Until about ten years ago, hardly anyone had even heard of Physocarpus and even fewer actually grew it. Now it’s at last being recogised as amongst the best deciduous foliage shrubs we have, and a new dark-leaved variety emphasises the point.
The wild species, Physocarpus opulifolius, is originally from eastern North America, where it’s named ninebark from the fact that the bark peels away in thin strips which curl into the shape the number nine. In the wild it tends to grow in damp woods and along streams but in gardens seems much more adaptable. Last winter in Poland, it survived outside in pots at -30C/-22F!
‘Midnight’ has the darkest foliage of any variety so far, a deep midnight purple with a lovely sheen, and unlike some other dark-leaved types it has a neat, compact and bushy habit - better for smaller gardens. In June and July clusters of pink-tinted white flowers line the branches, and these are followed by black berries.
‘Midnight’ was named by John Jones of Hyfryd Plants, a small nursery in Mid Wales. “Three seedlings were selected from a batch of about 150 in the early 2000s,” John told me. “One was an exceedingly bright gold form (now discontinued as it suffered very badly from late frosts) and another was the same type as 'Lady in Red' which may be introduced in the USA. The third was ‘Midnight’. All the seedlings came from 'Diablo' which was planted next to 'Darts Gold' and obviously cross pollination had taken place.”
Look out for more Physocarpus varieties from John, and elsewhere, over the next few years.
You can order plants of Physocarpus opulifolus ‘Midnight from Plantify.