Saturday, March 6

On "Black" Plants

In art classes, I was always taught that "true black" does not actually exist in nature.  Anything that the eye reads as black is really the darkest shade of blue, red, brown, green... and in general, I think that's probably true.

Take this begonia for example.  In the harsh light of a flash photo, it looks fairly flat-black as a backdrop to the Meyer lemon buds:

But in more natural lighting, you can see the shades of green in the center of each leaf, and the purple tinge to the outer part of each leaf:

'Black Lace' and 'Black Beauty' elderberry leaves are also more of a deep purple:

'Hillside Black Beauty' bugbane (actaea, nee cimicifuga) definitely shows its true green beneath the "black," especially on the newer foliage:

"Black" tulips (I grow both 'Black Hero' and 'Queen of Night') are more of a deep, deep wine color.  Here are two shots of "the Queen":

And here's one that shows how you can pop some color out of your "black" plants by placing them in the right spot.  The orange heuchera underneath really warms up 'Black Hero':

Even my pooch is actually a dark, dark brown--her coat glints with hints of red when you see her in the sunshine, even though she looks inky black (with snowy white markings) here:

So why am I thinking all of these black thoughts lately?  No, it's not winter depression, but something much more fun!  Part of my birthday present from Steve this year was the book Black Plants: 75 Striking Choices for the Garden by Paul Bonine.

I don't remember oohing and aahing over this one within earshot of Steve, but apparently I made my desire known as I read through one of my newsletters from Timber Press.  (You can go to their website and sign up if you want--Editor-in-Chief Tom Fischer's messages are great, and they let you know about different sales they offer. I just noticed that they're podcasting now, too, so I'm going to check that out this weekend.)

It wouldn't have been a far stretch for him to figure out that this would be a good gift for me, though.  My love of interesting foliage (especially dark foliage!) is pretty well documented.  Black Plants definitely feeds my dark foliage craving through its many pretty pictures--and I'm proud to be able to say that I already grow at least 16 of the dark beauties described within its pages!  (Yikes, that's more than 20%!!!)

If you're looking for guidance about how to site these dramatic plants within your garden, however, you'll need to look elsewhere... it's short on design tips and tricks.  But, hey, the drool factor is high.  And you might just be so inspired by one of these gorgeous plants that you'll make a place for it to live, if you have to!  But beware:  As my garden can attest, these plants do have a true dark side:  Plant one, and you will no doubt want more!

Note:  I have no relationship with Timber Press--outside of being a subscriber to their newsletter and a purchaser of some of the many books they publish--or with Paul Bonine.  My enthusiasm in the post above is purely my own, and I have received no compensation (including free products, etc.) of any type for this post.  (Frankly, I have linked to the above photo without their express permission, too, and will gladly take that part of this post down immediately if asked.)


Meagan said...

Wouldn't black show up in nature as part of decay? I'm also trying to decide if burnt embers in a fire are black... There's certainly a rainbow sheen, but it seems like there's black in there somewhere. Penguins? Zebrah Spiders? Butterfly markings? Surely lots of minerals are a true black. If black didn't exist in nature, could we even create it artificially?

I CAN'T think of any plants with black in them though. Maybe the centers of certain flowers? Do any orchids have black markings?

Unknown said...

But is it true black, or does it always have another secondary shade to it? (i.e. blue/black, etc.) This might be a question for your brother, actually, since he's the one who taught me that as I learned (with, *ahem* limited success thus far) to mix oil paints... :)

Now I'm wondering if coal is black. Onyx?

Meagan said...

Oxidized Iron strikes me as unquestionably black... At least I can't see any other colors in it. Charcole is (I think) where we first got black pigment. If they aren't black, I'm not sure what is... Naturally occurring or otherwise. A teacher saying black doesn't exist in nature reminds me of a teacher I had in highschool who said he didn't believe in Triangles (no joke).

growingagardenindavis said...

You certainly have a lot of 'black' plants Kim...guess that goes with the territory with the contrast studying! I love the orange heuchera/Black Hero combo.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Yes, I love the way the "black" plants contrast in the garden. I have a few myself. I would love to read this book too. I have seen it around. Belated Happy Birthday.

Benjamin Vogt said...

How does that actaea grow for you? What soil and light and water conidtions? Is it doing well? I ask because I'm thinking of planting like a dozen on the north side of my house, full to part shade, moist clay.

Love Timber Press, who doesn't. Tom Fischer emailed me a month or two ago and asked about my writing, and then asked to see my memoir. He enjoed it but decided it didn't fit the list. Oh well!

Unknown said...

Benjamin, the actaea/cimicifuga does reasonably well for me... given that it likes a wetter location, and I have DRY sandy soil. I have it in morning sun, and just moved it into a raised landscaping bed that the previous owners had made with beautiful rich soil. It's not as full as I would have liked for it to be, but given where it is located, I understand why. And when the flowers bloom, the scent is MAGICAL--so between that and the foliage, I'm sticking with it!

Nice to hear that Tom Fischer personally inquired about your work, by the way. He seems like a very interested, interesting guy... I honestly love to read his newsletter messages.

Leslie, I love that, too! I've never been so happy to see a tulip get lazy and sprawl across another plant... lol.

Greenbow Lisa, thanks for the birthday wishes! Re: the book, it's worth even just picking it up to flip through and drool, if you can find it at a library or have time to spend leafing through books at a bookstore.

Annie in Austin said...

Even if it's not perfectly black, the combination of Meyer's Lemon and black begonia looks terrific, Kim, and the book looks like a great gift. Belated happy birthday wishes, too!

I grow some supposedly black ophiopogons but they're really dark green. Guess a black plant here would have to be an indoor plant or the sun would fade it.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Teresa O said...

I learned in an art appreciation class that there is no such color as black. She went on to explain that white is the absence of color. If there is no color in white cannot it be a considered a color?

I've never grown plants so dark that they could be called black, but they are fascinating. The Queen of the Night tulip is exquisite.

joey said...

A lover of black, great post, Kim!

Gail said...

Kim, We just have to get close and look at flower in the eye to see the colors that nature has painted each petal. What a beautiful palette she uses.

I want more black in the garden and orange and purple and on and on! I have decided that after this variable year there will be more annuals!

I will check the book out and sign up for the newsletter from Timber Press.


Unknown said...

Austin Annie, thanks! I have black mondo grass, too... but mine are actually black. I wonder if they green up in more/direct sun like you guys get, though?

Teresa O, good points re: white and the absence of color. Does that mean that black (which is a saturation of ALL colors, at least as far as RGB-based computer screens are concerned) can be a color, too? Hmm...

Thanks, Joey!

Gail, that's such a lovely way to put things. More orange and purple and black for you, eh? Isn't there a Practically Perfect PURPLE Phlox out there somewhere that you could pick up?! *grin*

Heather's Garden said...

What a good manfriend! There's nothing better than receiving a present you really love. And happy birthday!

lisa said...

I really enjoyed this post, the images re-establish how appropriately named your blog is! Very cool :)

Unknown said...

Heather, thank you! (And yes, he did do a good job... :)

lisa, aww. That's such a nice compliment!

Meredith said...

Love the peachy heuchera with the black double tulip. You definitely know how to use this color family to good effect in your garden.

I've wanted to grow the heirloom black hollyhock for years. I just never seem to live in places that have the perfect place for it. Maybe after this next move...

Commonweeder said...

I love the photo of the orange heuchera with the purple tulip! Zowie!

Pam said...

There are some relatively new elephant ears that are pretty dang black (to me), although in certain light they are a deep deep purple - but I think 98% of the time they are black.

That book looks dreamy.

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