The Illinois State University Horticulture Center in Normal, Illinois, was the site of my revelation last summer! I was wandering through the gardens, which the university generously makes open to the public free of charge, and finally meandered away from the heirloom vegetables and herbs to the Children's Area, which was enclosed with a living wall of towering sunflowers.

Chocolate Garden SignInside it was evident that inspiration was no stranger here! The main area was a fairy tale garden, complete with a large, colorful wooden chair for reading stories to a group. Along the way, I encountered a spider garden with trellises in the shape of spider webs, (one proudly proclaiming "Some Pig!"), a pizza garden, blueberry hill, a peanut butter and jelly garden, and a rainbow garden. See my entry in Go Gardening for pictures of some of their picturesque theme gardens. They were all charming and appealing, but then THE garden caught my eye. It sported a sign proclaiming it to be the chocolate pool, and my nose quickly caught up to my eyes.

The Chocolate Pool
Click on the Photo for an enlarged view
of the Chocolate Garden in my journal

In a roughly oval area were a collection of plants arranged to create a chocolate pool. Many sported tags to identify the cleverly named plants, such as 'Chocolate Chip' Ajuga, Chocolate Cosmos, Chocolate Hollyhock, or the Chocolate Cherry Tomato. Some didn't have chocolate in the name, but followed the theme of dark burgundy to almost black blossoms, such as sweet william 'Sooty' and the pincushion flower Scabiosa 'Ace of Spades'. I could tell that a great deal of thought had gone into including a variety of heights, textures, colors, and bloom types. This garden had it all! What chocolate garden would be complete without including real Chocolate Mint (which smelled just heavenly, by the way), and its namesake, 'Chocolate Mint' Coleus? The bright yellow Chocolate Daisy offered a bright pop of color amongst all the dark blooms and foliage, and offered a subtle chocolate fragrance. A chocolate sunflower, which I was not able to identify by name, towered over them all, keeping watch over its smaller charges.

The icing on the proverbial cake was the primary source of the overall rich chocolate aroma wafting from the entire area. They had mulched the chocolate pool with cocoa hulls, defining the area with their distinct color and scent.

I contacted the Horticulture Center, to request a listing of the plants they used, and they kindly responded by pointing me to their source for chocolate themed plants: the aptly named Chocolate Flower Farm. I've corresponded briefly with the owner, Marie, and can definitely vouch for the speed of her friendly responses to my questions!

Now the challenge will be to take their idea and run with it! I've begun searching Plant Files with my own version of a chocolate garden in mind. The initial search on the word chocolate pulled up 180 plants! Personally, I wouldn't mulch with cocoa hulls, out of deference to my little beagle gardening buddy, but I am beginning to build a list of plants for my little corner plot behind the garage. The biggest challenge will be to limit myself to the space I have available!

Chocolate Cosmos
Chocolate Daisy
Chocolate Cosmos, a rich
burgundy color
with an equally
rich chocolate scent
Chocolate Daisy, brightly colored with
a distinct chocolate fragrance

Viola 'Velour Frosted Chocolate'

Ajuga 'Chocolate Chip'

Viola 'Velour Frosted Chocolate'
Ajuga 'Chocolate Chip'
Chocolate Mint
Viola 'Black Velvet'

Chocolate Mint, which releases a distinctive

scent when rubbed between your fingers

Viola 'Black Delight'
Chocolate Sunflower
Scabiosa 'Ace of Spades' (Pincushion Flower)
Chocolate Sunflower
Scabiosa 'Ace of Spades'

I'd like to extend my thanks to the following Dave's Garden members, who submitted their pictures to Plant Files, and permitted me to use them in this article:

Gabrielle Rhodes, for Ajuga 'Chocolate Chip'

Saya, for Chocolate Cosmos

ShearPamela, for Chocolate Daisy

Kelli, for Viola 'Black Velvet'

and to Marie at Chocolate Flower Farm, for allowing me to use their image of Viola 'Velour Frosted Velvet'

All other pictures are my own, and were taken at the ISU Horticulture Center during the summer of 2008.

For more information on designing your own chocolate themed garden, see the companion article, A Chocolate Garden, by Diana Wind.

For details about using cocoa hulls as mulch, please refer to:

Got Mulch? by Toni Leland

and consult the following article for information on pets and the danger chocolate can present:

Plant-related food toxins of the Holidays and your pets by Geoff Stein

Happy Gardening!