Black is not a colour naturally associated with vibrant gardens, yet it can add drama to any outdoor space, setting off lighter colours and creating silhouettes and shadows.
New varieties are coming on to the market all the time, so there is no shortage of black plants to choose from, whether it be grasses, annuals or perennials – you can have black in every season.
While some fear that black plants may lose impact within a shady border, others maintain that black mixes easily with other colours, above all with green, chartreuse, gold and silver.
Good candidates include the really deep blue hyacinths such as Hyacinth ‘Midnight Mystic’, a previous winner at Chelsea Flower Show, developed by Thompson & Morgan, bred by crossing blue and white varieties of the plant to produce a black-flowering type that flowers in April.
It’s heavily scented too, so leave it near your patio doors or windows so you can inhale the perfume in spring. There’s also H. ‘Dark Dimension’, a deep blue variety that darkens to almost black.
Other dramatic flowers include almost-black tulips such as Tulipa ‘Queen of Night’, a deep velvety type that contrasts well with acid-yellow and warm orange wallflowers, and Tulipa ‘Paul Scherer’, which combines beautifully with white varieties including ‘Très Chic’.
Among the darket of irises is the Iris chrysographes, a clump-forming beardless type ideal for a damp spot that produces dramatic flowers over strap-like grey-green leaves and flowers in May and June.
If you want a touch of drama in summer, look for Gladioli ‘Blackjack’, its tall elegant stems producing dark crimson flowers between May and July.
For an eye-catching late spring and early summer flower, take a look at the unusual Aquilegia ‘Black Barlow’, which forms a low growing fern-like, grey-green mound with distinctive, pom-pom dark plum-purple, almost black flowers which develop in early spring and summer.
This unusual perennial grows to just 30cm tall and looks great in patio pots or at the front of borders or raised beds.
Winter colour can also be gained from the Lenten rose Helleborus ‘Double Black’ or Helleborus ‘Queen of the Night’, a fleshy leaved evergreen with spectacular deep purple to nearly black, that flowers from December to April, with contrasting yellow stamens.
Evergreen perennials are of huge value in the garden throughout the year and there’s plenty of drama with the Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ (black mondo). This grass grows to 20cm forming thick tufts of strap-shaped leathery black leaves 20-30cm in length. It produces racemes of small purplish flowers in summer followed by glossy black berries.
It thrives in moist but well-drained soil in sun or partial shade and is ideal as an edging plant in borders, or underplanted with roses and other shrubs.
Pennisetum ‘Purple Majesty’ is another wonderful grass with showy purple leaves and fabulous black flowers in July. Its long, narrow seedhead has attractive bristles good for floral arrangements and at maturity, this annual is 1.5m in diameter.
Foliage and Stems
Black foliage provides an amazing contrast to flowers and other lighter foliage, and you could start with the wonderful heuchera, which comes in a huge range of colours, from acid green to almost black.
For instant effect plant contrasting varieties together, such as the deep purple ‘Black Pearl’ next to the acid green ‘Lime Marmalade’.
If you want something taller and have plenty of room, black bamboo, Phyllostachys nigra, may fit the bill.
The black deciduous shrub Sambucus nigra ‘Eva’ (also known as ‘Black Lace’) has dramatic deeply dissected purplish-black foliage from spring to autumn, and bears pale-pink blooms from from May to June and blackish-red berries in autumn. Plant it in full sun for the best effect.