I guess I’m a little old-fashioned because, yes, I occasionally still buy books. Even with all the information you can find on the web, there’s something satisfying in holding a book in the hand. It’s the difference between looking at a calendar of flowers and actually holding one in your hand, feeling the softness of the petals and taking in the fragrance.
Last week’s mail brought me a copy of a book I posted on recently, Karen Platt’s Black Magic & Purple Passion: Dark Foliage and Flowers for the Garden. This is a slender little volume that has its heart a long listing of plants that have black or dark purple attributes: flowers, foliage, or stems. Most of the plant descriptions come with brief information on cultivation and propagation.
There are dozens of photos of individual plants, but because of the economics of publishing they’re all clustered on the glossy pages in the center of the book. It would of course have been more useful to have the images next to the descriptions.
Earlier I posted a couple plants in my garden that I’d consider black or dark purple, and this book listed one of them, black bamboo.
The book additionally mentions a couple others that are already in my garden. Aeonium arboreum
, shown here in semi-shade against the green leaves of an aloe, is a succulent that has found a home in many Southern California gardens. I’d definitely consider it to have leaves that are very close to black. It’s incredibly easy to grow as long as it doesn’t freeze.
Another of the plants listed in the book, Penestemon digitalis ‘Husker Red,” is one that I’d consider more to be more of a green plant that’s got gentle red-purple tints to the leaves. My plant lives in a semi-shaded location, however, and given more sun it might develop darker foliage. Also, what one person would consider dark purple, another might call a totally different color. Time to get out the Pantone color charts!
Salvia lyrata ‘Purple Volcano’
Once you start thinking about all the color you see in the plants around you, you could easily add to the author’s list of dark plants. Here’s the ‘Purple Volcano’ clone of a US
East-Coast sage, Salvia lyrata
. The flowers are insignificant, but the foliage is this gorgeous dark purple. I have it planted here with yellow-and-red gaillardia, though I think I’d have done better pairing it with pinks or blues. Well, it is
transplanting season, and it’s amazing what a person can do with a shovel in five minutes’ time…
Three planting diagrams in the book give some ideas about how these black flowers and plants could be used. One pairs the dark plants with gold colors, and a second uses silver-colored plants for a foil. The third shows an “island” planting, where a walkway surrounds a bed of dark plants. I’m sure that the planting schemes would give you striking results.
Unfortunately the book doesn’t have any real-world photos of these planting suggestions or of any of the dark plants in a real garden setting, and that’s probably the books weakest link. Personally, I can begin to imagine how a small handful of plants might look together, but I really have to see photos of the more complicated plantings for them to make any sense to me.
Somehow all this color-theming seems like a particularly British thing–just think of Gertrude Jekyll’s influential White Garden, planted in 1948 at Sissinghurst. (And of course, Jekyll is well known for her discussions of garden color.)
Even if you don’t want to cross over to the dark side, this books has many good ideas for plants that you could use to provide pockets of dark interest throughout your own garden. What better way to appreciate the brilliant flowers most of us have in our gardens than by having some subtle, dark plants to set them off?