Is there any colour more elegant than black? When it comes to fashion black has long been a favourite of many designers, bringing an understated chic style to any outfit or collection. It is a truly timeless colour-think of the little black dress, the black suit and the black t-shirt, staples I can’t ever see going out of fashion.
Within garden design the colour black is used in various different ways. It is often used when we want to make something disappear into the background, vertical walls or fences at the end of a garden for example, can seem to blend into the distance when painted in a soft black. I used a soft burnt black for the boundaries of my Bloom in the Park show garden in 2013 and the effect was one that allowed the plants and flowers to take centre stage, allowing the boundaries to disappear.
Black is also a useful colour for paving materials and many slate or limestone tiles can be named black. These are often deep grey and appear black when wet or finished with a sealant. This can be incredibly effective way of creating a strong modern landscape.
Black can also be found in planting but similar to paving, plants that are said to have ‘black’ foliage or flowers are mostly deep shades of plum, purple or deep chocolate brown. There are many fascinating ‘black’ plants available to add to your garden and for some plant collectors the sourcing of black plants has become a true obsession with some travelling the world to find the darkest shade of flower for their collection.
You don’t need to travel across the world to start your own small collection of black plants however as there are many varieties easily available that make a rich statement in the garden. Some examples of black beauties are the readily available are plants such as Helleborus orientalis with its divine black flower, the rich black grasslike plant Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ and the gorgeous Hollyhock-Alcea rosea ‘Nigra’. All these are great ways of introducing some drama into the garden.
One of the most striking, and easily available black plants is the Heuchera. Heucheras are clump forming perennials which are very versatile and highly adaptable in the garden. These lovely hardy, at times semi-evergreen plants, come in a huge range of colours which are more likely found in candy sweets. Colours vary massively from delicious plum purples, peachy oranges and zesty lime green. The names of many varieties, take for example ‘Plum Pudding’, ‘Caramel’ or ‘Apple crisp’, hint at the rich hues of the flowers leaves. One of the most striking cultivars is the ‘Plum Pudding’ variety which is an absolutely stunning shade of purple black and has frothy spires of soft white flowers on plum stems.
There is certainly nothing unassuming about this plant but considering its intensity in colour it is one plant that has to be used very carefully in the garden border. One main tip is using only one of this plant variety at a time. If you’re after a fiery display then you may get away with mixing a few similar coloured ones such as say ‘Caramel’, ‘Blondie’ and ‘Firechief’ but I would recommend to steer away from combining greens, plums, reds and limes all in one border or it will trill start to resemble a sweet shop! The ‘Plum pudding works wonderfully scattered in a bed of purples, soft pinks, lilac and silver.
Three more dark plants to shine in the garden
Helleborus × hybridus Harvington black
This flower is an absolute showstopper. The colour of its flowers are almost true black, making it one of the darkest ones available. Hellebores have wonderful waxy, evergreen foliage which really fills out the border in Winter. There are many varieties out there ranging form frilly, filled baby pinks such as the Helleborus × hybridus Harvington double pink to the simple Helleborus niger, the original variety of this plant. None are quite as striking as this black variety though, a true showstopper for the Winter garden. It grows to 60cm high and spreads 90cm.
Alcea rosea ‘Nigra’
Hollyhocks always remind me of the South of France, where so many of these grow in the coastal gardens of the Charente Maritime region. I brought some seeds back from holidays about 10 years ago and my pink hollyhocks still come back year after year. This variety has wonderful rich near black flowers with yellow centres and can grow up to 2 metres in height. The spread is relatively neat, about 60cm. This one is considered a biennial and is a fantastic addition to the cottage style garden. It looks wonderful teamed with colours such as orange, pink and lilac.
Iris chrysographes ‘black-flowered’
This beautiful Iris with rich almost black flowers is a great way of bringing the colour black into the garden. It is a beardless Iris and is related to the Siberian Iris and is a wonderful addition to a garden which has a boggy area and will thrive beside a pond or area of water. It grows to about 50cm in height and dreads the same, forming clumps of new plants which can be divided and re-grown elsewhere. I love the velvety texture of the flowers and they look wonderful combined with ornamental grasses and with purple and lilac companions.
Black geometry | When ancient and modern meet
Over the past few years geometric jewellery has been a key trend in jewellery, a perfect match for the many minimalist fashion collections on the runways. A new Dublin based company ‘Leko & Leko’ has taken the geometric approach and combined it with a surprising material. Using small pieces of bog oak, the father and daughter team have created a small collection of absolutely gorgeous pieces. Ivan Leko is a retired agronomist with traditional hand-making skills while Ruza Leko’s background is in graphic and exhibition design. Having worked at Science Gallery Dublin as a lead designer for 5 years she set up her own graphic and exhibition design practice studiosuss.ie, and then decided to set up Leko & Leko with her father. The simplicity of the geometric shapes are bold and beautiful and yet somehow retain an elegance and a delicate nature. Perhaps this is down to the choice of the material, an ancient oak that has spent thousands of years submerged in the bogland. Using a material so ancient and juxtaposing it with clean modernist shapes makes for a very exciting piece of art….I mean jewellery. For more check out www.lekoandleko.com