A stunning winter backdrop

Winter jasmine - a dash of colour for your garden
Winter jasmine - a dash of colour for your garden

Over the last couple of weeks I have written about plants with blooms that brighten up the dark winter days – the Christmas Rose and the Hardy Cyclamen.

Both beautifully dainty looking, yet so tough to stand proud through the rain and the snow.

But it was against the snow the other day that one of the other plants really stood out as showing its worth in my winter bed. A bit of a mouthful for those who do not appreciate botanical names, but Ophiopogon planscapus ‘Nigrescens’ is my selected plant this week.

Sometimes known as Black Grass, Black Mondo Grass – or marketed even more ostentatiously as ‘Black Dragon’ or ‘Ebony Knight’ – this wonderful evergreen perennial looks to all intents and purposes like a black form of the houseplant we know as a ‘spider plant’. The tufts of shiny ‘black’, or deep purple, wide-bladed grass-like leaves grow in tufts from underground rhizomes, which also enable it to spread and make bold clumps.

Although it may look like a grass, the fact that sprays of small lilac flowers appear in summer give proof that it is not a grass, but a member of the Asparagaceae family and is more related to the Lily than any grass. Native to Japan, the species makes bold thickets in the woodlands or foothills, and is of a good, clean deep green – resembling bluebell leaves when at their best. This also makes an excellent plant, but we tend to grow the cultivar ‘Nigrescens’, which has the deepest purple-black colour of all the plants I know.

Only growing around 20-30cm (8 to 12 inches) or so in height, this could get lost in a larger border, especially being so dark in colour. But if planted on a rockery or raised bed, or in containers with a mulch of light coloured gravel, it really can look very stunning.

The deep foliage makes a wonderful foil if inter-planted with spring bulbs such as the wonderful blues of dwarf Iris reticulata or the mixed blues, whites and pinks of Anemone blanda. In small borders or beds, such as my winter bed, it also associates well with winter heathers as well as the Snowdrops, Cyclamen and Hellebores.

This is a real ‘designer’ plant – often grown as bold clumps amongst paving or drifts of silver or gold foliage.

Generally trouble free and unfussy as to soil type, as long as it does not dry out to much. Happy in light shade, although the most intense colour is achieved in a sunny spot, I’m thinking that I may find a few more spots in my garden in which to plant it!

n Manea School of Gardening (RHS Approved Centre)

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