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In the garden, come over to the dark side

There's a dark side to just about everything, including our gardens.

The color black, powerful, secret and strange, is everywhere in the landscape. Black soil is an indicator of earth rich in nutrients, and gardeners tout the wonders of compost, which they refer to as "black gold." Black also has a place above ground, in foliage, flowers and fruit that create dramatic contrast with the brighter elements in a garden.

"Black plants" is a term used rather loosely by horticulturists — plants in this category may range from deepest dark chocolate to mocha to rich burgundy. There are scores of these deep-hued perennials and annuals, from sun-loving flowers and vegetables to tender tropicals that thrive in shade. You'll find a good overview in Black Plants: 75 Striking Choices for the Garden (Timber Press, $14.95) by Paul Bonine, a plant wholesaler in Oregon.

Many garden centers feature dark-foliage plants, typically purple fountain grass, black elephant ear, ti plant, purple queen, canna and coleus. But for more unusual selections, you'll have to shop at specialty nurseries, seed catalogs and mail-order nurseries.

Each year at Halloween, many local nurseries stock the bat flower plant, which is considered one of the most striking flowers in the world. It produces a purplish-brown flower and whiskers that suspend like a bat from the blossom. An evergreen, tender perennial, it prefers part shade and moist, but not damp, soil.

Some gardeners add a black plant or two throughout the garden for bold impact among brighter plants. Mixing dark maroon sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas 'Blackie') with the bright green variety (Ipomoea batatas 'Margarita') is a popular planting in containers.

Despite their dark demeanor, some black plants do produce brightly colored flowers, such as the deep burgundy canna (Canna 'Australia') with its orange flowers and the dark purple pineapple lily (Eucomis comosa 'Oakhurst') that overflows with pinkish-white flowers. The dark foliage makes the vivid colors of the blooms pop.

And perhaps these plants best show that despite the appeal of the dark side, we're naturally drawn to the light.

Yvonne Swanson is a freelance writer based in St. Petersburg. She can be reached at yvonnesgarden@gmail.com.

. fast facts

Black plants

for Florida

These dark-hued plants should do well in our growing conditions:

• Chocolate sunflower (Helianthus annuus 'Chocolat')

• Pineapple lily (Eucomis comosa 'Oakhurst')

• Daylily (Hemerocallis 'Ed Murray')

• Elephant ear (Colocasia 'Black Magic')

• Delphinium (Delphinium elatum 'Kissed by Chocolate')

• Dahlia (Dahlia 'Chocolate Sundae' and 'Karma Choc')

• Pincushion flower (Scabiosa 'Ace of Spades')

• Viola (Viola x williamsii 'Velour Frosted

Chocolate')

• Korean angelica (Angelica gigas)

• Canna (Canna 'Australia')

• Calla lily (Zantedeschia 'Black Pearl')

• Chocolate vine (Akebia quinata)

• Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus ex. 'Black Prince')

• Chocolate columbine (Aquilegia viridiflora 'Chocolate Soldier')

• Aster (Aster lateriflorus 'Lady in Black')

• Coleus (Coleus

'Chocolate Mint')

• Chocolate cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus)

• Geranium (Geranium pratense 'Hocus Pocus')

• Coral bells (Heuchera 'Chocolate Ruffles')

• Chocolate orchid (Oncidium 'Sharry Baby')

• Iresine (Iresine 'Purple Lady')

• Nasturtium (Nasturtium 'Black Velvet')

• Pansy (Pansy 'Black Devil')

• Salvia (Salvia guar. 'Black and Blue')

Source: Yvonne Swanson

Looking for these plants?

Chocolate Flower Farm: This Langley, Wash., farm is the only specialty nursery in the country dedicated to dark-hued plants such as these above. Go to chocolateflowerfarm.com to see more photos and to order Florida-friendly plants. You can call the farm at (360) 221-2464.

In the garden, come over to the dark side 10/16/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 16, 2009 5:30am]

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