Black Plants: Book Review

– Posted in: Book reviews, Plant info

Korean angelica

Korean angelica

Black Plants: 75 Striking Choices for the Garden by Paul Bonine is the kind of book that drives me wild. Seventy-five gorgeous plants and over half of them are not hardy for me. Wait. Maybe it’s just that half of the ones I want to grow aren’t hardy for me. I actually didn’t go through the book and count. At any rate, if you are a beginning cold climate gardener, stay away from this book. It will make you feel like there’s nothing you can grow in Zone 4.

Sooty sweet William

Sooty sweet William

If you’re a veteran gardener who has earned her icicles, just be warned this book incites plant lust and empty-walletitis. (Hey, if Carol at May Dreams Gardens can make up words, so can I.) Did you know there is a dark-foliaged rhododendron, ‘Ebony Pearl’? The color of its flowers is not even mentioned, but it is supposedly hardy to Zone 5. Maybe you knew about ‘Black Scallop’ ajuga, but I didn’t. (Its foliage is featured as the background image on the book’s cover.) I’d really love to grow the purple-leaved grape, but it’s only hardy to Zone 6. Sigh. And I wonder if Trillium chloropetalum ‘Volcano’ would do well in my Northeast garden, since it is native to the Northwest of North America? It’s hardy to Zone 5, but not all trilliums do well in other parts of the continent. These are the kinds of thoughts this book inspires.

Black pansy

Black pansy

There are no sources listed for any of these plants; you’ll have to hunt them down on your own. In some cases I thought the hardiness zone was a bit optimistic; Voodoo Lily in Zone 5? And the dahlias were rated as Zone 8, but if you grow them as annuals it doesn’t matter. (There are other plants listed as annuals, so I guess some people grow dahlias as perennials?) With a stack of catalogs at your feet and a cup of something warm by your side, this book is a fine accessory to the winter garden dreaming we do when it’s snowing outside, which, this winter, applies to more southern gardeners than I ever would have imagined.

The three flowers pictured all grew in my garden this summer and are featured in Black Plants. (Click on any of the images to see a larger image.) Timber Press sent me a complimentary copy to review.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

In its own way, frost may be one of the most beautiful things to happen in your garden all year . . . Don’t miss it. Like all true beauty, it is fleeting. It will grace your garden for but a short while this morning. . . . For this moment, embrace frost as the beautiful gift that it is.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

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E Grey July 17, 2012, 4:19 pm

Thanks for the info about this book, I will look for it. I garden in zone 5 and love dark plants– black mondo grass and actae brunette (aka cimicufuga) are some of my most sucessful so far. They look great with contrasting yellow or silver plants like artemesia and japanese forest grass etc or with white flowers in my garden I like the touch of exotic they add to my garden. I’d love to hear what else survives iin colder areas.

GloriaBonde February 14, 2010, 10:00 am

Hi Kathy, for years in my Zone 4 South Dakota Garden, I grew Black Hollyhocks. They were striking growing next to Black Eyed Susans. But, I admit they did look a bit “gothic” 🙂

Kathy Purdy February 14, 2010, 12:57 pm

Yes, black hollyhocks were one of the plants in this book that I could grow–if I wanted to. I would like to find seed for a single red hollyhock. So far I have only found red included in a mixture. I don’t want a mixture, I just want red!

Teresa February 13, 2010, 10:55 pm

Ahh the tribulations of living where winter really is winter . It is so frustrating sometimes when they tell you it will be hardy where you live and the cold proves them wrong. I swear half the time, they stretch the limits so more people will try them.

Kathy Purdy February 14, 2010, 12:55 pm

That is why I recommend this book for veteran gardeners, who will have a better idea of what they can get away with and who will view a dead plant as a lesson learned and experience gained, and not as a catastrophe or a failure on their part.

gail February 11, 2010, 8:58 pm

I thoroughly enjoyed your review Kathy. The words~Tolerates shade plant in moist, well draining soil~ make me pull my hair and scream! Seriously…what about dry shade under canopy trees! As dee said, “I feel your pain”. Love the black pansy…gail

Dirty Girl Gardening February 10, 2010, 7:16 pm

I’ve seen books about white flowers/gardens… but not black. Verry cool…

Robin Ripley February 10, 2010, 5:35 pm

Looks like a great book for the garden bookshelf. Although I enjoy the aesthetic idea of black flowers/plants, I’m afraid they would get lost here. I am trying to add color at this point–particularly in the shadier parts of the garden on the north side of the house.

Robin Ripley

Mr. McGregor's Daughter February 10, 2010, 4:54 pm

I don’t suppose the book offered any tips on how to use black plants in the garden, where they often create the “black hole effect” and disappear into the background?

Kathy Purdy February 10, 2010, 5:33 pm

You would find the occasional tip, but it wasn’t a systematic part of the book.

Tatyana February 10, 2010, 12:22 pm

Ebony Pearl? I want to look at it! We live in a rhododendron kingdom, and it should grow here. But a black pansy…. I might stick to colorful ones. Thanks for your review.

Kathy Purdy February 10, 2010, 5:35 pm

My black pansy was part of a mix. I think it works better with a contrasting color.

Lynn February 10, 2010, 12:03 pm

Ever since my mom was given an amazing near-black iris, I’ve always loved the dark plants. @Karen, I saw a very good-looking one, ‘Before the Storm,’ in the High Country Gardens catalog filed in the Xeric perennials. I empathize with Kathy and all the commenters on falling in love with a plant you can’t grow. One day I’ll live somewhere I can have a Vitex tree…

Nell Jean February 10, 2010, 9:03 am

Thank you for the review. Love the dark dianthus! I find uses for darkest purples and maroons. My black violas from seed were beautiful, but looked like black holes without proper companions to accompany. Does the book address how darks are enchanced by the use of other plants?

‘Black Pearl’ ornamental peppers make a great annual for the flower garden, with its black leaves, purple blossoms and black fruits. Be aware the fruits turn red when ripe.

Carol, May Dreams Gardens February 10, 2010, 7:33 am

That’s a good made up word, actually phrase. Our wallets do suffer from many ailments, brought about by gardening. Good book review, too.

Helen Yoest @ Gardening With Confidence February 10, 2010, 6:36 am

Excellent review and so good that is was done for your readers in cold climate. I have no desire to grow black plants, thus the title never spoke to me. We are in a zone 7b, so I suspect there may be more that I can grow, and would be curious to know that, at lease. H.

Pam/Digging February 10, 2010, 2:01 am

This kind of book exasperates me. I got a copy too, but after perusing all the plants that I can never grow (or even find for sale), I put it aside. I stick with regional books about plants. Window shopping is only fun for me if I know I can step inside the store if I want.

But perhaps this book, published last fall, was a Halloween gimmick?

Karen February 10, 2010, 1:56 am

This is the second time I’ve heard that book mentioned. I searched for a true black iris for years, still looking. Love the pansy and that hellebore on the cover is going to bust a lot of wallets, I bet! Trilliums are hard to grow sometimes even in the NW, as are many plants that require replication of forest floor conditions to thrive. I saw a lot of another dark-foliage rhodie, PJM, at the NW Flower & Garden show last week. It’s dark purple, not true black, but is tried and true in our climate… wonder if it’s hardy in yours?

Dee/reddirtramblings February 9, 2010, 9:52 pm

Kathy, what a great review of this book. I can’t grow the rhodie cause it’s too hot in Oklahoma, and our soil is alkaline, so I feel your pain. It seems like any book that is one size fits all, doesn’t fit many of us. 🙂 ~~Dee