Dark Side of the Garden

They are an oddity in the garden, striking in some settings. Black plants are the basis for the occasional Goth garden, along with some poisonous plants. I use dark foliage and blossoms for impact in my garden.

Black Plants is the title of a new book by Paul Bonine. Grumpy Gardener gave him a bad review — well, not Mr. Bonine, but the publisher for insisting Bonine include plants that are not black, showing agapanthus as an example. I agree. 

My ‘Storm Cloud’ is a lovely dark blue, but it isn’t black.

Most plants classified as ‘black’ are actually maroon, or darkest blue, or deep purple. The stems of Purple Swirl Datura are a shiny lacquered black and the buds are very dark.

‘Black’ Tulips are generally maroon or purple, like ‘Queen of Night,’ shown here in my garden from a previous year when I still believed I could grow tulips. The light shining on them will vary the color. Late evenings, they do look black.

The closest to true black that I have grown was ‘Bowles Black ‘ violas. The problem with the violas was that I didn’t plan well for companions and they kind of faded into the background. Black flowers in a grouping will leave a black hole appearance in the garden from a distance.

Black Pearl peppers are a fun garden oddity. The immature fruit is black, as are the leaves. The blossoms are deepest lovely purple. When the fruit matures, it turns bright red. Red companions are needed with these ornamental peppers. I used Oxblood lilies and Salvia coccinea.

I would not go so far as to call purple foliage black, so despite its great beauty as a companion to other plants, Alternanthera dentata is purple, not black. I used it everywhere, for shadows in the garden. Castor Bean is another purple, I didn’t plant it this year because of the puppy.

Colocasia ‘Black Magic’ makes a good show of blackish leaves; purple in sunlight.Black Magic by the Fountain

I’m off to thumb through the latest catalogs to find more black plants. What are yours?

The Oregonian video with Mr. Bonine, interviewed by Anne Jaegar.

Oregonian article by Kim Pokorny listing Black Plants



  1. James Missier

     /  November 2, 2009

    Love your black collection, they seemed to be very rare in my place.

  2. Les

     /  November 2, 2009

    My favorite black plant is Black Mondo Grass, especially when it is mixed with acid yellow foliage – good enough to eat.

    I also want to thank you for stopping by my blog and yes you are welcome to link my Baccharis post.

  3. Jacqueline

     /  November 2, 2009

    Wonderful 'black' plants. Though we don't have any in our garden, I love seeing them for their uniqueness and rarity. Haha..it does leave a black hole appearance as you've described, I can see that. 😉
    Nice post. Thanks for sharing, Nell Jean and thanks too for visiting my blog.

  4. Gloria Bonde

     /  November 1, 2009

    I love your black plants – so pretty with yellow – For awhile I grew a black hollyhock. Now that I think about it, it didn't return this year. I am pretty new at blotanical –

  5. Genevieve

     /  November 1, 2009

    I just love this post on black plants!! I'm a huge fan of goth gardening and wicked/ dark/black plants in general, and I'm a fan of a lot of the ones you mentioned. The pansies are awesome – I use those year-round!

  6. WashingtonGardener

     /  November 1, 2009

    LOVE those black pansies – can't seem to findthem at garden centers here in DC – next year will haveto do my own from seed.

  7. azplantlady

     /  November 1, 2009

    Hello Nell,

    What great information on a color not often addressed in gardening. I especially love the pansies.

  8. Grace Peterson

     /  October 31, 2009

    Hi Nell~~ Great subject matter. I've seen Karen Platt's book too. Very inspirational. I'm having great success with Black Mondo Grass and the little violas volunteer here and there. Some of my dahlias have [near] black foliage. Can you imagine our grandparents having all of the plant choices we're blessed with?

  9. Wendy

     /  October 31, 2009

    you use these black plants really well in your garden. I also would never consider dark blue flowers or purple foliage black. I love that colosia.

    I just saw the cover of this book and the photo on the front is just gorgeous.

  10. Teresa

     /  October 31, 2009

    those black flowers are always dark purple or maroon. i wonder why they cal them black? They are beauties though and so unusual to see. good post, interesting.

  11. Amy

     /  October 31, 2009

    I don't have any black in my garden. I have never seen the viola that you posted. I really like it and also the 'Black Magic'. It looks like a great plant! Enjoyed your post, as always! 🙂 -Amy

  12. Graham Rice

     /  October 31, 2009

    You're right… True, TRUE black is relatively rare: ophiopogon, some violas and pansies, some iris buds like those of 'Dark Crusader' are black, the colocasia is pretty black…

    I've just received Karen Platt's latest addition to her series of books on black plants (http://tinyurl.com/y8b2oh5) – she was the one who fired up the interest in the first place. She even founded The International Black Plant Society (http://tinyurl.com/ylqyrg8).

    I'll be reviewing all these books soon.

  13. Janet

     /  October 31, 2009

    I like the dark plants. Nice accents in the garden. Have an Alocasia that is black with white veins…pretty cool. Also have a very dark Ajuga… nice black blanket as a ground cover.

  14. Msrobin

     /  October 31, 2009

    No black plants here! I tried Black Mondo grass last year, and it didn't overwinter for me. I'll try again though!

  15. Corner Gardener Sue

     /  October 31, 2009

    I love those black pansies, by the way.

  16. Corner Gardener Sue

     /  October 31, 2009

    I have some dark leaved plants, but not black. I had 'Blackie' sweet potato vine, and still have the darker colored oxalis. I did grow some black hollyhocks one year that looked deep red to me.

  17. Iris

     /  October 31, 2009

    Oooo! I love all these! If agapanthus "counts", I'd say Persian Shield should, too. And maybe even shamrock oxalis?

  18. Town Mouse

     /  October 31, 2009

    I tried Epipactis giganteum 'Serpentine night', a CA Native orchid. Was supposed to be dark purple. Sorry to say it wasn't, and wasn't very vigerous either. I like the species better…
    (I do like purple potatoes, though I don't grow them)

  19. Country Mouse

     /  October 31, 2009

    Do people like black mainly because it is rare and unusual? Interesting plants but not something I feel drawn to. Great Halloween post!

    Thanks for visiting and leaving your word of advice on my poopagation experiment posting – if you would like to give me more particulars or pointers on the dangers of parasites etc, I would gratefully receive them – countrymoosie@gmail.com. I responded to your comment if you want to pop by again.

  20. Andrea

     /  October 31, 2009

    Thank you for visiting my blog! I love what you are writing in your profile "I garden only to impress myself". That's basically how I feel about my garden. Keep coming back, Andrea

  21. Deborah at Kilbourne Grove

     /  October 31, 2009

    At my last house, I had a black and white garden. I felt that I really needed that contrast, also used silver foliage, to make that black standout. Otherwise, as you said, it looks like a shadow.

  22. Nola @ the Alamo

     /  October 31, 2009

    My very favorite black plant is the "Blackie" sweet potato vine; it, too, is actually dark purple. I love the dark colors against something really bright, the contrast is spectacular.

  23. Sunweeds Secret Garden

     /  October 31, 2009

    Black plants don't look so good in my Australian garden, with a eucalyptus bush background they just disappear.
    I have seen some successful ones though, mostly using white or light gravel as a contrast.

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