Garden Lore

By the time one is eighty, it is said there is no longer a tug of war in the garden with the May flowers hauling like mad against the claims of the other months. All is at last in balance and all is serene. The gardener is usually dead, of course.

Henry Mitchell The Essential Earthman (1981)

black gardens. Yes, black.

Black gardens. Yes, black.

If you have ever wondered what it would be like to do a black garden as counterpoint to the many re-creations throughout the world of the famous Sissinghurst white garden, I found you an example. This is one of a couple of “black” garden rooms at the Musée des Impressionnismes in Giverny.

Hmmm. There was no black mondo grass which would be the usual starting point for a black garden here but it illustrates the problem that there are very few all black plants. What you are likely to end up with is a sombre deep burgundy garden which is very flat in colour, brown-toned, even. The centrepiece here is Sambucus nigra or the cut-leafed dark elderberry which can look effective in some settings, if a little like the poor man’s maple. Clearly the dark ajuga groundcover is doing well but none of this is black. At the rear, you can see a quandary. The freshly planted pansies have flowers that are indubitably noir, but is the green foliage acceptable? Elsewhere were very dark foliaged plants sporting bright orange or red blooms. Should one cut the flowering stems off in the quest for purity of vision?

A black garden is perhaps best described as a novelty garden, better in concept than execution as most experienced gardeners will realise if they think through the plant options.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.