Black plants—or really flowers and foliage that are so deep purple or red that they appear black—transform flower borders and containers from the expected to the extraordinary. They are dramatic up close yet understated from afar. Black adds excitement, yet the deep tones are restful on the eyes. Many of these plants bring an exotic, tropical feeling to the garden but are perfectly cold-hardy. For organic gardeners, black plants make the statement that you can be chemical-free and chic.
Black flowers and foliage appeal to gardeners who like to try new things. Black flowers are sophisticated: 'Black Gem' cornflower and 'Superstition' iris, for instance, look almost dangerous next to their paler sisters. Black enhances other colors. It draws the eye, declares Karen Platt, author of Black Magic and Purple Passion (Black Tulip Publishing, November 2004) and founder of the International Black Plant Society. Black can be an exclamation mark in a sea of silver, for example. Responding to demand, growers are developing ever-darker varieties, including old favorites such as sweet peas and coleus.
Picking the Plants
Even those of us who adore black plants find that choosing them is sometimes a bit of a challenge. So I asked gardeners growing black plants to share which they like best and how they use the dark varieties in the garden.
Tulip: 'Queen of Night' is a near-black tulip that looks great mixed with something pale like tulip 'Angelique' (a pale pink, peony-flowered variety).
—Barbara Damrosch, author of The Garden Primer (Rodale, 2003)
Hellebores: I appreciate black and dark red hellebores because they hold their color long after paler pinks and whites have faded to green in the spring heat. Black-flowered hellebores are luscious, but against the bare soil of late winter, they disappear. To make them stand out, I combine them with pale-flowered bulbs and glowing foliage. Snowdrops and winter aconite bloom as the hellebores are opening. Both set off the dark flowers with their pure, bright colors. Later in the season, I use white variegated or yellow sedges such as golden woodland sedge.
—Cole Burrell, author of Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Perennials (Rodale, 2004)
Photo: (cc) becca3k/flickr
Violas: I grow black Johnny jump-ups and let them self-sow around pale yellow primroses and golden feverfew.
—Lauren Springer Ogden, author of Passionate Gardening: Good Advice for Challenging Climates (Fulcrum Publishing, 2000)
Photo: (cc) scottzona/flickr