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Black Plants - all the books reviewed

Black Magic and Purple Passion by Karen Platt. Photo ©Karen Platt What is it about black plants? They not only seem to inspire fierce disagreement amongst gardeners – “What’s the point of a plant with black leaves, you can hardly even see it?”/“Simply sumptuous!” – but with another book on the subject just out competition is flaring between the new book and those already published by the acknowledged expert on black plants.

So. Karen Platt has been popularising black plants since her first book came out in 2000 and she now has three different books on the subject. There’s the latest print edition of Karen’s first book, Black Magic and Purple Passion, from 2004. She also has an eBook update to Black Magic and Purple Passion published just a couple of months ago and she has The Best of Black Plants, another eBook published back in the summer. All self-published by Karen Platt. This fall these are joined by a new title from Timber Press, Black Plants by Paul Bonine. (Ordering links at the end.)

Between the latest print edition of Black Magic and Purple Passion and the eBook update Karen covers an amazing 3,500 black plants. Of course, as her title infers, “black” is not always true black, in fact on the jacket of her book Karen refers to them as “dark plants”. There’s also purple and maroon and indigo. Take another look at our slide show, below, for some of the blackest. (Mouse-hover over the images for captions.)

Black Plants Stock Photos - Images by GardenPhotos .com

The large format 2004 edition of Black Magic and Purple Passion is excellent. And at only about 50% more expensive than the recent arrival, Black Plants by Paul Bonine, which includes only 3% of the plants, it’s excellent value.

The eBook update is a good addition, with 650 more plants, but is generally less successful. One big problem with eBooks supplied in pdf format is that monitors and printers vary so the same true color is difficult for everyone to achieve. Only one low-resolution print-out is allowed and the low-res image quality of the print-out is nowhere near as good as the printed edition of Black Magic and Purple Passion. And it annoyed me that every time I opened the pdf to look at the book I had to re-enter my password. It should remember.

Black Plants by Paul Bonine. Photo ©Timber Press Then there’s the new Paul Bonine book, Black Plants. This is a small book – 6.5inx7in – and covers just 75 plants. And I have to say that this smaller-then-usual format makes the book seem less significant than I’m sure the publishers would like. Each plant has a full page picture and a description opposite. Generally the images are good (Declaration of interest: four of our images are used in this book); the descriptions and cultural info are not generous and that’s because of the small format. The plant choice is at times odd: two ipomeas, no bearded iris – and why include a very blue Agapanthus when there are many much closer to black? But this is a well-designed, instantly appealing little book.

Black Plants looks good, and (depending where you buy) more or less matches the price of Karen Platt’s Best of Black Plants (pdf only) - and a printed copy will beat a pdf any day. Karen’s eBooks are only available as pdfs, not in other eBook formats. But Karen has more and better info. Paul also fails to recognize Karen Platt’s pioneering work in popularizing black plants – even when discussing a plant named after her.

So, where does that leave us?

If you want an attractive and inexpensive gift book - choose Black Plants by Paul Bonine
If you want the best print reference book – choose Black Magic and Purple Passion (Third Edition)
If you want the most comprehensive reference to black plants choose the third (print) and fourth (pdf) editions of Black Magic and Purple Passion
If you’re a fanatic and want everything, add to these three The Best of Black Plants (pdf only).

Here’s how to order these books.

Order Black Plants by Paul Bonine in North America
Order Black Plants by Paul Bonine in Britain
Order Black Magic and Purple Passion (Third Edition, print copy) from the author
Order Black Magic and Purple Passion update (Fourth Edition, pdf only) from the author
Order The Best of Black Plants (pdf only) from the author


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I'd love to buy Karen Platt's books, but as a top 300 Amazon.com reviewer I find the way she has tried to manipulate the review system really dishonorable, leaving poor reviews of competitor's books and in the reviews speaking of herself and her accomplishments in the third person as though she's trying to fool us into thinking someone else was writing the review!

It's in extremely poor taste and I can't see myself supporting an author who thinks such tactics are OK.

It's too bad, because her print book looks great (I don't buy password-protected PDFs so the ebooks are out). I had all her books on my wishlist until I saw her actions online and decided I could not see my way to supporting her.


Go to this Amazon link and see what she had to say about Bonine's Black Plants book, then click on her profile and see what she had to say about two other competitors' books.

Graham Rice

Yes Gen, it's all rather unedifying isn't it.

Magazine and book publishers steal your ideas - it happens. You get over it, you move on. Having the ideas is the easy part, and Karen has no shortage as she's pubished books on plenty of other subjects. But I agree that these public slanging matches do nobody any good and have surely ensured that Karen will not be taken up by any commercial publisher. Good to see Paul Bonine maintaining a dignified silence.

Here, I tried to set all that aside and just look at the books. (Though I've now added a link to the amazon discussion you cited in the first paragrah.)

Thanks Gen.

Karren Platt

Thank you for the review, much appreciated. A public slanging match was not my idea, unfortunately a blogger got hold of the information and tried to turn it into something sensational. I have tried to sort the differences out with Timber. The original contract they offered me was rejected by my solicitor (lawyer) as she was adamant I would not earn a penny. They threatened me to sign or to give everything we discussed to other authors. I walked, I don't believe any author should be treated in this way. They carried out their threat and have taken 3 books so far from my published list. Would you take this laying down? I have approached Timber to no avail and I do think that people should know the truth. I have not tried to hide anything. I do think that since I am considered the expert on black plants I have a right to my opinion on Timber's book and I do think the selection of plants is poor and that it does not offer anything different to what is already adequately covered by my books. I should not be having to defend myself in this way. I would like to move on although it is pretty hard to keep coming up with different ideas, only to see a large publishing house walk away with it. BTW Graham, never my intention to attract a publisher, along with the rejection of Timber's contract, I have rejected two other contracts over the years.

Graham Rice

Well Karen, I understand your grievance - but I think you have to let it go.

Almost the same thing has happened to me: I turned down a contract for a book that was my idea, the publisher hired someone else to do a similar book. You just have to let it go and move on. To continue the battle is, I think, undignified and detracts from your undoubted achievements.

Well, that's my view anyway.

Karren Platt

I appreciate that Graham, just think that others should know what goes on behind the scenes. I appreciate that I should not have let myself be drawn into comments other than on the books, as some people have got very personal and obviously have some kind of agenda of their own. I am already working on other books, and yes they will be something entirely new. That's what I have always appreciated about you, even when you took something as ordinary as Perennials - you made it your own, with your own experience etc, not just a copy of someone else's work or a re-iteration of what has been done. As authors I think we have to stretch the boundaries. It's very special to have you recognise my work. I remember the thrill when Chris Lloyd used to call and the two postcards I have from him. It means a lot. Thank you once more. We ought to meet one day when I'm on that side of the pond.

Graham Rice

Thanks Karen, Or we could meet up when I'm on that side!


Thanks for responding and for considering the subject in such a balanced way, Graham. Much appreciated.

Karren Platt

Let me know when you are over here, Graham.

Fern @ Life on the Balcony

I find it fascinating that if Karen publicly maligns a publisher, she's just exercising her right to defend herself. But if I publish Karen's own words and my analysis of the whole situation, I'm being a sensationalist (not to mention breaking the law, according to Karen). Beyond the fact that Karen has now made herself radioactive when it comes to finding a commercial publisher, what she has said just doesn't make any sense. No one is stealing Karen's idea by publishing a book on such a broad topic as plants of a certain color. And I find it really, really hard to believe that Karen's attorney told her she wouldn't make a dime off of Tiber Press's offer, but so many other authors have signed up with Timber Press. Considering that Timber Press isn't the only publisher out there, how do they continue to attract authors if they are screwing them all over?

Anyway, Amazon didn't look too kindly on Karen's reviews of other authors' books while promoting her own books. They've taken all of her reviews down.

Karren Platt

What I posted was the truth, what you have posted has largely come from your imagination and you do not post the malicious things you sent to me. Like you fail to tell anyone that you wanted to represent me and trash Timber and I rejected your offer. I did not set out to trash anyone. I am not taking any more of this. I asked Amazon to take those posts down. You are not worth responding to. You are the only one writing such nonsense. Graham asked for this post to be concerned with books. Now if you don't have anything better to do - and tell me which professional gardener would now help you, after you have shown that a simple request can be turned into this. I have far better things to do than concern myself with someone who cannot understand the truth and has tried to sensationalise things. I have promised Graham and other professional writers who know me and my work that I will not respond to this anymore, and once I give my word, that is it. Authors contact other people every day of their life to try and get their books mentioned. That's part of an author's job. I'm sure that neither I, nor Graham nor anyone else who is a professional gardener or author wants to hear your baseless lies.

Graham Rice

OK, that's it. No more squabbling. I was tempted to take down Karen's last comment completely but instead I'm simply closing comments on this post. Thoughtful, forceful argument is fine - this is too much.

This post and its comments have had more views than normal - some people just love a cat fight - but I'm calling time. Enough.

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