Black Magic

October 26, 2019

Many years ago I read a magazine article about a woman who tore out her two-year-old professionally-planned landscape because she had to have nothing but black and green flowers. At the time I thought that she must have more money than sense. The tincture of time has not altered my view of her judgment. That being said, though, there is an amazing selection of black flowers to choose among.


Whether flower, fruit or foliage, the horticultural black we’re talking about here is really a very dark purple or maroon. Some selections have been around for quite some time. Dark-leaved dahlias, for example, have been around since the 1920s.


Dark foliage plants need the contrast of silver, gold or green leaves to make an impact. A dark backdrop acts like a black hole and absorbs them. I planted the elephant ear Black Coral in a white pot but it never stood out against the weathered wooden fence behind it. There’s a glossy black heuchera called Black Pearl on the market. It would really pop against a contrasting background of a silvery groundcover such as lamium White Nancy.


I think black flowers need a

contrast of pastel or neon bright to shine. Where better to experiment than in containers of annuals? Lisianthus Black Pearl is a very saturated purple that is a long-lasting standout for the border, large container or vase. The bachelor button Black Gem is a dark maroon that’s been around since the 1940s. Let it stand out against silver foliage. Of course black petunias are easy to play with. I think they look great with a clear yellow or even pale pink.



My favorite black annual is the ornamental pepper Black Pearl. (OK, there are a lot of plants going by that name as well as Black Knight.) The shiny black round fruits are borne in clusters above dark purple leaves. To me they almost look like poinsettias. In late summer the fruit ripens to red. One year some birds got into a fight over which one would feast upon the wonderful red berries. The winner took one peck and never came back. Ornamental peppers are notoriously hot.


There is a season-spanning selection of black-flowering perennials. For late winter into early spring there are a growing number of hellebores. I am trying Dark & Handsome from the Wedding Party series. It is a double with a lime-green center. The spring-blooming viola Molly Sanderson is black with a yellow center.


She will need part shade here as she is originally from Ireland. Iris chrysographes sports dark indigo-violet flowers. I spotted black gladiolas and a black lily in Walmart last spring. Both are great for summer flowers.


For those who prefer vegetables to flowers, there are some black novelties to be had. There is a popcorn called Dakota Black which has black kernels. Martian Jewels is a sweet corn with white kernels and a deep violet cob. Indigo Rose is a blackish cherry tomato. For the cool season garden how about a medium spicy Round Black Spanish radish? 


(Photographs, from top: Black hollyhocks, black dahlia foliage, black petunias and black gladiolus.)


As we approach the night when all the world is black and gold, it’s not too soon to consider something novel for next year’s garden.


Master gardener Ann Bartlett explores her dark side in the ornamental beds surrounding her home.

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