Just look out of the window
The leaf problem

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