50 Shades of Black

Black is Beautiful

There has been an explosion of black flowers and foliage in the past couple of years in the gardening world.  It started out as a trickle and now is a tsunami of everything black! When I go to the nursery and look at new cultivars of annuals, perennials, and shrubs, all shades of black predominates.

But you have to know how to use black for the best effect. I like to place black flowers or foliage next to very bright intense colors, such as hot pink or lime green to get the biggest impact. The black color gives the eye a rest when you pair it with bright vibrant colors. If you place black plants next to darker hued plants, it just doesn’t work and the black color fades in the background. So use black carefully and site it with some thought.

Black Pearl Plant

Black plants can also echo other plants that have black stems, black venation or black undertones. I find that if you have a boring or blah border, black instantaneously ramps up the visual interest. It can become a focal point if you have a particularly beautiful black plant. I like this annual in a container which I am not sure of the name.  The leaves are a gorgeous glossy deep black and the alterenanthera black spiller echos the black color.

Unknown black plant with alternanthera spiller and black petunia

There are all different hues and variations on black and sometimes the amount of sunlight a plant receives will affect the coloration. Also, juvenile foliage will generally be a darker, more intense, shade. In the plant trade describing many of the black plants, you hear adjectives such as chocolate, deep burgundy, midnight, or coffee.

I just bought the begonia ‘Black Coffee’ and really have enjoyed the graceful shape of the leaf edged with fine hairs, as well as the dark coloration with a contrasting burgundy underside.

Jack in the Pulpits

Arisaema sikokanum with chocolate coloration

The Japanese Cobra Lily, Arisaema sikokanum, is an elegant cousin to our native Jack in the Pulpit. The spadix is a pure marshmallow white which gives the flower such great contrast.  It looks like a flower all decked out in black tie ready for a party! Tres chic! And the scarlet berries make this expensive plant worth the money.

English: Jack-in-the-pulpit seed berries

English: Jack-in-the-pulpit seed berries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Jack-in-the-pulpit in the Allegheny National...

A Jack-in-the-pulpit in the Allegheny National Forest, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In feng shui, which is used frequently in landscape design, black is the color of mystery and sophistication. Black is the negation of color but next to any other color, it will make the color black stand out.

Black phantom petunia

Petunias

I love the new black petunias! The colors are novel and I tried them for the first time last year. The profusion of flowers faded by the end of the summer and I am watching to see if they do any better this year.  Even if they fade, I will probably continue to grow them because of the wow factor. I think the black petunias are closest to the true black color.

Sweetunia Black Satin

Elderberry

Black Lace Elderberry, Sambucas nigra, is one of those plants that you can grow not only for the feathery graceful foliage, but also the near black coloration.  The foliage is similar to a cut leaf maple but with dark hues for added drama. To complete the picture, umbels of pink-hued flowers appear in the summer followed by berries snatched up by wildlife. Elderberry is a cut-back shrub, like a butterfly bush, and will grow at least 6 feet during the growing season.

Sambucus nigra, Elderberry

Cannas

For instant drama in a perennial border, pop in the dark, dark cannas like Canna ‘Australia’, a midnight burgundy coloration that holds up all summer long.  Topping off the plant at around 5 to 6 feet high are shocking fire engine red flowers that hummingbirds will visit frequently. I don’t use this canna in a container as it will get so big that it will crowd out any companion plants.

English: Canna Foliage Group 'Auguste Ferrier'

English: Canna Foliage Group ‘Auguste Ferrier’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alocasia ‘Yucatan Princess’

Alocasia

Yucatan Princess is another tropical that is stunning for the greyish green upper leaf and the milk chocolate underside and dark chocolate stems.  Give this one plenty of room as it tops off at 8′. I like to use this in the shady border for foliage contrast.

Containers

The same benefits of using black plants in your borders hold true for containers. Use them with contrasting colors to let the other colors pop.

Container with black Agave

Chocolate Ajuga used in a container at my favorite nursery, Thanksgiving Farm

Sweet Potato Vine

I am sure everyone who does containers is familiar with the Sweet Potato Vine.  This annual trailing vine up to 15 feet long is becoming ubiquitous in containers.  I like to pop it into the garden to twine around shrubs and perennials.  It is especially effective in newly planted gardens with lots of blank spaces to fill. The vine grows quickly – sometimes too quickly! - and then dies with the first frost. Then you can dig up the huge sweet potato that forms underground and save it to plant for next year! The dark Sweet Potato Vine is called ‘Illusion Midnight Lace‘.

‘Midnight Illusion’ Lace Sweet Potato Vine

Black Sweet Potato Vine with Pineapple plant, Eucomis

Ornamental Sweet Potato, Sweet Potato Vine 'Ac...

Ornamental Sweet Potato, Sweet Potato Vine ‘Ace of Spades’ (Ipomoea batatas) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Succulents

Black succulents – What a surprise! Black has reached the plant world in every plant group and succulents are really big now so why not?

 
 Plant
Plant (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Aeonium

Aoeniums are those weird succulents that once you find them, you are hooked! The texture and shapes are just fantastic. Where have they been hiding all these years? Or maybe I just noticed them!

Black Agave

Black Sempervivum ‘Dark Beauty’

Heucheras

No discussion of black plants is complete without mentioning heucheras or coral bells.  There must be thousands of varieties of these by now -  the plant hybridizers are going crazy with them! I like the black one called ‘Frosted Violet’. This one has dark black venation that makes the leaves stand out. ‘Black Out’ is another Heuchera that I am dying to try. There are too many Heucheras and not enough time!

Heuchera ‘Frosted Violet’

Heuchera ‘Black Out’

I will continue to try the black plant introductions and a good book that is devoted to black plants and how to use them is Black Plants: 75 Striking Choices for the Garden

About Claire Jones

Claire Jones is a landscape and floral designer and owner of Claire Jones Landscapes, LLC. She designs and helps people to create their own personal outdoor oasis and loves to write about her gardening failures and successes.
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2 Responses to 50 Shades of Black

  1. Pingback: 50 Shades of Black | Potted Plant Society

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