Black flowers and foliage are ugly. Even worse, they’re usually not a true black but what I’d call ‘cack black’ – a dark blacky-purple-brown colour that looks like an old scab. Why on earth any plant breeder chooses to make more of the things and flog them off to the faddish gardening public is beyond me. They’re just plain horrible but I suppose the novelty value sells a few plants. But what happens when you get them home? Where do you place such bug uglies?
I love to cruise around nurseries and check out anything new that’s hit the stands since I last…well… cruised around. What always surprises me is seeing someone buying a black violet or black mondo, which just look like you’ve bought something after it died, rather than waiting until you forget to water it next week. They’re just so depressing. Funereal. Gothic. Freakish. Even the popular and occasionally useful Aeonium ‘Schwartzkopf’ leaves me feeling uncomfortable.
But where do these buyers of grief and ghastliness plant them when they get them home? Anywhere these black foliage plants are put, they make it look like you’ve just created a black hole that’s trying to suck in the rest of your garden, and those black flowers are like empty, staring zombie eyes.
I’m fine with dark flowers and foliage that have true colour, like an intense wine-red or a rich, imperial purple. I love my Strobilanthes dyerianus to bits. Deep tones can bring drama to lots of colour combinations in a garden. What I really don’t like are those super dark black-black flowers and foliage. I know they’re not really black in the true sense but they may as well be.
And with what colours do they go? Red, perhaps, at a pinch. Or does that just look like ghoulish blood + death? And what a cruel thing to do to sunny, vibrant ‘look at me’ red, I say. Blue? Shudder. How about with yellow? I guess you could create your own faux sunlight and shadow or ‘bee’ garden. Pink? Urgh – black makes even hot pink look sickly. With white perhaps? Like a sort of overgrown keyboard or garden dalmatian. Orange…yes maybe my beloved orange has got just enough fire to prop up these irksome, inky invaders.
There’s just one combination I’ve seen that I think zings – black with lime green. In very small amounts.
I’ve searched the world so that you can have a strong, protective list to take with you next time you visit your local nursery wherever that may be, so you’ll know what NOT to buy:
Words to ring warning bells: black, raven, night, velvet, midnight, dark, pitch
Black flowers to avoid: viola and pansy, Calla ‘Black Pearl’ ‘Black Crusader’ and ‘Black Star’, bat orchid, tulip, cosmos, hollyhock, Iris ‘Here Comes the Night’ and ‘Old Black Magic’, dahlia, hellebores like Helleborus ‘Black Diamond’ and ‘Midnight Ruffles’, ‘Landini’ Asiatic Lily, Rudbeckia occidentalis ‘Green Wizard’, Fritillaria persica, Papaver ‘Black Peony’, Hyacinthus ‘Dark Dimension’, Scabiosa ‘Black Night’, Aquilegia ‘Black Barlow’, Caralluna russelliana. And anything called ‘Queen of the Night’ that doesn’t actually flower at night.
Black foliage from which to run a mile: Anything with the word ‘black’ in its name, especially associated with a certain horse (as if!), purple basil, black mondo grass, Heuchera x ‘Obsidian’ and Heuchera ‘Black Beauty Coral Bells’, Ligularia ‘Britt-Marie Crawford’ (the poor woman – what a tribute!).
Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’, various black elephants ear, Begonia ‘Black Velvet’, Ajuga ‘Black Scallop’, Capsicum annum ‘Black Pearl’, Aeonium ‘Schwatzkopf’, various Canna, Ipomaea batata ‘Blackie’, Sedum ‘Black Beauty’, Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’, Actaea simplex ‘Brunette’, Bromeliads Neoregelia ‘Pitch Black’, Aechmea ‘Back Jack’.
And if you want a longer list of icky black plants to avoid, there’s this very helpful book.
You have been warned.