I've always been a foliage fan. In the early years I gardened mostly in shade where interest was created using foliage color, form and texture. As my garden expanded into areas of more sun I found that I struggled with design. At first I was excited about all the flowering perennials I could now grow-taller stuff, sun loving stuff, no flopping or leaning stuff-a horticultural boondoggle! Well it didn't take long for me to realize that most of the sun loving perennials only bloomed for a few weeks and then had to be cut back leaving holes or untidy border areas. And although I had more sun, I still didn't have full sun and the sun I did have on my small suburban lot dotted with large deciduous trees changed dramatically throughout the season. I started adding small variegated shrubs and unusual later blooming perennials but I still wasn't getting the desired effect. What was missing? Bold was missing. All the foliage just seemed so fine textured. Where were the hosta substitutes for sun? Enter tropicals and unusual annuals. Bold, colorful long blooming plants that add interest for the whole entire season. Over the past five years or so the focus of my garden has been on these plants. Every spring I comb through nurseries and greenhouses throughout southern New England gathering cart loads of my old favorites and searching for my new favorites.
Late last spring I came across a small pot of an annual Pennisetum I had never seen before. The leaves were more broad than the usual common varieties and the color was deep purple/black. Being a total sucker for dark foliage, I snapped it up. Since all my containers were planted I ended up planting it in the ground. For the first few weeks it didn't grow much and I started to think I'd been bamboozled (certainly not the first time with a newer introduction). Obviously I was wrong-once this baby took off there was no stopping it. The picture below was taken in early October. This year I'm going to look for it early and plant more than one. If you're looking to fill a hole in a border or add a dramatic container accent I highly recommend Pennisetum purpureum 'Vertigo'.