Tuesday, October 23, 2012

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The Ghoulish Garden

Mums, Obsidian heuchera and orange pansies

Is Halloween your favorite holiday? Worn out your copy of the "Little Shop of Horrors?" Then you may need a ghoulish garden.

Ask yourself, what would Morticia plant? Lily Munster? Or Elvira, Mistress of the Dark? Surely not anything ordinary, something cheery like daisies. No, any of these witchy women would brew up something wonderfully wicked.

Caroline Jones as Morticia
Photo: Gregg's Shock Theater

The most obvious choice is one with bite -- a carnivorous plant like a Venus fly trap.

Who can forget Audrey II in the "Little Shop of Horrors" yelling “Feed Me"?  Or Morticia’s special relationship with her “African Strangler,” Cleopatra?

Unfortunately, these along with a number of other plants like Dracula orchid, Voodoo Lily (Amorphophallus) and Bat Flower (Tacca chantrieri) can't survive Chicago winters outside. But there are lots of other ways to spook-ify your garden.
Thankfully, black seems to be the “in” color lately when it comes to flowers.  There are now black pansies, tulips, coral bells, hollyhocks, iris, dahlias and petunias -- just to name a few.

Well, they’re actually more of a deep purple or deep red for the most part, but why be picky?  They are the closest plant breeders have come so far and a lot depends on the light in which they are viewed.

Using black in the landscape can be a bit tricky although it’s a treat when done right. You need some contrast so the black doesn’t just fade into the background. White or gray foliage – think full moon -- generally works well in that regard.

Try Ghost Japanese painted fern (Athyrium 'Ghost') with its silver foliage or a Ghost hosta if you have some shade. Artemisia, sometimes called wormwood, is good in full sun. For a punch of color, add something like Orange Meadowbrite ™ coneflower (Echinacea ‘Art’s Pride’) or Blackberry Lily (Belamcanda chinensis) which has great seed pods in the fall.

Bela Lugosi daylily
Bela Lugosi daylily

If you’d like a more varied palette, there are a number of haunted hemerocallis. Bela Lugosi daylily has a special place in my garden, for instance, because of my husband’s love of horror movies. There’s even a Lily Munster daylily. (For a more complete list, visit The Haunted Gardens blog by clicking here.)

Black and orange pansies
Orange and black pansies are a classic.

You could take a cue from Gomez Addams, Morticia's husband, who grew roses (for the thorns), hemlock and hen’s bane (for their toxicity) and poison ivy.  My advice though, is to stick with something like witchhazel (Hamamelis ssp.) for its brilliant fall colors or Ghost ™ weigela (Weigela florida  'Carlton') which has foliage that starts out green and turns a butter yellow as the season progresses. Both are pretty and won’t get you in as much trouble with the neighbors.
Of course, the biggest problem with a ghoulish garden is that the Midwest's weather is so unpredictable around Halloween. Your best bet may be orange and black pansies as they can take some cold temperatures.

In the photo above, I used them with Graceful Grasses® Vertigo® pearl millet (Pennisetum purpureum) (named after the famous Alfred Hitchcock thriller no doubt) and some 'Bronzilla' sedge (Carex flagelifera). Obsidian coral bells, the blackest Heuchera, is shown in the container at the very top. You also could add some pumpkins or dead branches with spider webs just before the Big Night.
If you need something even spookier, consider a gargoyle or mythical winged creature of some sort. Still want more? I've actually spotted several zombie garden gnomes on the Web. You can't get much more horrific than that.

By Karen Geisler


  1. I'm not real fond of dark foliage/flowers, but I like the zombie gnomes.

    1. There are several types of zombie gnomes out there, although some are a bit gruesome. The photo was so fun I couldn't resist using it.

  2. Karen I love fun garden themes and you have given me lots of ideas for more fun plants...I have Bela but will have to look for Lily...of course none of my fun plants will see Halloween...plants are done by the 31st.

    1. 'Lily Munster' has several shades of pink and looks like a spider daylily. ('Natch) Apparently the 1313 Mockingbird Lane Halloween special this weekend on TV is all about the Munsters. So I'm hoping Lily does some gardening this time around.

  3. Zombie garden gnomes! You had me laughing out loud with that one. Most of my plants will look droopy and dead after the next few days and nights...spooky. And just in time for the big costume party.

    1. Ditto here. I can only hope that the pansies on my front porch can survive long enough to welcome trick-or-treaters. The weather forecasters are even talking about the chance of a few snowflakes here Tuesday night!

  4. That Bela Lugosi Daylily looks interesting. I have one called Entrapment that I bought just because of the name. My mums in the containers have had it, probably going to go away before Halloween.


  5. I enjoyed your photos of the Lurie Garden in autumn. Here is something more on the garden in summer:


    Susan Barsy

    PS you might also enjoy the coverage of the city parks at Celia: Her City.