14 February 2011

Chocolate and Wine and Romance for Valentine's Day

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'.

There are so many many sedums available, especially dark-coloured varieties, and I seem to be susceptible to all of them. This one is known as 'Chocolate Drop', new last year to me and quite delightful.
Eupatorium 'Chocolate' has always puzzled me, because its foliage is really not all that chocolate--more of a rich green with purple highlights--and its flowers are white. Then it dawned on me that this could be WHITE chocolate, which is okay with me in small amounts.

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.

New to my garden last year is the hemerocallis 'Sweet Hot Chocolate.' I missed photographing mine when it was in bloom, so this image is from 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.

That gift?

Actaea 'Black Negligee', of course.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone.


  1. Great pix...I've taken notes. Thank you. Partial to Geranium Espresso..will have to source it. My head is still full of color thoughts for the coming season so this helped a lot.

  2. They're all beautiful, Jodi, but I think I'm partial to the foxgloves, too. Happy Valentine's Day to you and Lowell. ♥

  3. Gorgeous plants! I think I'm in love with the Eupatorium 'Chocolate.' But I am a big white chocolate fan. Love all of the wine flowers too.

  4. Jodi:
    A most fitting post for Valentine's Day. I am most taken with the G. Espresso and shall have to see about bringing this in for the bemches this Spring. We carried S. 'Chocolate Drop' - man it must have been made with tree trade chocolate - it was tres expensive! I still love the dark Acatea and Eupatorium, although I agree on it's foliage not really meeting the criteria. Hope you have a wonderful sweet filled day!

  5. Happy Valentines Day Jodi, I hope you have lots of chocolate.

  6. Foxgloves are in the top 5 flowers of mine, and I've never ever run across a chocolate one. Does it bloom around the same time as the rest of them, or at a different time? I'm always on the hunt for vertical shade plants, and this might be the ticket.

  7. Your plants are all awesome, which we dont see here of course. I come to realize that colors like these and the blues are more common in the colder parts of the world leaving most of the reds, orange and yellows to the hotter climates. I love to have them too, if i were in your world. The photos are great too of cours, as usual.

  8. I agree wholeheartedly about foliage, Jodi, and you've given us plenty to refer back to.

    I haven't had much success keeping any blue-toned Corydalis going, though the yellow C. lutea has totally colonized my garden. Maybe I can convince it to make room for a little 'Blackberry Wine.'

  9. Jodi, you had a nice selection of chocolate there, but the Black Varnish is quite a looker. As for the real chocolate, Godiva is a favorite weakness.

  10. Thanks for all your comments, and happy Valentine's Day right back to you.

    Bren, I don't remember where I got Espresso--it has been several years now, but it was somewhere in Nova Scotia. I'm sure that helped a lot...(not)
    Nancy, the foxgloves are really a delight, especially since they're quite petite, much much smaller than our standard Digitalis species.

    Barry, I'm sure you can find Espresso--I've been quite pleased with it, though the flower doesn't do it for me--it's quite a blah pink, but with such foliage, who needs flowers?

    Jess, in my garden the chocolate foxglove blooms later than the standard species, in July and into August. Long period of bloom, like the yellows I grow here. It's also not nearly as big--about 18 inches, mine are. Neat plant.

    Andrea, that's a great point about the hot colours in hot climates. Many of the blue-flowered plants are alpines, or simply like cooler temperatures than some of the more blazing coloured plants such as you would have.

    Helen, which blue corydalis are you growing? I've had no success with C. flexuosa, but grow C. elata with no trouble at all. You should be able to grow that one as well.

    gardenwalk, real chocolate sounds great, but not for me today...I have a migraine and/or the flu, so nothing is awfully appealing to me. Maybe in a day or two.

  11. Be still my chocolate heart! A yummy post, Jodi, and stunning photos. Last summer, my chocolate cosmos were amazing, smelling edible!

  12. So envious of your Corydalis 'Blackberry Wine'! I had it one year, loved it, and it came back weakly the next and promptly died shortly after. :-( If I come across it again, I think I'll try it again. I hope to visit Chocolate Flower Farm on Whidbey Island this summer, after attending the garden bloggers' fling in Seattle. We have friends that live on the island, so CFF is on the agenda!

  13. Jodi,
    Chocolate usually makes me hideously irritable, so I have to avoid it - but I suspect that your variety would have quite the opposite effect :) Love them all.

  14. Hollyhocks are among my favouritest of flowers. Never seen a black one before. It looks like the inside of a mushroom. Although I understand it's well nigh impossible to predict what colour next year's flowers will be unless you are able to control pollination, it would be good to start a new strain. Very interesting and elegant.


  15. I hope your Valentine's Day was full of chocolate, wine and romance. Throw in a bit of Jack Daniels and it was sure to be a great day;) You know plants so well and I am going to have look for some of these. Especially 'Blackberry Wine'. What a sweet flower!

  16. I had a plant once called the "chocolate plant" which when you squeezed the leaves they did smell like chocolate. I also grew the chocolate cosmos. , very dark brownish orange, kinda weird. Not much in your garden right now, I imagine.


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