Wouldn’t you think that a new book called Black Plants would restrict itself to black plants? You would and I would, but not the folks who published it, Timber Press. That’s one of the reasons the Grump is black-listing this effort.
Maybe I’m just picky, but I don’t think red flowers and yellow flowers and blue flowers qualify as black, even if Timber Press thinks they do. So why would they publish a book about black plants in which a lot of the plants aren’t black?
I haven’t any proof, but I would guess Timber Press thought the concept of black plants was so intriguing that they were determined to beat everybody else to the punch. So they immediately commissioned such a book, instructing its author to write about 75 plants with either black flowers or black leaves. There was just one little problem. They couldn’t get their hands on 75 quality photos of black plants.
Hmmm. What to do? I know! Let’s put in photos of non-black plants and tell people they’re black! People are dumb! They’ll believe anything.
And so we get photos celebrating the blackness of plants such as these:
Lily-of-the-Nile (Agapanthus inapertus). Where’s the black?
Snakesbeard iris (Hemodactylus tuberosus). Where’s the black? Little dark-purple spots on yellow flowers don’t count.
‘Chocolate Pot’ painted tongue (Salpiglossis ‘Chocolate Pot’). Where’s the black? Just because some marketing guy names a plant “chocolate” doesn’t make it black.
Forgetting for a moment the misleading title, the second bone I have to pick with this book is lack of useful information for people living in warm climates. Discussion of hardiness is restricted to cold-hardiness; nowhere will you learn how much heat the plant will take. Many of the plants are finicky plants meant for the collector, not the average Joe. Moreover, the vast majority of the photos are headshots of whatever plant is claimed to be black, so you rarely see a plant in garden context, showing how it may be effectively combined with other non-“black” plants. I don’t blame first-time author Paul Bonine for this. I’m sure he brings a lot more horticultural knowledge to the game than Black Plants (160 pages, $14.95)exhibits. He simply has to produce what the publisher wants.
What I can’t understand is why Timber Press, arguably this country’s most productive, respected, and successful garden book publisher, chose to produce this. Was it the economy? Did they desperately need a book they could sell for less than $15, as opposed to their hallmark — luxurious, beautifully photographed, expertly written coffee table books that that sell for $40 or more?
I don’t know, but in the future, I hope they will remember the following points.
1. Dark blue isn’t black.
2. Dark red isn’t black.
3. Dark green isn’t black.
4. “Chocolate” isn’t black.
5. Purple isn’t black.
6. Bronze and burgundy aren’t black.
As Mick Jagger might have sung if he reviewed this book, “I see a red bloom and I want it painted black.”