The allure of 'black' blooms

Sunday, 02 December 2012

Hemerocallis Black Ambrosia

Desperate for a topic for today's blog, after an exhausting weekend, I happened to notice a perfect bloom on one of my favourite daylilies - Hemerocallis 'Black Ambrosia'. It is a very deep maroon with a yellow throat and a prolific bloomer at this time of year. It was one of first plants I chose when I created my 'black, white and silver border' in the back garden a few years ago. I have always been fascinated by 'black' flowers. There seems to be something so alluring, compelling and mysterious about them - and they have many possibilities for colour effects in the garden. Many of them have a beautiful textural quality as well, such as a silky sheen or a velvety surface. But caution needs to be exercised so that too many such flower are not massed together without contrasting colours around them, as the result could be rather grim!

Viola Bowles Black with Ajuga Black Scallop

Most so-called 'black' flowers are really very deep red, purple, burgundy, blue or brown, but one of the blackest of all is the dainty Viola tricolor cultivar 'Bowles' Black'. This is such a cute little flower, which self-seeded in my garden for many years. Sadly, only a couple came up this year. There is a black pansy cultivar too, with its larger blooms, that is close to true black. Another plant that has very close to jet black flowers is Salvia discolor, a very drought-tolerant shrub that has deep navy-black flowers in silver calyces, above silvery-green leaves. It is one of my favourite salvias and is in bloom almost all year round.

There are many 'black' daylily cultivars, though in general they tend to be a very deep purple or maroon colour. I use several different cultivars in my black, white and silver border, including 'Black Plush' and 'Tuscawilla Blackout' along with 'Black Ambrosia'. I grow them near the green and white striped Miscanthus sinensis 'Variegatus', which provides a contrasting background for the flowers; in another part of the border I have the dark-leaved Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' to echo the dark daylily flowers. These daylilies have a bright yellow centre and I am toying with the idea of planting some of them in another border that has golden foliage (such as golden Duranta), as I think this could be a vibrant combination. In the black and white border, I have some very dark tall bearded Iris (their name tags, alas, lost long ago), which are actually a very deep purplish-blue. There are many very dark-flowered Iris cultivars.

Geranium phaeum

Hybrid hellebores (Helleborus x hybridus) have been bred in recent years to produce near-black cultivars. I like to grow these with pure white snowflake bulbs (Leucojum aestivum), which bloom at the same time, and silvery groundcovers tolerant of shade, such as some of the Lamium maculatum cultivars, as these provide a suitable backdrop to highlight the deep tints of the hellebore blooms. Also for shadier spots, Geranium phaeum (pictured above) has extremely dark flowers. In the lovely cultivar 'Samobor', the foliage is also decorated with black markings.

Pelargonium sidoides

For sunnier spots, there are some Aquilegia vulgaris cultivars with very dark petals, including the all-black 'Black Barlow' and the black and white 'William Guiness' (syn. 'Magpie'). I find the latter very easy to grow and it has self-seeded in my garden. There are some very dark Dianthus cultivars and I was recently given a cutting of a very deep burgundy one that was exceptionally beautiful, and I hope it strikes. Of a similar colour is a very robust Pelargonium - P. sidoides - that I have had growing successfully in a very hot, dry position for the past year. It has a very petite flower above attractive grey scalloped leaves with a velvety texture. I have it growing near the tough Helichrysum petiolare, which allows the little flowers to stand out.

When pairing 'black' flowers with other blooms, the base hue of the 'black' flower can be used to set off paler shades of the same hue in other blooms: so very deep blue flowers can be paired with paler blue ones; very deep, dark red ones with brilliant reds; deep purples with paler mauves, and so on. Other colours I like to see partnered with 'black' blooms include white, apricot and yellow.

Reader Comments

  • By Heinie South Africa Monday, 03 December 2012

    I agree, black flowers do attract special attention in the garden. I have some black flowers in the garden too but do not know how to add the photos here so I will start a new topic with "More black flowers" Heinie Thanks for doing that, Heinie! Deirdre

  • By Peta 2758 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 03 December 2012

    There"s rather a good book by Karen Platt called "Black Magic and Purple Passion" all about black flowers. Gil Teague might still have it. Some of my Begonias and the rather sinister Arisaemas and Asarums are on the dark side as is that marvellous black Calla lily. Maybe there is a little of a witch in me! Thanks for mentioning that book - it is a great source of plants of that colour. Karen Platt has also written books on silver, gold and emerald leaves and flowers - all useful. I have never seen that black calla. I have a lot of very dark leaves in the garden, which I like. Deirdre

  • By Tiffany 2040 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 03 December 2012

    I love "black" flowers too but sadly my "black" hellebores are much more of a dusky purply grey ... I"d love black irises ... Yes, the hellebores can vary a lot but I have some that really are very deep, dark purple. There is usually a good display of hellebores at Parkers Nursery at Turramurra every August where some good cultivars can be obtained. Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 03 December 2012

    enjoy black flowers too. It is surprising how appealing they are to so many people - does it suggest something about our characters? Another dark daylily is Vintage Bordeau, similar to the one described. The dark calla is a stunning flower, as are the Arisaemas and Asarums - mine flowered well the year before last, so hope for blooms this year. Some rhizomatous begonias have dark leaves, coupled with white flowers, a great contrast. I really must investigate this black calla! I like that combination of dark leaves and white flowers with the rhizomatous begonias. Deirdre

  • By Catherine 2071 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 03 December 2012

    No, I just don"t get the allure of black flowers. I feel the same as I did when I first saw black mondo years ago - why on earth would you want that in your garden? They look sad and funereal to me and, from a distance, almost like "shadowy holes" in the garden. That said, if anyone could make then work by providing that magic combination, it would be you! I know what you mean - black is sort of a non-colour. I think it all depends on the surrounding plantings and so that is why I like to have contrasting gold, silver or white/green variegated leaves nearby. On their own, black leaves and flowers can look, as you say, like a gap! Deirdre

  • By Ambra 2010 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 03 December 2012

    I recently bought a russet coloured "Cosmos" from a gardener who said he got the seeds from the US. I thought it unusual as I"ve only ever seen pink and yellow Cosmos. I"m also championing the return of the Gladioli - anyone know if they come in a "black" colour". I recently posted about Gladdies. http://ambradambra.wordpress.com/2012/11/14/i-gladiolus/ Thanks, Ambra. That cosmos sounds like Cosmos atrosanguineus - it"s a really lovely flower and worth trying in Sydney. Save seeds of it if it does flower as sometimes the plants don"t make it through our very hot February weather. Deirdre

  • By madeline 2145 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 03 December 2012

    Flower Power have a huge black bromelliad for sale at the moment, but at $69 I am trying to tell myself that I can afford it.I stopped in my tracks when I saw it sitting there begging me to take it home. The problem is that I would need to get H.O.D. (him out doors) to pick it up in his van and then I would get put through an inquision as to WHY I wanted it and WHERE was I going to put it, but anyway it"s something to dream about and hopefully they will bring the price down, well one may hope. I think many of us can empathise with you, Madeline. It is always easier to be able to sneak plants home ourselves and hide them rather than have to answer awkward questions as to why we need another plant for the garden! Hope the price comes down. It sounds a fab plant. Deirdre

  • By Jenny 2120 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 03 December 2012

    Your blog has just sent me out to check on my special clump of daylilies, deep maroon red but not "black" which have been flowering madly while we"ve been away. I was first intrigued by "black" in the garden years ago with Queen of the Night tulips and love my black mondo grass now! The black bat "orchid" is amazing. But I am a bit cynical: why persist in calling gorgeous maroon,deep plum etc flowers black when they aren"t? I know what you mean - so few flowers are actually truly black so we probably shouldn"t refer to them by that colour. Maybe I should have said "dark blooms". The bat orchid sounds intriguing. Deirdre

  • By Steve 2230 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 03 December 2012

    For Black I can"t go past The Black bat flower, Tacca chantrieri,it is out now looking as creepy (in a good way) as ever. I would love to grow it but think my garden is not warm enough. I guess there is something sinister about black flowers but maybe that is their appeal for me! Deirdre

  • By Alison 2125 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 03 December 2012

    I can"t agree with Catherine about Black Mondo. I"ve planted black mondo under a crepe myrtle and in autumn when the crepe myrtle drops its golden leaves it creates a wonderful bold garden picture as the gold contrasts beautifully with the black mondo. It makes me happy just to look at it. My black mondo is also under a crepe myrtle and I love it when the leaves fall on it in autumn. It does need a contrast, whether that be paving or a nearby planting of another colour. Deirdre.

  • By Helen 2154 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 03 December 2012

    On a visit to Ross Bolwell"s Blooming Greenery nursery I was talked into buying a black rhizomatous Begonia called "Blackie". I barely tolerated it in my garden, because black didn"t really appeal to me. Then Spring came and "Blackie sent up a frofusion of pink flowers that lit up the garden and lasted for easily two months. It is really lovely and I now have it here and there all through my garden, getting ready for next spring. Helen The contrast of the flowers against those dark leaves sounds fantastic. Deirdre

  • By Ambra 2010 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 03 December 2012

    Thanks for the information Deidre. I"ll certainly save the seeds early next year. cheers

  • By Robyn 3875 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Tuesday, 04 December 2012

    Have you grown Kennedia Nigicans? Flowers are black and yellow - very beautiful but don"t stand too close or it will snare you as it"s a rapid grower. We called it the monster plant and had terrible trouble removing it in the end. Thanks for the info on that plant, Robyn. Deirdre

  • By Jennifer 3796 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Saturday, 08 December 2012

    A few years ago I went through a Black/purple/white phase. I still have lots of purply black in the garden. Ever reliable aquilegia"s black barlow & magpie, show up each spring. I agree black mondo is a fabulous edging. My Black Knight salvia"s just starting flowers. I will have to find the discolor salvia you mention Deirdre. Madeline...I would be incapable of resisting the black bromeliad. Ive added more colour recently. Blacks seem to blend well with bright colours. Havent seen a clash yet! Thanks for that. I agree that the "black" flowers do seem to go with basically any other colour! I think I like them because of their sultry look. Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 04 December 2017

    Still a fan of "black" flowers. This year the daylilies are blooming magnificently. I have one called "Vintage Wine", a deep maroon colour, with a yellow throat, which last year produced meague blooms. Matters are reversed this year - it has been flowering, non-stop, for the past two weeks and really makes a statement. I also have a "white" one,(name escapes me, at the moment) which, although not planted near the former, would really make a good contrast.

  • By Gaynor 5044 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 04 December 2017

    I have the discolour salvia growing and I find I need to stake it. The leaves and stems feel sticky to the touch, but perhaps act as a pest deterrent because it never has pests or diseases. It is certainly a "different" looking plant and visitors comment on it, but are not always sure whether they like it or not. It does not really need to be planted with contrasting coloured plants, the leaves and calyces provide the silver-green contrast that it needs - as you mentioned , Deidre.

  • By lillian 3951 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 04 December 2017

    For rose lovers - I just learned that dark/"black" roses hold their colour (or non-colour)better in some shade. EG RSL Rose.

  • By Helen 7256 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Thursday, 07 December 2017

    I do love dark red & dark purple roses and they seem to be set off by the rose foliage, and often have the bonus of fragrance as well but I find other very dark flowers need very careful placement -- or risk looking like a black hole. I had some dark red hellebores in my previous garden which never looked effective and so they didnt come with me to my current abode.

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