Design Classy Containers with Black and White Plants

How do you make a container planting stand out from the rest? Try thinking beyond the typical green leaves and bright flowers for a change and opt for a more subtle palette. To create a liveable outdoor room, think like an interior designer. Here are some ways to utilize the softer shades of plants in your next container planting, using colors from black and burgundy to white and sage.

The stems of the Portulacaria match the leaves of the Dyckia!

There's nothing wrong with the typical arrangement of green leaves and bright flowers, and I happen to love bright and garish colors. It's just that sometimes the situation calls for something a bit more special. You don't need to know a lick about color theory to design a planting that doesn't clash. Simply look at a color scheme that appeals to you and use that as your guideline or failing that, go with your gut. I started out with a plan, but sometimes the plants plan the container for you!

What I Did

Before planting.

After planting

After finding a knee-high moss green fiberglass container on clearance at Target, I planned on painting it robins egg blue.

This is probably the Dyckia 'Grape Jelly' I've been seeing at local garden centers.

It wasn't until I saw an unmarked Dyckia for sale at a local garden center that I decided to make the green pot and the Dyckia work in tandem instead. To do that, I found plants with elements that either matched the deep mahogany brown, matched the green of the pot, matched the silver undersides of the Dyckia or just provided contrast.

The stems match the pot and even have a similar mottling!

I chose Euphorbia trigona 'Royal Red' because the stems match the container in both color and pattern while the leaves and margins are painted a lovely reddish brown. Planted at the back of the container, it adds height and gives the Dyckia plenty of room to show off.

The red stems of this Portulacaria match the Dyckia while the leaves provide contrast.

Portulacaria 'Variegata' has lovely golden variegated leaves, but I chose it for the burgundy colored stems. When it fills out, the lightly colored leaves will also make an excellent background for the dark Dyckia rosette.

They don't call it 'Silver Falls' for nothing!

The Dichondra 'Silver Falls' provided the perfect touch of elegance by both trailing over the edge and by providing a delicate foil for the dark plants. Combined with the white sea glass, it really does resemble a waterfall!

The frosty white sea glass looks like frothy water.

To really make the dark Dyckia stand out, I covered the potting soil with sand and then mulched the sand with frosty white sea glass that I collected from the beach. Craft sea glass makes an acceptable substitute for the landlubbers. I also added some large seashells to the frothy white sea glass to complete the aquatic theme.

The neat thing about this container combo is that the plants actually match the brown trim used around the exterior of my apartment. What luck! 

Try It Yourself!

To create a similar look yourself, there are plenty of plants with the foliage to match the sofa, so to speak. Design with these muted colors in the same way you would compose a black and white photograph. In the absence of color, focus on juxtaposing dark forms against light; hard and spiny textures against soft. Because there are no bright colors to distract the viewer, she can more intimately appreciate the lacy effect of the 'silver falls' or the marbling on the stems of the Euphorbia. 

When choosing a container, choose colors that match the plants or the container's surroundings. You can use bright colors, as long as they somehow tie in with the planting or the environment. Lets say you have a bright orange table and chairs. Use a matching orange container and fill it with silver and white succulents planted around a stunning orange Neoregelia bromeliad. The neutral succulents  make the orange appear even brighter. Thomas Kinkade's gimmick of 'painting light' followed the same principle: To make the orange and yellow windows and lights appear to glow, he just surrounded them with gray.

I've provided a list of plants with 'black' and 'white' leaves to get you started on your own containers. Bear in mind that some dark leaved plants (elephant ear and canna especially) prefer moisture, while most of the silver leaved plants hail from dry desert or Mediterranean climes and like it dry.

Plants with Black or Brown Foliage

Black Mondo Grass
Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens'

Black Elephant Ear
Colocasia 'Black Magic'

Black Aeonium
Aeonium aeonium var. atropurpureum 'Schwartzkopt'

Australia Canna
Canna 'Australia'

Iresine 'Purple Lady'

Black New Zealand Flax
Phormium tenax 'Atropurpureum'

Purple Cordyline
Cordyline australis 'Atropurpurea'

Purple Fountain Grass
Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum'

Coral Bells
Heuchera micrantha 'Palace Purple'

Plants with White orSilver Foliage

Dusty Miller
Centaurea cineraria, Senecio cineraria

E. crenulata, E. elegans and many more

Licorice Plant
Helichrysum petiolare

Lavendula spp.

Aechmea fasciata and many other species

Silver Dollar Tree
Eucalyptus cinerea

Silver Lungwort
Pulmonaria 'Silver Shimmers'

S. morganianum, S. sieboldii and many more!

Blue Fescue
Festuca glauca

Obviously there are way more plants to choose from, so feel free to add them in the comments!


  1. you have a great knack for combining plants - that looks lovely.

  2. Great post! I love mixing foliage in cool containers, it's a hobby of mine too! :-) I absolutely LOVE that Dyckia! I've never seen one of those before and I'm envious!


    1. There are some with white teeth too! You've gotta get one of your own someday.

  3. Love the way the plants truly compliment the container that you chose.

    1. Thank you! I'd like to think they work well together...

  4. That is certainly lovely Steve!


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