The Simple Things - - NEST - Words: SO­PHIE SELLARS

Ju­di­cious use of black and other deep, rich colours can to­tally trans­form your out­side space, adding depth and drama to your borders, and pro­vid­ing a strik­ing back­drop for bright flow­ers and fo­liage. Black planters look bold and smart, while dark walls or fences can en­large small gar­dens by re­ced­ing into the back­ground, rather than defin­ing your bound­aries, which a lighter colour will do. Plants with deep, rich fo­liage stand out against paler colours, while black flow­ers bring a re­ally un­usual touch. Em­brace your dark side and in­tro­duce a touch of noir el­e­gance to your borders.


A few care­fully se­lected dark plants can add in­ter­est to even the small­est gar­den, but be sure to plant them in sunny spots, so they’re not swal­lowed by the shade.

Ophio­pogon planis­ca­pus ‘Ni­grescens’, or black mondo grass, is a low-main­te­nance peren­nial with spi­dery leaves that works well at the front of borders. Pair with the soft, sil­very fo­liage of Stachys byzantina ( lamb’s ear), or plant be­side a light

“Plants with deep, rich fo­liage stand out against paler colours, while black flow­ers bring a re­ally un­usual touch”

gravel path to cre­ate an eye-catch­ing mono­chrome fea­ture. The stately Cot­i­nus

cog­gy­gria ‘Royal Pur­ple’, oth­er­wise known as the smoke bush, is a mag­nif­i­cent shrub that adds height to the back of borders. Its rounded, deep bur­gundy leaves act as a won­der­ful back­drop for white-flow­er­ing hy­drangeas and vibur­nums, or let a pale pink clema­tis scram­ble art­fully over it. Al­ter­na­tively, use plants that off­set vi­brant flow­ers against their own dark leaves.

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Ox­ford’ flaunts its bright orange blooms from June un­til Oc­to­ber, in brazen con­trast to its deep bronze fo­liage. Or if you’re look­ing for some­thing more »

ex­otic, try Canna ‘Trop­i­canna Black’. Its tall, scar­let flow­ers daz­zle above large, lush choco­late leaves, adding showy glam­our to pots and tubs.

If it’s black flow­ers you’re after, there’s still time to plant Vi­ola ‘Sor­bet Black De­light’. These enig­matic beau­ties will erupt in spring, work­ing their dark magic among your borders and hang­ing bas­kets. They’re ex­tremely hardy plants and will flower for months on end. Helle­bores are an­other spring favourite, and the va­ri­ety ‘Black Swan’ is a real show­stop­per. Plant them among snow­drops for an ar­rest­ing dis­play in late win­ter.


Pre­fer more colour­ful plant­ing? Con­sider us­ing black ac­ces­sories through­out the gar­den in­stead. Bright flow­ers sparkle against gran­ite-look planters, and black paving is a strik­ing foil for green lawns. Black rat­tan fur­ni­ture stands out on a sunny pa­tio, or use wrought iron for a more tra­di­tional look. Even a pond with a black liner can add a wel­come shim­mer of dark­ness to your gar­den, although it’ll need proper main­te­nance to en­sure it doesn’t turn a lurid green.


Black walls and fenc­ing can be used to con­tem­po­rary ef­fect, even in the small­est of spa­ces. A nat­u­ral tim­ber or light fence will high­light the bound­aries of your gar­den, but a dark fence blends dis­creetly into the back­ground, mak­ing a small gar­den ap­pear big­ger, and al­low­ing colour­ful plants to shine.

The charred-oak ef­fect in­flu­enced by Ky­oto gar­dens in Ja­pan ( known as Shou

Sugi Ban) and beloved of Chelsea show gar­dens in re­cent years, is eye­catch­ing, but your neigh­bours might not take too kindly to you blow-torch­ing the fence (there are help­ful clips on YouTube with in­struc­tions, how­ever, if you’re tempted). Al­ter­na­tively, you could buy ready-charred wood from a sup­plier (qt­d­ sells charred pine, ash and tulip cladding), or achieve a sim­i­lar, though not as lus­trous, look with a good dark wood stain such as Ebony Satin Wood­stain by Ron­seal.

Vi­brant green fo­liage pops against black wood­work, so con­sider stain­ing trel­lises or per­go­las. And if an old shed is some­thing of an eye-sore in your gar­den, paint it black. It’ll dis­ap­pear as if by magic.

“Black walls and fenc­ing can be used to great ef­fect… mak­ing a small gar­den ap­pear big­ger, and al­low­ing colour­ful plants to shine”


Even if you don’t have the lux­ury of a gar­den, dark plants will add el­e­gance and in­trigue in­doors. Aeo­nium ‘Zwart­cop’ is a splen­did dusky-leaved suc­cu­lent that will thrive on a sunny win­dow sill, or grow the gothic Coleus ‘Black Dragon’, which un­furls dark, ruf­fled leaves laced with vivid pink veins. For some­thing truly sin­is­ter, try Tacca chantri­eri, aka the black bat flower or devil’s flower. Its som­bre, spread­ing flow­ers spew out mon­strous long whiskers, and it ap­pears to have eyes that fol­low you around the room. You can sow the seeds at any time of the year, but you’ll need to recre­ate the hu­mid­ity of its na­tive Asia to keep it in tip-top health. Put it in a con­ser­va­tory and give it a reg­u­lar mist­ing with a spray bot­tle through­out the sum­mer. Or just keep it in the bath­room to weird out un­wanted house guests.

3Low-main­te­nance black mondo grass.2 Dark planters bring an in­stant up­date.3 Canna ‘Trop­i­canna Black’ com­bines choco­late leaves and scar­let flow­ers




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Paint a fence black 1 and it will re­cede, mak­ing your gar­den look big­ger.2 Dark paving such as slate in­stantly up­dates a pa­tio.3 Trel­lis painted black makes an at­trac­tive foil for all kinds of green­ery.4 Prac­tise the art of black magic and watch an ugly shed dis­ap­pear

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