Perfect Match-Heavy Metal and Summer Wine

As heat sends ripples through the atmosphere, distorting the view of the garden, there are oasis of cool as a cucumber plant companions, in cachet if not in Fahrenheit.

One of those perfect matches noticed as July simmers along includes the foliage of the native nine bark hybrid, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’. Blooming in the spring, this shrub is more widely planted for its finger edged foliage than for the flowers. There are several hues available of nine bark, and I would be interested in trying more, especially the gold tones.

Sited next to Summer Wine in the dark realm of the Black Garden is the native switchgrass cultivar, Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’, now in bloom. The flowers are insignificant but add interest to the tips of the steel blue leaves. In fall the seedheads turn burgundy while the foliage is a golden yellow before turning to blonde as the cold covers the land. They will stand erect throughout the winter, catching frost and snow for winter beauty.

The dark burgundy and the pale blue go very well together. The last lily to bloom here, Lilium ‘Black Beauty’ stands over the happy couple, providing food for hummers and other pollinators and a shot of color to the scene.

About the plants:

(Above: April 21, 2012 with Allium moly ‘Jeannine’.)
Physocarpus opulifolius ‘SUMMER WINE®’ combines the fine texture and compact branching of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Nana’ with the dark foliage of Physocarpus ‘Diabolo’.

Common name: Nine bark

Hardiness: USDA Zone 3-8

Bloom Time: May-June (April here in Zone 7a Southeast Tennessee)

Bloom Color: Pinkish-white

Foliage color: Deeply cut, dark crimson-red leaves

Size: 5-6 feet tall, 4-5 feet wide, excellent branching

Exposure: Full sun for best color, part shade farther south

Soil: Adaptable to difficult situations. Withstands acidic and alkaline soils.

Pruning: Summer Wine forms its flower buds in later summer and then flowers in early June. The best time to prune is after it blooms, from mid-June to mid-August. Cease pruning in mid-august to allow time for the flower buds to form prior to winter. Do not be afraid to prune or shear your plant hard if you wish to maintain a shorter size.

Other: Native to North America.

July 6, 2009 010 (2)
Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ is shorter and more upright than the species. The foliage is blueish with a waxy coating, turning yellow in fall. Panicum virgatum is native to open prairies and woodlands from Canada to the Southeastern US.

Common name: Switch grass

Hardiness : USDA Zones 3-9

Size: 3-4 feet tall, 2-3 feet wide at the base

Bloom time: July-August

Exposure: Full to partial sun

Moisture: Drought tolerant but adaptable

Pruning: Cut back to six inches before new growth begins in late winter/early spring

In April, when Summer Wine is blooming, there is quite a bit of flower power in the Fairegarden that is much more exciting than the Physocarpus pink pom poms and Heavy Metal is barely a foot tall, center right in the above photo. But this match comes into its own as summer slides into home base and continues to shine until winter descends. It is a fine example of foliage rules!

This is the very first perfect match post. I hope to do more, at least one per month to help illustrate a garden with year around interest. Stay tuned for more! Links will be added as they are written, if we can remember to do so.

More Perfect Matches:

Perfect Match-Echinacea and Rudbeckia

Perfect Match-Crimson Queen Maple and Sunpower Hosta


This entry was posted in Perfect Matches, Plant Portrait. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Perfect Match-Heavy Metal and Summer Wine

  1. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I will look forward to more matches. I need some inspiration in this droughty year.

    Thanks Lisa, for being such a supportive reader! This match jumped out at me when many things are less than stellar. I believe there are more out there in the garden waiting to be noticed and advertised.

  2. Layanee says:

    It really is all about combinations isn’t it? Love these.

    Thanks Layanee. You are so right, it is how the plants interact with each other that makes a garden attractive. Not really about flowers at all.

  3. Thanks for your inspiration, Frances. I had to learn that lesson “no plant is an island” the hard way. 🙂

    Thanks Georgia. I am still learning that lesson, even after over fifty years of gardening.

  4. gail says:

    My dear they are a perfect match! I love a happy couple. Must get my Ninebark into therapy so he is happier; this may be one time a couple needs a geographical cure. (move to new spot) xoxogail

    Thanks Gail. HA to the therapy for your ninebark, he is lucky to be living with the best there is!

  5. Love the idea Frances. My Diablo Nine Bark is getting lots of interest from critters this year. Birds nesting, rabbits shading themselves and foxes hunting said birds…I love the dark foliage and shape of the leaves!

    Thanks Donna. I believe all the ninebarks are worthy, for many reasons. I could really use some lighter foliage and will keep an eye out for those. Sounds like a regular wildlife habitat at your place.

  6. I don’t want to be a trouble maker but in your 3rd picture, I was struck by the revelation of a very seductive menage a’ trois with the addition of the Carolina Sapphire Blue Cypress (?) showing in the background. They provided a very pleasing repetition of the blue tones in the Heavy Metal grass. That particular grass is such a favorite of mine. I love the delicate airiness of its plumes and it is such a good neighbor to almost anything. I also really appreciate how easy it is to cut back in the spring unlike the more challenging miscanthus types. Yep,for grasses, give me pink muhly grass and this panicum!

    Hardly a trouble maker, Michaele! The Arizona cypresses are the perfect foil for many things. I wish I had planted them instead of Leylands along a portion of the back property line. Next garden… The grasses are the best, showing zero signs of stress from this new weather pattern we seem to be in now, hot and dry, dry, dry. They look good all year except for that short span when they have been cut back.

  7. Linda says:

    The subject of “perfect pairings” is embraced by both of my professions……Wine steward and artist. Summer Wine has such a rich color and texture that even the meekest and drabbest of plants gets a “boost” thanks to the contrast. Good pairing is a sign of an artistisc gift. You’ve got that, Frances. Your posts on the subject of pairings, will be a tremendous help and inspiration to many………KEEP ‘EM COMIN’, SISTER!!!

    Thanks Linda, you sound like a very interesting person with those professions. I am loving Summer Wine the most this year. I think I finally have the pruning down to a science to keep it the size I want and still get blooms. As for more perfect pairs, there are several others that are showing themselves now. I need to make some notes…

  8. Dee says:

    Simply beautiful contrast in leaf shape and color. Lovely.

    Thanks Dee. The color of the foliage and contrast in form is what makes both of these such hard working garden denizens.

  9. Cindy, MCOK says:


    Thanks Cindy!

  10. Lola says:

    I sure will stay tuned for more. Wonderful post. I had thought about the Heavy Metal in my garden. It would look nice in my back corner garden with my bottle tree. I think.

    Hi Lola, thanks. Heavy Metal is a good one, it would look lovely with your bottle tree, I am sure.

  11. I have Heavy Metal, but I don’t recall the blooms having that pink-ish tuft on the seedhead. How very cool. Mine was new last year, so I will have to look at it closer this year. I have Coppertina, a cross between Diablo and Dart’s Gold. … isn’t on the same side of the yard as the Panicum… 😦 Maybe one day Panicum will be able to be divided.

    Hi Janet, thanks for visiting. I cannot see the colors on Heavy Metal flowers unless it is a macro shot loaded onto the laptop! I have divided it many, many times, started with one measly little mail order plant a few years ago. Coppertina sounds like a pretty one, will have to look into that.

  12. Rose says:

    A gorgeous combo, Frances! I don’t have ‘Heavy Metal,’ but I do have ‘Shenandoah’ and I’ve come to really admire these switchgrasses. Like Lisa, this summer I’m taking lessons about what can survive heat and drought.

    Thanks Rose. I have Shenandoah in North Carolina, it seems to be a little shorter and is quite lovely. I do love all the Panicums. They are survivors!

  13. chuck b. says:

    I’ve been adding dark foliage to my garden lately. The more I add, the better it looks.

    Hi Chuck, so nice to see you here!!! Dark foliage provides just the contrast most gardens need. You should have seen Christopher Mello’s garden in Asheville that we visited during Fling, it is a Gothic masterpiece.

  14. Scott Weber says:

    Definitely a winning combination…love them both…and can’t believe your Panicum is blooming already! My poor ‘Heavy Metal’ has been swallowed up by an over-zealous Monarda this year, and I’ll need to move it this fall…poor thing!

    Hi Scott, thanks. I had to move Heavy Metal away from Summer Wine, the grass needs to be free of overhanging foliage. I divided it into little bits at the same time, making a nice stand of it now. Good luck with yours!

  15. Pingback: Perfect Match-Echinacea And Rudbeckia « Fairegarden

  16. Pingback: Perfect Match-Crimson Queen Maple and Sunpower Hosta « Fairegarden

  17. Pingback: Perfect Match-Hellebores and Daffodils | Fairegarden

Comments are closed.