The chocolate lover who also gardens has the unique opportunity to combine both addictions into a guilt-free pleasure in the creation of a Chocolate Garden. I did exactly that some years ago in a small east facing bed and my first decision was how I should define a plant’s qualifications for admittance: should it be by color or by name of plant? I quickly discovered that the two were usually close enough to be almost synonymous. Even so, it was a bit of a challenge to find as many different plants as I hoped to include, given the conditions of direct sun only in the morning; I was fortunate that I did not have any specific difficult soil conditions to contend with as well. A few of the plants would have done better in full sun but managed an acceptable showing even with the light conditions provided.
I have always been fond of iris and I was happy to discover that I had quite a few to choose from in the “chocolate” category. I immediately pounced on this perfect cultivar called Chocolate Ecstasy which looks and sounds like nothing so much as a luscious box of Godiva.
The amazing broken color iris ‘Chocolate Moose’ is a product of Brad Kasperek’s Zebra Gardens breeding (and sense of humor, LOL).
Still in the dessert category, I quickly acquired Iris ‘Chocolate Vanilla’ followed by ‘Chocolate Mint’. I was to discover that many iris that are described as brown are more of an oxblood color in reality, as can be seen in the photographs of Chocolate Vanilla and Chocolate Daddy below. And although Chocolate Mint has no trace of brown in its coloration, it absolutely does give the impression of the cool taste of that particular treat.
I was puzzled at first about the cultivar name of Iris ‘Chocolate Chess’, until I realized that it must have been named for the Southern classic dessert called chess pie, which is sometimes made even richer by the addition of cocoa to the basic recipe. The color of this particular iris reflects almost perfectly the actual pie filling which normally is a creamy yellow but with the addition of cocoa acquires shades of pale brown.
Other iris cultivars which unfortunately I did not photograph (and due to the depredations of Hurricane Sandy are no longer with us) were Chocolate Swirl (a frosted brown with an electric blue beard) and Death by Chocolate.
I also found an interesting array of chocolate-named plants among a wide range of perennials that would tolerate my conditions. First came an unusual aquilegia species, Aquilegia viridiflora ‘Chocolate Soldier’, with its graceful dainty flowers hanging from delicate stems about 12 inches tall. Like most aquilegia as it is happy in conditions ranging from sun to part shade.
Berlandiera lyrata is often called the “chocolate daisy”, not for its coloration but for the unmistakable fragrance of chocolate that it produces. An unassuming plant in both flower and foliage (it may actually look a bit weedy) it is definitely a “chocolate fragrance” novelty.
The perennial Cosmos atrosangineus not only flaunts the color of rich dark chocolate but offers a chocolate fragrance as well.
I was delighted to find a relatively compact dahlia called Chocolate Sundae whose petals almost exactly duplicated the color of the cosmos at a later point in the season after the cosmos had finished flowering.
Among the foxgloves there is a species, Digitalis parviflora ‘Milk Chocolate’, whose spikes of dainty bells remind me of the color of a cup of coffee with plenty of milk and sugar in it. Perhaps this is a form of chocolate that is midway between white and dark, LOL!
Eupatorium ‘Chocolate’ is named for the rich color of its foliage. It bears bells of tiny white flowers reminiscent of a miniature Queen Anne’s lace in very small scale, starting in early summer and continuing until frost. Although the white flowers make a lovely contrast against the dark foliage, like most of its family it spreads prolifically by seed and so I usually try to remember to trim the flowers off and simply enjoy this for its foliage.
Normally I would never allow a mint into my garden but an exception is always made for the tiny creeper Mentha requinii (Corsican mint) whose foliage smells strongly of a York’s Peppermint Patty upon the slightest touch. Unfortunately it prefers damp shade and so the morning sun and sloping bed of my chocolate garden was not to its liking.
One of only two representatives of annuals in my chocolate garden was a Japanese morning glory, Ipomea ‘Chocolate’. I tend to favor the Japanese morning glories because they are not as invasive as the usual species. My photograph shows the flower as containing more pink and of a lighter shade than it was in reality. It was more of a dark grayish dusty rose, with the neat white edge providing a nice contrast.
Oriental poppies are not normally one of my favorite perennials because of the huge mound of unsightly foliage that one must allow to remain all through the rest of the summer, taking up valuable border real estate; but I could not resist this Papaver orientale ‘Royal Chocolate Distinction’ with its dark chocolate/almost black accents against a rich dusty rose background. For some reason this flower calls to mind a huge frilly Victorian gift box of yummy chocolates!
On the other hand I admit to being addicted to peonies, and was happy to find a cultivar named Hot Chocolate for my collection. I apologize for the photograph which was taken in bright sun without enough compensation in the camera setting and thus the photograph makes it appear to be a bright red when in reality it is a more subdued and richer red closely approximating the color of black cherries.
Another perennial that falls into the “invasive but probably worth it with eternal vigilance” category is Persicaria ‘Chocolate Dragon’. This plant is safe as long as you don’t allow the flowers to go to seed… Otherwise, like most dragons it will quickly stake its claim to your garden territory!
The very useful family of rudbeckias includes the cultivar Chocolate Orange, which I grew from seed from Thompson and Morgan. Although sold as an annual it is often considered a tender perennial and has survived for three years in my zone 7 garden. I did not really expect it to survive the days-long saltwater bath it received last year from Hurricane Sandy, and my suspicions proved to be correct. But in the absence of such extreme weather conditions it will probably do very well almost anywhere.
The other annual I included in my chocolate garden was a sunflower, Chocolate Cherry which ironically grew right next to the Chocolate Orange rudbeckia. This is one of the medium height sunflowers, growing to about 3 or 4 feet tall so it is manageable even when space is at a premium. It is also one of the plants that would have been happier had it been given full sun all day long – I kept feeling guilty that it wanted to start peering around the corner into the South and West facing exposures! – but it performed admirably even with just morning sun.
One of the smallest plants in my chocolate garden was an absolutely adorable viola with the delightful name of Velour Frosted Chocolate. The caramel-colored petals do indeed have a “frosted” appearance.
I was very disappointed to come up completely empty in my search for any lilies with “chocolate” in their name – hybridizers, PLEASE take note! 😉
Of course, one of the side benefits of having a Chocolate Garden is the extra (chocolate) calories that are burned whilst tending it – a win/win situation! 🙂