Chocolate gardens may include edible herbs, vegetables and certain blooms, such as nasturtiums or violas; but for the most part, 'Dark' and 'Chocolate' horticulture terms refer to plant "color" -- the plants are not edible.
Rudbeckia cultivars exhibit dark and light brown colors, perfect blends for a chocolate garden. Two special Rudbeckia perennials, at first glance, appear to be brown cones without petals, showing tiny yellow 'spots' that look like pollen around the base. Those 'spots' are buds and do bloom! Upon close inspection, cute little flowers, the size of pin heads appear delicately arranged in beautiful bands above a green skirt of thin, long sepals.
Unique indeed, Rudbeckias (Western Coneflowers), 'Green Wizard' and Rudbeckia occidentalis 'Black Beauty', a (1999) hybrid by Oudshoorn (shown), are not to be overlooked. They both vary in height from about 2 to 3 feet with cone shaped centers resembling a 'chocolate kiss'.
Other chocolaty brown Rudbeckias include: Rudbeckia hirta 'Moreno' and Rudbeckia hirta 'Chocolate Orange' (shown later in this article). Chocolates are enticing in almost any garden setting and simply irresistible when combined with contrasting colors.
Try Chocolate with Color
Just about every color highlights the beauty of a chocolate plant. At a recent visit to the Philadelphia Flower Show, I noticed many chocolate plants intermingled and incorporated into almost all of the display gardens. The color contrasts captivated my attention, adding a great deal of style and beauty to the floral arrangements.
Selections of garden foliage and bloom colors are a matter of personal taste. Cottage garden colors of cascading greens, pastel pink, lovely lavendar, pale yellow and soft peach accent dramatic chocolate tones. My personal favorite is a blend of colors, especially chocolate and green.
Cultivars of Solenostemon (coleus) add sparkle to a chocolate garden. A few favorites include: Coleus Chocolate Mint, with rich burgundy foliage edged in chartreuse; and Coleus, Painted Nettle - Solenostemon scutellarioides 'Saturn' (shown), a lovely 12-24 inch annual with lime green painted on the inner leaves and again around the outer scalloped edges surrounding rich burgundy foliage.
Perennial, Aquilegia viridiflora 'Chocolate Soldier', gives the nod to be included too. This 6 to 12 inch columbine displays pale green and purple-brown blooms in late spring to early summer. Both Solenostemon and Aquilegia grow best in an exposure of sun to partial shade.
Chocolate mint herb Mentha x piperita f. citrata 'Chocolate' grows 12 to 18 inches. Preferring full sun, this aromatic herb has bronze-green foliage and attractive burgundy stems. You'll find Chocolate mint a winner as a dessert garnish and in recipes.
Many fine chocolate color herbs are available, such as culinary purple sage and red basil, Ocimum basilicum 'Red Rubin'. Red basil imparts unique color and delicious flavor to pesto, pasta sauce and other prepared foods.
Chocolate & Pink Chocolate and pink is another tantalizing combination.
A discovery on the research grounds of Thompson & Morgan brings us the herbaceous and hardy, sun-loving perennial Oriental poppy, Papaver orientale 'Coral Reef'. Gorgeous, large, pastel pink flowers--often 5 inches across--display dark chocolate markings in the center. And like all poppies, 'Coral Reef' attracts butterflies, bees and birds.
• USDA hardiness - zones 2a to 9a
• Flowers late spring to early summer
• Ideal for borders and Cottage Gardens
• Flowers in 1st year
• Height: 24-36 inches
Annual, Painted Tongue, Salpiglossis sinuata 'Chocolate Royale', adds chocolaty delight to any color scheme. Surrounding pink blooms really bring out the beauty of 'Chocolate Royale'. Dave's Garden (DG) member 'Shirley1md', from Ellicott City, MD, winter sowed hers from seed with no problem. She agrees, "It's stunning when contrasted with light colored flowers." Salpiglossis grow 12 to 18 inches and prefers full sun exposure for the best mid-summer blooms.
Scabiosas (annuals or tender perennials depending on your zone) make nice cut flowers and exhibit a variety of bloom colors, including several dark chocolate cultivars; such as, 24 to 36 inch Pincushion Flower, Scabiosa atropurpurea 'Ace of Spades' aka: 'Black' (shown), 'Black Knight', 'Beaujolais Bonnets', 'Ebony and Ivory', and 'Crimson Splendor'. Their USDA hardiness ranges from zones 9a to 10b (or 11). Butterflies and bees visit Scabiosa blooms from late spring to mid-summer.
Chocolate & Lavender
Geraniums come in hardy perennials besides the familiar red, white and pink annuals commonly seen; some even show dark foliage or blooms. Two chocolate favorites include: Geranium phaeum 'Springtime', which blooms dark plum flowers; and wild geranium, Geranium maculatum 'Elizabeth Ann' (shown), with dark bronze foliage and beautiful lavender blossoms. Hardy geraniums thrive in sun to partial shade and bloom May through September in USDA zones 3 to 8.
Many pansies illuminate rich chocolate markings; especially Viola 'Velour Frosted Chocolate' or 6 to 12 inch Viola 'Velour Blue Bronze' (shown). Pansies usually bloom late spring to early summer and prefer sun to partial shade exposures.
Penstemon Chocolate Drop, Penstemon whippleanus, entices hummingbirds and adds a pretty, dark purple-brown color to the garden. It prefers full sun and blooms late spring to early summer.
Chocolate & Yellow
Yellow and brick red accents appear often in nature and in many cultivars of marigolds. My mother's favorite Marigold is the annual French Marigold, (Tagetes patula) 'Naughty Marietta'. She grew it many years ago in her garden on Long Beach Island, NJ. We surprised her with seeds this past Christmas. They grew full, up to 12 inches tall, and were an uplifting sight in the forground border of her vegetable garden.
Can you imagine two-toned 'Naughty Marietta' in front of solid, dark burgundy, 18 to 30 inch tall, Chocolate Cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus)? Chocolate Cosmos is fragrant and, "...has an aroma like that of a cup of hot cocoa," according to a PlantFiles comment posted by DG member 'Leehallfae' of Seattle, WA. Chocolate Cosmos blooms summer to fall in USDA zones 6 to 10.
Another great, if not the best, chocolate scented plant is Chocolate Daisy. Chocolate Daisy (Berlandiera lyrata) features bright and cheery, yellow blooms and is touted as one of the best plants for real chocolate fragrance. Be sure to check out the links at the end of this article for additional information.
Annual Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) add delight to any garden backdrop and really jazz up a vase of summer blooms. Look for those with the largest chocolate centers, like the 4 to 5 foot hardy annual, Sunflower 'Sparky' (shown), or all dark sunflowers; such as the 18 to 36 inch tall ornamental sunflower, 'Chocolat' , the 4 to 6 foot sunflower 'Chianti', or 6 to 8 foot tall, 'Chocolate Cherry' or 'Cappucino'. Sunflowers are easy to grow; children have fun growing them and wildlife benefits from blooms that go to seed.
Other easy-to-grow plants are sun loving, tall bearded Irises. They come in many varieties and colors, including milk chocolate and yellow, like the late mid-season bloomer, Iris ‘Harvest King'; a Schreiner 1990 hybrid.
Chocolate & Peach
Rudbeckia,Violas and Iris appear again here in copper-peach color tones. The photo collage shows Black-eyed Susan (Gloriosa Daisy),Rudbeckia hirta 'Chocolate Orange'; Viola 'Arkwright Ruby'; and Tall Bearded Iris, Iris 'Rustler'. "'Spiced Tiger' and 'Touch of Mahogany' are also great brown Iris," recommends DG member 'greenorchid'.
Don't forget about these standout chocolate garden color combos not mentioned: chocolate and red, chocolate and blue, and formal gardens with chocolate and white.
Photo credits: Papaver oriental ‘Coral Reef' and Sunflower 'Sparky' ©2009 Thompson & Morgan. All rights reserved.
All other photos Copyright ©2009 by the respective DG parties. All rights reserved: Thumbnail photo-Rudbeckia Black Beauty by ‘Zest'; Philadelphia Flower Show arrangement by 'Wind'; Columbine Chocolate Soldier by ‘Ally_UT'; Coleus Saturn by ‘kniphofia'; Chocolate mint by ‘ocimum_nate'; Pincushion Ace of Spades by 'Calif_Sue'; Salpiglossis Chocolate Royale by 'Shirley1md'; Penstemon Chocolate Drop by 'LilyLover_UT'; Chocolate daisy close-up by 'shearpamela'; Chocolate daisy single plant clump by 'parkerpt'; Iris Harvest King, Geranium Elizabeth Ann and Viola Velour Blue-bronze by 'Terri1948'; Iris Rustler by 'greenorchid'; Chocolate Orange Rudbeckia by ‘alicewho'; Viola Arkwright Ruby by 'Weezingreens'.
Special Thanks to 'Weezingreens' for reminding me about beautiful marigolds and to Thompson & Morgan and the many helpful Dave's Garden members who shared their photos from DG PlantFiles (a DG database with information including: family, genus, species, cultivar and detailed growing information).
 'Chocolate kisses' are candies produced by the Hershey Chocolate Company; Kisses® is a registered brand name.
If just the mention of the word chocolate has your mouth watering for the real thing, here is some sweet news: ADA, Nutrition Fact Sheet: Cocoa and Chocolate: Sweet News!
Did you know, Hershey Chocolate has a public garden? Click here for online information.
Searching for Chocolate Daisy, by Jill M. Nicolaus.
A Chocolate Garden, by Diana Wind. At the end of the article is a list of all DG Chocolate Garden theme week articles for 2009; including features on the coffee bean tree, chocolate mimosa and chocolate lily.
How peculiar: Green cultivars by Susanne Talbert