(A bit of context. This blog will feature regular reviews of books, horticultural products, and interesting related items, under this proviso. All items reviewed will be purchased by the reviewer in advance, at full retail price, in order to prevent any
conflict of interest. Information about upcoming releases is greatly appreciated, but receipt of advance copies or samples will be announced well in advance and will not influence the final review. The world has enough Jeff Craigs and Maria Salases as it is.)
Errata: a bit of digging through the hard drive, and it’s amazing what you find. In this case, this was a review originally intended for Gothic Beauty magazine, that never saw print and never got a response after it had been submitted over two years ago. And so it goes.
Black Plants: 75 Striking Choices For the Garden by Paul Bonine. Timber Press, 2009. 160 pp., $14.95 US. ISBN 978-0-88192-981-2
As with roses or carnivorous plants, plants with black flowers or foliage have a bit of a bad rap in goth gardening. It’s hard to have sympathy for the amateur enamored with the “if I paint my turtle black, will it be spooky” assumptions of having a garden full of black blooms. Problem is, skipping out on all dark plants also limits the palette, and it prevents appreciation of some truly spectacular plants.
In Black Plants, Paul Bonine gives both photos and bare-basic care instructions for some of the more interesting dark plants available to gardeners today. Not all are black: many are a very deep purple or red, but all of them get their distinctive coloration from pigments known as anthocyanins. Many of the “black” varieties aren’t really black: they’re just such deep reds or violets that they appear to be black in dim light. Many, such as most of the varieties of iris listed in this book, only have black highlights or undergrowth, thereby bringing their main color to the forefront. They range from the easily obtained and ready to grow (daylilies of the cultivar “Night Wings”) to the extremely rare and tender (various members of the Dracula genus of orchids) all the way to the edible (the Capsicum pepper “Black Pearl”, with deep black foliage and edible if extremely hot peppers that look like black pearls when unripe). This book is in no way a complete listing of black plants in general cultivation (just a discussion of dark roses would take up two books of this size, and it came out too late to include two new varieties of Sarracenia pitcher plant just recently described), but it’s a grand start.
As a general rule, I tell anybody looking for garden books that they should always look for the Timber Press logo on the spine. I’ve been stating this for so long that friends joke that I should be getting commissions on sales. The truth of the matter, though, is that Timber Press puts out some of the most interesting and thorough books on flora available today, and Black Plants proudly keeps up that tradition. If nothing else, get it for the photos, and use it to daydream a bit during winter when making plans for the next year’s garden. However, if you’re smart, it’ll become inspiration for a garden that uses these rarities to best effect, causing visitors to stop and gasp at just the right time and for the right reasons.