Add style and mystery to your plot with these dramatic and unusual blooms DIARMUID GAVIN
At the height of summer, many of our plots are full of vibrant colours. Green is usually predominant, whether it’s the perfect green lawn or shrubs and trees in full leaf.
There’s a rainbow of flowers from the cooler end of the spectrum of white, blue and lavender right through to warmer oranges, pinks, yellows and red. Outside of this, there is a category of really interesting plants with the colour of their foliage or flowers so intense they almost appear black.
Most flowers that we categorise as black are in fact extremely dark blues, purples or some of the time dark reds, but they are perceived as black and look amazing in planting schemes – adding an extra depth of mystery and style.
Achieving a flower that is actually black has to be the Holy Grail of gardening.
As far back as Victorian and Edwardian times, plant-breeders went to extreme lengths to create black flowers – the novel The Black Tulip was written in 1850 by Alexandre Dumas reflecting the fascination.
Today, tulip varieties such as ‘Queen of the Night’ and ‘Black Parrot’ are some of the most desired cultivars.
Nearly all the examples that appear in garden centres and botanical institutes will be the result of many years of painstaking work where generations of plants that happen to produce darker and
darker petals are selected out and bred on in an effort to get the petals closer to black.
Scabious ‘Black Knight’ is a must-have if you love black flowers. Much like the natural form, the flowers are circular and made up of hundreds of tiny petals, the most perfect landing pad for bees which love them, in the deepest burgundy – nearly black and stunning.
Hollyhocks are great for vertical drama – Alcea rosea ‘Nigra’ has a ‘black’ bloom that is more like a chocolate maroon which becomes black and creates a dramatic background and extra dimension to a border in mid-summer.
Papaver ‘Black Paeony’ has beautiful ruffled rich dark plum petals and Iris chrysographes will turn heads with its astonishing almost-black petals.
Black foliage plants are very highly pigmented so require a lot of sunlight to retain their colour, though there are a few that will actually start to fade in the sun.
Pay particular attention to their ideal growing conditions and ensure that you have the appropriate place to accommodate them in your garden before you decide to buy.
Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ is the most gorgeous member of the elder family having deep red to black stems and intricately cut foliage that becomes a fantastic foil for surrounding plants and flowers.
Every summer flat elder-like bracts of tiny white flowers adorn the shrub, which is much easier to control than the natural tree form of elder, which is highly self-seeding.
Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’ has unusually shaped red-to-black leaves that are deep-folded and tighter globes of white flowers in summer. It is arching and slightly faster-growing than the Sambucus.
Both of these will thrive in partial shade or full sun, so position them in a good spot for the most striking focal points.
There’s a risk that some black plants will look gloomy so are best shown off when contrasted with lime-green foliage or with contrasting colours such as red and yellow.
Achieving a flower that is actually black is the Holy Grail of gardening