I’m Dreaming of a Black Garden

Marigold photo via Shutterstock

I never thought I’d have the patience or the fortitude to plant a themed garden, but all the sudden I’m thinking about a very dark garden.  Ironically, dark gardens need a lot of light:  my ‘Black Lace’ sambucus goes green in the shade but gets very dark in the sun.  Hmmmm.

I’ve made a list of all the usual dark foliage plants, and I have Timber’s lovely little Black Plants book–but what are your favorites?



  1. Japanese eggplant! I’m not sure what variety mine is, I picked it up at the Japanese grocery, but it has stunning violet flowers, midnight black stems and black veined leaves.

  2. Any of the Black Ornamental Sweet Potato Vines
    Black Pearl Ornamental Pepper
    Bambino, or new this year, Pot Black Eggplant
    Purple Majesty Ornamental Millet – Penesetums
    Purple Basils

    These are all annuals and go in my containers.

  3. The Prince and Lady in Black asters have great black leaves. There are too many callas with almost black flowers to name. Smoke tree Royal Cloak has fabulous almost black leaves, too.

  4. Black snakeroot/cohosh (actaea) ‘chocoholic’!!! Black in shade too with gorgeous white late summer blooms.

  5. Darn it! Now you’ve got me searching for a black leaved Phlox Lord Clayton. I tried google to figure out what my phlox with black new leaves is, and found this other.

  6. Ligularia Britt Marie Crawford has wonderful dark color in my garden, in sun and part shade. I’m thinking of trying it in full shade too, since it does so well everywhere else and divides easily.

    • Ann, your Ligularia will languish in full shade. I moved mine to a shadier spot this year and it rapidly declined, so I did a bit more research and realized that although it likes damp feet, and therefore does do okay in semi shade where the ground stays more consistently moist, it really prefers to be in more sun vs. less.

  7. I have a volunteer amaranth growing among the beans this year. I haven’t seen it used this way, but I bet those deep-red leaves would stand out if planted among some black foliage! Imagine a red-black-purple garden!

  8. Black mondo grass, black elephant ears (there are several cultivars), a few of the black hellebore clones, are the most “true” black plants I can think of. Black bamboo, black pussy willow catkins add some black to your winter bones. Blood red roses mix in well too.

  9. Katie – are you thinking of ichiban eggplant? I plant some most years just for its looks, but it’s pretty tasty, too.

    Blackjack sedum is almost black…

    I would also consider some ghost white here and there for foliage contrast, such as a mass of artemesia.

  10. I have a small black garden tucked in a non-productive corner of my vegetable garden. The blackest plants are black mondo grass, a dark heuchera, and some of the coleus (black patterning on green or red leaves). The blackest flowers are ‘Bowles Black’ viola, a black hollyhock, and ‘Queen of the Night’ tulip. Black ornamental sweet potato doesn’t do well in my garden so I’ve given up growing it. ‘Black Scallop’ ajuga is a nice black plant but doesn’t like my garden either. Next year I’d like to add a black elephant ear because it’s a true black. So many of my ‘black’ plants have turned out to be chocolate or dark brown or deep red-brown or dark purple, but not black. And many of the flowers are either not black enough or else they’re so lost in their green foliage that the Black Garden effect is lost. I also have a collection of skulls and bones that I’ve found; the white contrasts nicely with the black. In addition, I picked up some discounted gargoyle statues after Halloween last year. And I have a corpse lily with a blood red-black flower that goes well with the skulls and gargoyles.

  11. ohh, i love the idea of the skulls and bones to contrast with the black plants. I am officially going to steal that idea.

    Meanwhile, Amy, you may want to google up a source for black cotton plants/seeds.
    The boll is still bright white, but the foliage is a red-purpley-black. very, very, very cool and sexy plant. And the bolls make great ornaments on the plant or in a bowl on the table at all stages of development.

    And the turning to green in the shade has a simple explanation. Since sunlight is food to plants, a hungrier plant living in the shade can’t produce as much of the anthocynans, etc. that mask the normal green color of the foliage.

    To get more light in your garden you may need to use what we call around here, “some chainsaw-herbicide.”

  12. aster divaricatus has beautiful wiry black stems that are kind of wavy. The flower is white, though.

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