Paint It Black: Using Black Plants to Add Drama to Your Landscape

Kate McIntyre

There is something undeniably happy and hopeful about most plants. From the bright and smiling faces of Gerbera daisies to the profusion of blooms on a butterfly bush, most plants speak of joy and life.  Some plants, though, have bad attitudes. Their black leaves or blossoms cast a pall over the landscape. When used sparingly and judiciously, though, they can highlight the brighter plants around them.

Good interior designers know that rooms look better with a touch of black in them. Darker colors make lighter colors more vibrant, and lighter colors show off the deepness and richness of darker colors. The same thing holds true for garden design. Nothing is more striking than pairing the dark foliage of "Black Magic" Elephant Ear with the tall white spires of Nicotiana.

Here are a couple of popular black plants:

Elephant Ear "Black Magic"

"Black Magic" Elephant Ear is one of the tallest black plants. It can grow five to six feet tall, with velvety black leaves up to two feet in length. The leaves make a powerful backdrop for gardens.

Viola "Molly Sanderson"

These violas only grow eight inches tall, but they pack a lot of black into a small package. The flowers are pure black, with only a touch of yellow in their centers. Like all violas, they tend to reseed themselves.

Black or Bronze?

Keep in mind that not all plants with "black" in their names are truly black. Many are more maroon, bronze, or deep purple. Black plants also can look more or less black depending on the light. To make black plants look as dark as possible, put them near plants with white flowers.

Though people are more interested than ever in black plants, they were first popular in Victorian times. If you are landscaping around a Victorian house, some touches of black not only add interest, but are historically accurate as well.


"A Chocolate Lover's Eden,"
"Add Mystery to Your Garden with Black Flowers," 

About the Author

Kate McIntyre is a writer in Portland, Oregon. She holds a B.A. from Harvard University and an M.F.A. in fiction writing from Oregon State University.

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