Sunday, August 7, 2011

Shades of Bronze

Glowing shades of bronze and copper; 
Euptelea pleiosperma - now renamed Eric.

There’s a time to be big, bold and dramatic but there are also occasions when a more subtle approach is needed. With all the gorgeous variegated, silver, chartreuse, rich red and deep black hybrids out there, have we forgotten the art of quiet contrast? One which sings in the garden rather than shouts?

I realized the value of bronze foliage as I was admiring my new shrub Eric (the botanical name Euptelea pleiosperma is unpronounceable and it doesn’t have a common name, hence Eric). This has wonderful burnished bronze leaves, accented here and there with warm red tones. It breaks up an expanse of green yet doesn’t command attention. It seems more natural and in some landscape designs that can be an important consideration. Where you are fortunate to have your garden back onto forest or a greenbelt for example, using bronze leaves can ease the transition from the highly cultivated and colorful areas to the more muted tones of the landscape beyond. However, I believe bronze can play an important role in all gardens. Instead of constant powerful associations between yellow and blue, chartreuse and purple or black and silver how about something a little more muted? Bronze can add depth, act as a supporting actor to feature plants, offer new color combination possibilities and create a soothing palette. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Small trees and shrubs
The coppery tones of ninebark 
'Coppertina' are even more
pronounced in spring and early

Ninebark ‘Coppertina’ (Physocarpus) is softer in color than the dark chocolate ‘Diablo’. The coppery leaves seem to glow in the garden, especially when backlit . Growing to 6-8’ it can be kept shorter with pruning, has interesting striped bark for winter interest, white spring flowers and red fall color.

A walk through any Japanese garden will open your eyes to the many colors, textures and shapes of Japanese maple trees. Where burgundy varieties draw the eye, bronze helps lead it, playing an important role in establishing a tranquil atmosphere. Colors blend rather than jostle and so the senses are soothed rather than jolted. One of my favorite varieties is Acer palmatum ‘Beni otake'. The foliage of this variety opens red before turning to bronze and eventually green. I frequently lust over two beautiful specimens in a friends garden!
Rather than selecting a more typical
burgundy leaved Japanese maple, 
this artistic home owner chose the
more subtle 'Beni otake' for its rich
bronze foliage.
Photo credit

Grasses and perennials

Leatherleaf sedge (Carex buchananii) looks dead according to some, so maybe that is why deer ignore it! This grass offers a fountain of wispy blades and looks wonderful planted in drifts with black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia f. ‘Goldsturm’) where it plays into the soft warm tones.

Crocosmia ‘Solfaterre’ stands out from the usual varieties because it has bronze foliage to set off its buttery yellow flowers which adorn the stems in late summer. At 2-3’ tall it doesn’t flop like some of the taller varieties. Try these under the paperbark maple (Acer griseum) where they can draw attention to the trees cinnamon peeling bark while providing gentle contrast.
Crocosmia 'Solfaterre' offers a gentle 
color palette in late summer

There are many more varieties of Heuchera (coral bells) and Heucherella than I wish to meet! Amongst them are numerous purple based offerings but for a true bronze color look at Heuchera ‘Burnished bronze’ and Heucherella ‘Sweet tea’. Like most coral bells, their color intensifies at different times of the year so these evergreen perennials offer extended interest in the garden.

Many false spiraea (Astilbe) offer foliage in shades of bronze - most notably ‘Fanal’ , ‘Bronze Elegance’ and ‘Bronze Lamb’. These perennials like some shade and moisture to thrive although I have had good success even in sunny situations where the soil is sufficiently damp. The bronze, lacy foliage makes a good contrast to leathery evergreen leaves of Rhododendron.

The annual herb bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is worth growing for its feathery foliage alone, even if you never intend to use it for culinary purposes. Do remember to dead head it quickly though or you’ll have a fennel forest in no time!
The larger than life blooms are undoubtedly
the showstopper. but the rich copper-red
foliage is what appeals more to me

Photo credit

I’ve never had much luck with Hibiscus yet ‘Kopper King’ has me willing to try again. It gets its name from the maple like leaves which are copper-red above and more orange below. Add gigantic tropical looking flowers in white with a deep red eye and you’ll understand why I’m tempted! Hardy to zone 4.

So the next time you visit the nursery, notice what your eye is immediately drawn to – and then look elsewhere! Not everything should be a showstopping specimen in the latest kaleidoscope of colors. Select some bronze tones to add to the mix and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much richer the composition will be.

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