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Black Plants for Goth Gardens

What better way to celebrate the Halloween season than to design and plant a Goth Garden? Admit it: you need one.

Of course, you’ll also need plants that look the part. Spiky or bizarrely shaped or ghostly hued plants are obviously essential (a contorted beech – Fagus sylvatica ‘Tortuosa’ – would fit to a twisted tee). Most of all, though, you’ll want some black flowers – or as close to black as you can get. The possibilities are surprisingly many.

Molly Sanderson Viola (Viola ‘Molly Sanderson’, Zones 5-10)

Black pansies look the part in cool fall plantings and may even survive through winter.

Plum-black miniature pansies envelop this winsome – but slightly spooky – little perennial in spring, and again after the return of cool weather in fall. Each flower flashes a sunny-yellow eye, accenting and enhancing the surrounding blackness. The blooms are darkly adorable in combination with ‘Jack Be Little’ mini-pumpkins. Available as plants or seed, ‘Molly’ is a short-lived perennial that often persists by sowing itself about. It’s longest-lived (and evergreen) in areas with mild summers and moderate winters.

Black Sprite Mountain Knapweed (Centaurea montana ‘Black Sprite’, Zones 3-9)

The spidery purplish-black flowers of ‘Black Sprite’ appear in summer.

Spidery-petaled midnight-purple flowers open from cobwebbed buds in late spring and early summer over contrasting clumps of gray-green leaves. At 18 inches tall, the flower stems are somewhat shorter than those of standard-issue violet-blue-flowered Centaurea montana. Cut them black after bloom, and you’ll be rewarded with a second round of sinister flowers in summer. As with ‘Molly Sanderson’, this sun-loving, relatively short-lived perennial usually stays in the garden via self-sown seedlings.

Chocolate Cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus, Zones 7-10)

The dark-chocolate colored flowers of this cosmos are fragrant and summer blooming.

This Mexican native earns its common name not from the black-maroon color of its daisy-shaped summer flowers, but from their delicious chocolate-laced fragrance. Appearing on 2-foot stems in summer, the flowers are at their most prolific in sunny sites with fertile well-drained soil (amend overly heavy soils with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost). In colder regions, lift the frost-tender, tuberous roots before the ground freezes in fall, and overwinter them in open paper bags in a well-aerated location. Plants will winter in the ground into USDA Hardiness Zone 7 if heavily mulched with pine needles or straw in early winter.

Voodoo Lily (Sauromatum venosum, Zones 6-10)

Dragon arum has a striking black flower.

An altogether different sort of fragrance wafts from the gratifyingly grotesque spring “blooms” of voodoo lily. Standing 2 feet tall, each inflorescence comprises a central sooty-purple truncheon (the “spadix”), cowled by a lime-green, black-mottled “spathe”. Their macabre coloration – and fetid scent – is a clarion call to carrion-feeding insects. Huge horseshoe-shaped compound leaves with fanned lance-shaped leaflets push up from the underground tubers after the flowers collapse. Famed plantsman Graham Stuart Thomas aptly described this as the flower Beelzebub would present to his mother-in-law. Or he might have been referring instead to dragon arum (Dracunculus vulgaris), another dark member of the arum family that is similarly bizarre and slightly more cold-tender (USDA Zone 7 rather than Zone 6). Both are must-have plants for partly shaded Goth gardens. Plant the tubers in early spring.

Black Widow (Geranium phaeum, Zones 4-9)

Near-black flowers make the early summer bloomer ‘Samobor’ uniquely beautiful.

Given the name – and the shadowy deep-purple flowers with back-swept petals that nod ruefully from 2-foot stems in late spring and early summer – this is another must-have. The relatively large, lobed, maple-shaped leaves form an attractive foil for the flowers. Look for ‘Raven’, which has especially dark-hued blooms, and ‘Samobor’, whose leaves are generously marked with dark purple splotches that echo the flowers. All forms are tough perennials that tolerate shade and drought and are hardy to USDA Zone 4.

Black Lenten Rose (Helleborus x hybridus (black varieties, Zones 4-9)

Black hellebores look very striking in the late-winter landscape. (Image by Kenpei)

Indispensable shade perennials that bear saucer-shaped blooms in late winter and early spring, the swarm of hybrids known collectively as Lenten roses come in numerous near-black forms. They’re also prized for their verdant, hand-shaped, evergreen leaves, which sometimes are splashed with silver. Many of the blackest varieties – including ‘Black Diamond’, and the double ‘Dark and Handsome’ – can be purchased as seed or plants, and vary slightly in flower color. Give them partial shade, humus-rich soil, and a top-dressing of Fafard Compost for optimum performance.

Persian Lily (Fritillaria persica, Zones 5-8)

Tall spikes of blackish bells make this arguably the most striking flower of the bunch.

In mid-spring the large, skunky-scented bulbs of this Central Asian native send up 30-inch spikes of nodding chocolate-purple bells dusted with a silvery bloom. The cultivars ‘Adiyaman’ and ‘Senköy’ are especially dark-hued. Persian lily is excellent for combined with “black” tulips such as ‘Queen of the Night’ and ‘Black Parrot’. All the above appreciate full sun and fertile well-drained soil.

Fall is the best time to plant not only Persian lily but also most of the other black-flowered beauties described above. Get them in the ground now – amending with Fafard compost and topsoil as required – to get your Goth Garden off to a great start!

About Russell Stafford


Hortiholic and plant evangelist, Russell Stafford, transplanted his first perennial at age 7 and thereby began a lifelong plant addiction. He is the founder and custodian of Odyssey Bulbs (and Odyssey Perennials), an online nursery specializing in cool and uncommon plants. Russell also works as a horticultural consultant, freelance writer (Horticulture and The American Gardener magazines), and garden editor. He formerly served as Curator and Head of Horticulture at Fernwood Botanic Garden in Niles, Michigan and as the Horticultural Program Coordinator at the Center for Plant Conservation, then located at the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. His academic degrees include a masters in forest science from Harvard University.

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