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.