Dark side of the bloom: how spring turned black

A new fashion for flowers is striking a bold posy in garden centres

A A A

It sounds like a thriller, or perhaps a novel by Alexandre Dumas pere. In fact, the black petunia is this year's bedding plant sensation, going on sale nationwide in garden centres and plant catalogues this week.

Petunia Black Velvet, to use its official name, is the latest in a series of black-flowered or dark-leaved plants to come on to the market.

These dusky cultivars are increasing in popularity, as gardeners – who are as susceptible to fashion as any teenager – experiment with new colour schemes and styles. So how do you get a black flower? It's not really black, of course, but a very deep purple or red. The colour is created by anthocyanins – the pigments that create red, purple and blue colours in flowers and fruit. These are present in every part of the plant, including the stems, leaves and roots. They also act as antioxidants, which is why fruits that are high in anthocyanins, such as blueberries, are labelled as superfoods.

In plants, however, their purpose is mainly to attract pollinators (in the case of flowers) or animals, which will eat the fruit and disperse the seed in droppings.

Commercial breeders will cross varieties with high levels of anthocyanins to increase the level of the pigments in either the leaves, the flowers or the fruit.

It takes a huge amount of experience and patience to breed a new plant, said Stuart Lowen, marketing manager of Ball Colegrave, who developed Petunia Black Velvet.

"We're always trying to push the boundaries. The public always want something that's a novelty, but sometimes the breeder will come up with a colour that the market just isn't ready for," Mr Lowen said. "Black is the holy grail for plant breeders, though. Everyone wants black plants."

It took four years for Ball flower breeder Jianping Ren to develop the black petunia. "The black colour did not exist in petunias before, so it has to come from the right recombination of a novel colour mutant and multiple regular colour genetic backgrounds," she said. "It is very different from breeding true blue flowers because at least there are some blue flowers you can start with. It's unique and unusual, and opens the door for more new colours."

The trend for black flowers and leaves has grown in the past 10 years, perhaps reflecting the popularity of a more minimalist style in garden design.

Against a dark background, such as a fence, or a hedge of evergreens, black foliage or flowers will disappear. Contrasted with gravel, stainless steel, or painted surfaces in pale colours, however, black looks wonderfully dramatic.

Petunias originate in South America and will not survive a British winter, so they have to be treated as annuals – lasting only one season. But there are perennials and shrubs with black leaves or flowers which are descended from native British species.

Anthriscus sylvestris Ravenswing, for example, is a black-leaved cow parsley, while Sambucus nigra Black Lace is a sultry version of the native elder. Viola Bowles Black is a black pansy and Althea nigra represents the dark side of that cottage-garden favourite, the hollyhock.

Anna Pavord's verdict

*Anna Pavord, The Independent's gardening correspondent, is wary of the all-black look. "Everything depends on the texture of the petal. If it is all matt, it's hopeless. If it has the sheen of the most expensive satin (as black tulips do) black can shine. But for that, you need light. Black in shade is as cheerless as yesterday's mascara."

Graham Rice, author of Discovering Annuals and editor-in-chief of the RHS Encyclopedia of Perennials, said: "With dainty white bacopa, with lime-green coleus as a background or with Helichrysum 'Limelight' snaking through it, or with other petunias in yellow, deep red or white – there are plenty of options."

News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
art

The Sistine Chapel is set to be illuminated with thousands of LEDs

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Sport
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission, 1st yr OTE £30-£40k : SThree:...

Middleware Support Analyst

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Senior Java Developer/Designer

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: My client are looking fo...

Domino Developer and Administrator

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Domino ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?