

off the old flow­ers – this helps them flower well into late au­tumn.

Dahlias are a main­stay in the bor­der and there are some won­der­ful ones with dark fo­liage and blood red flow­ers. Dr Keith Ham­mett from Auck­land has bred some amaz­ing cul­ti­vars worth seek­ing out. Try plant­ing some of the sin­gle ones such as the dwarf called ‘Mys­tic Wonder’.

Cro­cos­mia ‘Lu­cifer’ has strappy flax-like leaves fol­lowed by small, red, trum­pet-like flow­ers which dance in the breeze. It thrives and needs to be con­trolled ev­ery few years.

Monarda ‘Ja­cob Cline’ is a great per­former at the back of the bor­der and flow­ers for many weeks.

Ligu­laria ‘Britt Marie Craw­ford’ makes a very bold state­ment with its dark shiny pur­ple fo­liage all sea­son, but don’t let it flower as the blooms are yel­low. Dead­head as soon as the buds ap­pear.

Lil­i­ums al­ways make a show in late sum­mer, espe­cially the Ori­en­tal cul­ti­vars. There are some al­most black Asi­atic lil­i­ums worth try­ing as they flower in early sum­mer and are great in front of the bor­der. Try Lil­ium ‘Lan­dini’.

Per­si­caria am­plex­i­caulis ‘Fire­tail’ al­ways flow­ers well over a long pe­riod and can be used mid­way back in the bor­der.

Ber­beris thun­bergii ‘Hel­mond Pil­lar’ is a must. This shrub makes a state­ment which ev­ery­one com­ments on, but keep it tied tight with clear fish­ing line to keep it pil­lar-like. Plant a group of three or five mid­way in the bor­der.

For a back­ground, plant some small pur­ple-leaved trees and shrubs.

The Acer fam­ily cer­tainly are a must, espe­cially the small-leaved, named Ja­panese cul­ti­vars. It’s not just in spring that they look good but it’s the dark pur­ple leaves all sum­mer that give that dark ef­fect which one needs.

Cer­cis canaden­sis ‘Mer­lot’ is a new cul­ti­var of the Ju­das tree. It has large, heart-like dark pur­ple leaves and an up­right habit, which is great if you have a smaller space.

Co­ry­lus max­ima ‘Pur­purea’ is the dark pur­ple-leaved hazel­nut which is up­right in growth and beau­ti­ful in early spring with its droop­ing catkins, but its dark glossy leaves are the star of the show.

If you have the time, plant a few an­nu­als in the gaps.

This helps cover the bare spots where bulbs once thrived in spring.

I also find peren­ni­als give the best value for colour and im­pact, and of course they come up ev­ery spring with lit­tle or no work. Although one still needs to stake some plants and this needs to be done early in the sea­son.

The above are just a few plants that are favourites of mine but nat­u­rally there are many, many more. So put your pen to pa­per and go through some books and mag­a­zines, and sort out what thrives in your area and get plant­ing. The list can be mind bog­gling but be se­lec­tive and you will reap the re­wards.

The red bor­der at Trotts Gar­den in Ash­bur­ton.

Dahlia ‘Bar­barry Amer­i­cano’.

Monarda ‘Ja­cob Cline’.

Canna ‘Amer­ica’.

Red Swiss chard.

Lil­ium ‘Lan­dini’.

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