Sweet Sensations: The Chocolate Garden
By Mary James Photography by Bob Wigand
GARDENS CAN BE LIKE A BOX OF CHOCOLATES — bursting with the mouthwatering smell and sinfully rich shade of everyone’s favorite sweet. Indulge in a “Chocolate Garden” to enjoy plants that delight a sweet tooth as well as a green thumb.
It’s easiest to find flowers in cherry-chocolate shades with names like ‘Chocolate Sundae’ (a dahlia) or ‘Hot Cocoa’ (a rose) or ‘Royal Chocolate’ (a painted tongue). The black-plants craze of a few years ago also yielded beauties with dusky, deep-mocha foliage, like ‘Bon Bon’ sedum, ‘Black Lace’ sambucus, and ‘Tuxedo’ wild lilac. Some edibles, too — including peppers, tomatoes and corn — seem dipped in chocolate.
But the most seductive plants for a chocolate garden fill the air with that unmistakable scent. Of them one stands out for what Marie Lincoln, owner of Chocolate Flower Farm in Langley, Washington, calls “the best chocolate smell of all.”
That honor goes to Berlandiera lyrata, a simple yet elegant daisy native to the Southwest. The aptly nicknamed chocolate flower has yellow petals brushed on the back with burgundy and a lime-green eye edged with dark-brown stamens. Fiddle-shaped grey-green leaves dress this hardy perennial that grows to 2 feet tall and wide in full sun with moderate water.
Chocolate flower blooms at night, summer to fall, perfuming the cool morning air with its sweet fudgy scent. Cluster them for a chocoholic fix before breakfast.
To sweeten afternoons, grow chocolate cosmos (Cosmos atro-sanguineus). Velvety maroon flowers with mocha eyes cover this 2-foot tall sun lover summer through fall and perfume the garden with chocolate. A Mexico native, chocolate cosmos grow from tubers that can rot in soggy conditions, so choose a site with well-drained fertile soil.
Temptation aside, neither of these flowers is edible. Look for them in area nurseries or mail order from High Country Gardens (chocolate flower) and Territorial Seed Company (bare-root chocolate cosmos).
Two herbs also tempt chocoholics, but the telltale fragrance is released only by bruising or brushing the leaves. One is the handsome chocolate-mint scented geranium (Pelargonium tomentosum), a heat- and drought-tolerant cultivar of peppermint geranium that grows 2 1/2 feet tall and up to 4 feet wide in sun or shade. Satiny ruffled leaves have dark-chocolate centers edged in deep green; tiny flowers are lavender-pink.
Cindy Pearson of Pearson’s Gardens & Herb Farm in Vista says, “Some people definitely smell chocolate but others, like me, get a musty peppermint scent.” Pearson’s also sells chocolate mint, which has a more pronounced chocolate fragrance in its bronzy-green leaves. Foot-tall, white flower stocks rise above the low-growing foliage in late summer.
Chocolate Flower Farm ships some plants from its extensive list, as well as seeds, including chocolate-themed collections of annuals, perennials (for expert seed starters) and edibles. And to mark the sweet spot, the farm sells “Chocolate Garden” metal signs that rust from pewter to — what else — spicy chocolate brown.
CHOCOLATE EDIBLES — YES!
Just one look and gourmets will fall for these tasty veggies and flowers.
Miniature Chocolate Bell Pepper: Green sweet bells ripen to reddish brown (seeds at Territorial Seed Company).
‘Cherokee Chocolate’ Tomato: Chefs love this beefsteak tomato’s rich flavor and color (plants at Pearson’s Gardens & Herb Farm).
‘Chocolate Stripes’ Tomato: Orange and olive-splashed skin covers red-brown flesh (plants at Pearson’s Herb Farm).
‘Black Cherry’ Tomato: Snack-size tomatoes are cloaked in mahogany skins (seeds at Johnny’s Selected Seeds).
‘Bloody Butcher’ Corn: Eat the sweet burgundy-brown kernels or dry them on the cob for fall decorations (seeds at Seed Savers Exchange).
‘Black Velvet’ Nasturtium: Sprinkle the edible chocolate-red blossoms on salads (seeds at Chocolate Flower Farm).