21 April 2013

A chocolate garden for spring

It's been a very busy April, with garden talks and nursery openings and all the chores of spring. So I've been somewhat remiss in doing blog posts, opting instead for chattering on bloominganswers.com and on my open page on Facebook. Now it's the rush to get ready for the annual Saltscapes East Coast Expo, which is next weekend.
I'm very fond of chocolate, but it has to be dark, good quality chocolate. And one shouldn't eat too much of it, so, I'm opting to turn some of my fascinations to Maybe a better idea is a chocolate garden, featuring plants with deep, rich, chocolate foliage or flowers?

I started building such a garden a couple of years ago. The foundation is a purple beech tree, the new growth of which is a rich chocolate brown before turning more purple toned. Another is 'Sooty' dianthus, which has some of the darkest coloured flowers I've ever seen. This photo doesn't do real justice, as the flowers can be almost black in appearance, but you get the idea.

Scent is a very subjective thing. To me, chocolate cosmos do smell like chocolate. They're not a big showy flower like other cosmos, but they're fun for their colour and that scent. They're not hardy here but rather than seed they produce tubers, which you can dig and overwinter like a dahlia.

The chocolate Vine, Akebia, has not only dainty chocolate-coloured flowers, but does also smell of chocolate. It's hardy to zone 4, and likes to have a support to scramble up, like a trellis or arbour. If you plant it in full sun you'll get the most flowers, but it will tolerate partial shade.
One of my current favourites for a chocolate themed garden is the 'Milk Chocolate' foxglove, Digitalis parviflora. The flowers aren't as showy as the standard foxgloves, but it is a perennial, and it has even seeded for me in the past. Dividing the crown will keep it vigourous, too.

Sunflowers are awesome in any colour, but the rich dark ones like 'Ruby Queen' and 'Chocolate Cherry' are especially appealing. I got seeds of 'Chocolate Cherry' from Renee's Garden Seeds this year, and am preparing to seed them shortly.

One of the deepest coloured Asiatic lilies would be 'Landini', which is a good candidate for that garden of chocolate delights.

Eupatoriums, or Joe-pye weeds, are awesome plants for a pollinator garden, because butterflies flock happily to their flowers. The 'Chocolate' eupatorium doesn't get as big as some of the native species, but it's a delightful addition to our planting, isn't it?

When I heard about this 'Chocolate Wings' rodgersia a couple of years ago, I had to have it, and lucked out by finding it down on the south shore at a nursery. Its flowers are pinkish white and attractive to pollinators, but I am so enamoured of the foliage that I don't even care if it flowers or not.

While they aren't named as being 'chocolate' themed plants, some of the newer ligularias boast rich dark-coloured foliage and would be at home in a themed bed. This is 'Midnight Lady', but you can also look for 'Osiris Cafe Noir', or 'Britt Marie Crawford', both of which sport dark foliage too.
No mention of colourful foliage can be without heucheras, of which there are several great choices for the chocolate garden. I've had 'Brownies' for several years, and like it in a container as well as in the garden. It has been one of the more vigourous selections for me. 
This is 'Frosted Violet' heuchera, which Lloyd Mapplebeck of Hillendale Perennials gave me a few years ago. It has also been a stalwart performer for me. Another good variety is 'Chocolate Ruffles'. 
One more to round out this post: 'Black Barlow' columbine, one of the hybridized columbines that has come back reliably for me in past years. I am looking forward to planting several new plants in my new garden this spring, as I couldn't move everything from my previous home!


  1. Loved the first photo of the beech. I have my eye on a purple beech this year (yet another addition to the ongoing tree list). Dark purple foliage is the perfect contrast to bright greens I think.

  2. Wow, I like the idea! Now you have my hungry for some high-quality chocolate!

  3. It must be a sweet garden.. haha. The cosmos is so lovely.

  4. I'd also recommend chocolate mint,as long as it is well contained. Smells like chocolate, with a burgundy tinge to the leaves. Tastes very minty.

  5. I have many of these chocolate blooms...they make such a great statement.

  6. sandy lawrence26 May, 2013 15:14

    I have a couple of these plants and just this year bought 'Landini'. I adore dark flowered plants and all your selections are lovely. I was especially interested in the Akebia chocolate vine because I had never heard of it, so I looked it up on Plant Files (Dave's Garden). Some people there are posting about Akebia as a horrifyingly rampant and invasive plant. I am assuming that you do not find it so or do you just cut off the runners, which would make the most sense to me for containment?

    1. I don't know where you live, Sandy, so it's hard for me to comment. I don't know of anyone in Nova Scotia who has problems with chocolate vine as being invasive or overly bombastic, but we all know that what can act invasive in one garden ca arbitrarily die in another garden in the same community, just different growing conditions. I personally don't pay much mind to Dave's Garden as sometimes it seems like people are just there to complain. My suggestion would be (depending on where you live, again) to try growing Akebia in a large container to see how it behaves for you. Good luck! :-)

  7. Now you need to top it off with some chocolate mint, it smells delicious!


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