Well, it's Valentine's Day once again, and I'm here to offer a gardener's point of view on what makes for a happy sweetheart. In a word (or three): chocolate, wine, and plants= romance for a gardener!
I'm a big fan of good quality dark chocolate (Hershey's waxy crap need not apply) but I'm also very fond of chocolate flowers and foliage in the garden, so for your viewing pleasure I offer some delightful, and very low-calorie, chocolate plants.
Among my favourite perennials are foxgloves, and Digitalis parviflora 'Milk Chocolate' is a definite star. The flower spikes and individual florets are nowhere near the size of the standard species, but they're such a lovely unique colour. Last year, my plants began seeding themselves a little bit, and I've promised one plant to my friend Alice, so as to share the love around.
'Sooty' dianthus has come into its own in my garden in the past couple of years. Out of curiosity, I planted one in full sun, and one in partial shade, to see if there was any difference in flower colour. I couldn't see any, although the deep wine flowers are actually more effective in sun than in cool shade.
Here's something you don't see every day. In fact, I had never seen it before until I spied it at a favourite nursery several years ago. This is Pseuderanthemum 'Black Varnish', and it's well named. It's only an annual here, and I don't know that it ever flowers--mine just produced these deeply chocolate, glossy foliage, and that's really all I needed them to do.
I'm very fond of cranesbills (Geraniums) of all sorts, and have some very fine plants. The mourning widows (G. phaem) are among my favourites for their sultry dark flowers.
What goes well with chocolate? Well, coffee does, at least in my worldview. It's not the best photo, but alongside the 'Springtime' mourning widow cranesbill, you can see a few chocolate brown leaves of Geranium 'Espresso'.
Here we have an actaea's rich dark foliage juxtaposed with a flood of annual poppies in red, wine, and a mixture of the two colours. My annual poppies are a wanton lot, hybridizing themselves as they feel like it, and we get some interesting colours as a result.
A plant doesn't have to have great flowers to keep me happy, so long as it has interesting foliage. I was just writing about textures in a recent column, and Rodgersia 'Chocolate Wings' is a plant with great foliage texture and colour. I actually had to look up the flower colour when I was writing a profile piece on this plant, because I spend more time obsessing over the foliage than noticing the plumelike flowers!
Hollyhocks are the bane of my existence, unless they're metal. There's a running joke in the local gardening community about my inability to get yellow hollyhocks to bloom. One year, my so-called yellow hollyhocks were black, which was actually fine with me because they work well with my chocolate themed plantings. I've been sent more seeds from yellow hollyhocks by a couple of friends, so we'll see what they do this year...
There are many, many, MANY heuchera varieties available, in quite literally a rainbow of colours. Some might say there are too many heucheras, but for those with a fondness for the darker-coloured foliage forms, we have plenty of choice. There's 'Obsidian', and 'Chocolate Ruffles', and the old faithful 'Palace Purple', and and and...
My personal favourite heuchera is 'Frosted Violet', which also goes nicely with 'Mint Julep'. Speaking of combinations, there are two things that go very, very well with dark chocolate. One of them is whiskey, whether single malt like Oban, or the less refined Jack Daniels. Why yes, I like them both, why do you ask?
The other treat that goes beautifully with dark chocolate is wine. In the garden, we can go with 'Wine and Roses' weigela, 'Summertime Wine' physocarpus, or any of many 'Wine' daylilies. This one is called 'Days of Wine', and isn't one of the darkest by a long shot (those would be varieties like 'Ed Murray'). I also have 'Wineberry Candy' and 'Mateus' to accompany those chocolates. Apparently there isn't yet a 'Wolf Blass Yellow Label Shiraz' daylily, but I'm sure that can be arranged.
St. Clare's Nursery in the United Kingdom.
Although I finally had to give up on Corydalis 'Chocolate Stars' after it dwindled away after a couple of years (and a neighbouring gardening whiz had it die, too), I've had lovely success with C. 'Blackberry Wine.'
Here we have 'Raspberry Wine' monarda, which when combined with any of those dark chocolate plants can result in a gift for the man in the gardener's life.
Actaea 'Black Negligee', of course.
Happy Valentine's Day, everyone.