Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Scary Gardening

Creative Fall Planting Ideas for Your Darker Side!

Theme gardens are one of the most popular requests I receive from homeowners planning their landscapes. Gardens with a theme take on the personality of the owner or caretaker and shows off their unique personality. My favorite garden theme is the gothic garden planted with unearthly delights and ominous colors. The dark palette of phantasmal flora is diametrically opposed to a polite bedding of soft pastel cosmos, bright aqua blues of plumbago, lime green leaves of sweet potato, flamingo pink impatiens, bursting yellow and orange daylilies; so often used in Northern spring and Southern tropical garden styles.

The color black, while rare in nature, dark purple and blood red flowers, caliginous vegetables and the burgundy foreboding foliage of unusual plants all speak to the darker side of simple gardeners who harbor a little Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde mystique. You know that neighbor that across the street that makes you a little uncomfortable? You just can’t put your finger on it, but it may be their landscape.  Morticia Addams’ pet peeve in growing roses was that they had to come with all those blooms, thank goodness she would sigh and exclaim that the thorns make them all worthwhile.  It’s a matter of perception. 

Are gothic gardens a decadent but scary thought for you? It needn’t be. Here is a “re-vamped” list of some, but not all of the hundreds of varieties that you can use. All of these plants can be found either in garden centers or in specialty seed catalogs like the Whatcom Seed Company.

My own gothic backyard neighborhood watch.

The Dark Side of Rose Gardening

In the world of rosarians, there is no such creature as a black rose yet. Many horticulturists have tried but it really depends on how you hold them up to the sunlight or in what they are combined with that accents their ebony hues. Here are some roses that are very decadent and ooze with mysterious qualities. 

Black Jade, a miniature rose

Black Tea, not black really but dark brown

 Deep Secret

Deuil de Paul Fontaine, A purple-red moss rose

Ingrid Bergman, love deep, dark hue

Ink Spots, darker than Taboo, withstands more heat

Kentucky Derby




The Squire

Dark Star Basil
Other Floral Favorites

I recently saw a spectacular black hollyhock in New Hampshire and have also seen them for sale here in Florida called The Watchman, or 'Nigra'  Althaea nigra. These hollyhocks have been around for hundreds of years, even being one of Thomas Jefferson’s favorites.  

Hollyhock, 'Nigra' available at Thompson Seed Catalog

Snapdragons have a cultivar known as the ‘Black Prince” with dark velvety crimson blooms. Gladiolus has several dark black-red varieties called Morocco, Black Stallion, Black Swan, and Bewitched. Canna lilies of the variety Black Knight have not only deep red blooms, but also burgundy foliage. The plant is quite striking in a tropical garden. Cosmos have a burgundy-black flower that has a slight chocolate scent for a fragrance garden. Sunflowers are a wonderful easy growing flower that has more than their share of deep rich earth tones. One easy-to-find seed is Evening Sun. Day Lilies are very familiar in our gardens, but usually in their sunniest colors. Some of the lesser-known varieties are some of the most attractive, coming in maroon, deep red-black, and purple black varieties, including Smoking Gun, Midnight Magic, Night Wings, Cairo Night, and Dominic. Black Barlow columbine, Aquilegia vulgaris plena, Bowles black violas, Black Ball cornflower, jet-black pansy, and black dianthus can all be found to plant a monochromatic garden.

Ornamentals Can Revamp Your Garden

Using dark ornamentals and small ground covers can really revamp your garden. Loropetalums are being used as a shrub or hedge and are quite popular right now. They have a rich burgundy colored foliage and pretty pink flowers that go well with any Gothic theme.  The easily propagated Coleus comes in abundant varieties of black, purple, burgundy leaves. Black Mondo Grass, ophiopogon planiscopus Nigrescries is actually a member of the lily family. It has purple-black leaves and small pink flowers, which are followed by glossy black berries.

Ornamental Sweet Potato, Ipomoea bataas 'Blackie' has black leaves and stems, making it an excellent choice for a trellis or garden arbor to relax under during your moonlight romps. Carpet Bugle, also called ajuga, has midnight purple leaves and can be used as a ground cover. The fragrant buddleia, 'Black Knight' cultivar has blue-black flowers, which attract butterflies. Weeping beeches have black-purplish leaves that have seasonal copper colors as well. Heucheras, a lovely bronze-purple container plant or easy groundcover is an excellent choice for a funereal flowery atmosphere.

Herbs in the gothic garden can include the common basil variety called Dark Opal. Its attractive purple leaves are delicious in salads or soups, even as a highlight to your Halloween dinner plate. Bronze fennel or vegetables like chocolate and purple peppers are easily grown in my garden, but a few herbs are not found as often, such as black willow or black echinacea. Walk through nurseries and garden centers.  You will find new species of  ‘tempting” dark plants being introduced annually.

What’s a Gothic Garden without Pumpkins?

It’s too late for this year, but when you design your Gothic garden for next fall, remember to include summertime planting of a few pumpkinseeds in your patch. Varieties of pumpkins that are favorites are Big Max, Funny Face, Connecticut Field, Spirit, and Calabaza, but you can also plant Boo, a tiny tabletop white pumpkin, colossal Goliath Giants and even blue pumpkins! Planting them in early June and July next year will ensure a nice sized Jack-0-lantern to guard your doorstep in October.

Hopefully, I have given you some ideas of hauntingly unnatural looking plants and shrubs you can use to spook … ahem, I mean spoof up your fall yard. Be creative and go a little batty. Just as long as your plants don’t die on you, I won’t be concerned.

Gardening should not be a grave thing to do — it should be fun!

If you enjoy spooking your neighbors, try a gothic-themed garden.  They’re a scream!


  1. I live in Tampa Bay and am trying to find a scary way to decorate my mailbox for Halloween. I have flowers planted around it and I like the idea of switching them for the more "Halloween themed" flowers to give it a darker look instead of bright pinks.

  2. Clarissa, hope you found some great choices in your local nurseries! Do you have sun or shade? Tropical black favorites of mine for shade include alocasias "Black Magic" and Persian Shield (Deep dark purples), Mona Lavenders, Ajugas. For full sun: Ornamental millet, Black Cosmos, ornamental sweet potato 'Blackie', and the Persian Shield will also do well.