Garden Chocolates

by Terra Hangen

CHOCOLATE and no calories. How can this be? Just add the scent and color of chocolate to your garden by searching out some of these plants, and don’t forget to add cocoa bean shells.

The first secret is to mulch with cocoa bean shells, which are made from the shell of the cocoa bean used to produce chocolate. Whenever your local plant nursery has cocoa bean shells for sale, treat yourself and buy a bag or two. The mulch hulls are a soft chocolaty color, and best of all, they have the scent of cocoa. For a week afterward you will catch the scent of sweets as you enter your garden, particularly after you water, and if you use these hulls as mulch for all of your patio container plants, when you step outside to the patio, there’s that wonderful aroma greeting you.

An exciting plant to grow indoors is the very popular Chocolate Oncidium Orchid, ‘Sharry Baby.’ This orchid is one of the easier orchids to grow and will release a delicious chocolate fragrance in your home. It produces dozens of tiny blooms with petals colored with splashes of chocolate and white. This plant prefers night temperatures of 55-65 degrees, and daytime of 70-80 degrees; an eastern or southern window is ideal.
Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata), also called Chocolate Daisy, is often described as having the best chocolate scent of all. The flowers, which often fade away each day, are yellow with red stripes underneath the petals and sporting deep red centers with chocolate color stamens. The scent is released at night and remains in your garden in early morning, so garden visitors will enjoy the chocolate bar fragrance in the evenings and early mornings. Drought tolerant, enjoying full sun, growing 12-18 inches tall.

Hot Chocolate Calla Lily (Zantedeschia aethiopia), bred in New Zealand, is a bit hard to find in the United States, but well worth searching for. The rich dark chocolate flowers, good for cutting, grow on plants 20-30 inches tall, and have average water needs.

The Sarcococca Bush (S. ruscifolia) is a bit of a hard sell, because the bush and its leaves are quite ordinary looking. The feature which lends this bush grandeur is the potent perfume of its very tiny white flowers— the noble waft of chocolate. Sarcococca reaches 3 feet tall, produces white flowers by February, followed by red berries, and thrives in both dappled shade and full sun.

Plant Chocolate Soldier, also called Chocolate Columbine (Aquilegia viridiflora), for its maroon dark chocolate colored flowers that dance on slender stems and have a sweet scent. These perennials bloom from late spring through June. Chocolate Soldier prefers moist soil with good drainage and reaches 12-14 inches. Cut a few stems and put them in a vase indoors, where these fragrant jewels will gain many admirers.

The Geranium Chocolate Peppermint (Pelargonium hyb.) is a sturdy plant that thrives in gardens and in containers outdoors, in sun or partial shade, and offers garden visitors a delicious chocolate peppermint scent. The gray green leaves are splashed with chocolate color and the flowers are pink. Gentle rain, hot sun or a light touch will release the fragrance from the leaves. This plant thrives in zones 3-11.

For the flower with a color that most resembles dark rich chocolate consider the Chocolate Cosmos (Cosmos astrosanguineus). The flowers have a velvety mahogany look and a rich chocolate fragrance. These flowers don’t resemble the annuals that are so popular. Chocolate Cosmos are tuberous perennials. This gorgeous cut flower is native to Mexico, and is sometimes called the Black Cosmos.

Rather new on the garden scene is ‘Hot Cocoa Rose’, with flowers of a tantalizing smoky chocolate-orange hue. This rose, developed by Weeks Roses, has won stunning honors, recently winning the Members’ Choice Award of the American Rose Society, and previously selected as an All America Rose Selection. Can you imagine how fierce the competition is, and how lovely the rivals for this award? This is just the third time that a rose has won the ARS top award as well as AARS honors. For the ARS win, the rose is grown in test gardens for two years and must do well in virtually all U.S. climate zones. Hot Cocoa is a four foot tall nicely rounded plant.

Chocolate enthusiasts enjoy growing a vine from Japan called ‘Chocolate Vine’ (Akebia quinata). The leaves are attractive and the flowers are tiny and brownish purple and not very noticeable but their glory is that they emit a white chocolate scent that connoisseurs love. This vine grows in sun and in part shade, is an aggressive climber twining to 15-20 feet, and is best grown in a container to control its invasive habit. The Chocolate Vine is deciduous, but evergreen in mild climates.

The delightful Magpie Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris), also called Columbine William Guinness, sports flowers not black and white like the raucous Magpie bird, but indeed, maroon chocolate with showy white corollas, or center petals. This treat has the scent of fresh cut hay.

Seeds and starts for these plants are found in all the large plant company catalogs, at your local plant stores, and there is a small business — ‘Chocolate Flower Farm’ in Langley, Washington (360-221-4464, www.chocolateflowerfarm.com — that sells starter seed packs, hard to find chocolate plants, and gift items including unique chocolate candles that they make.

Bring chocolate to your garden and savor chocolate fragrance that is calorie free! Plant some of these guilt-free chocolate beauties, add cocoa hulls for mulch, and delight in your delicious garden. •

from the November-December 2007 issue

The new Hot Cocoa Rose received the American Rose Society's Members' Choice Award and the All American Rose Selection.

The Hot Chocolate Lily has rich dark chocolate flowers.

The Chocolate Cosmos has a color that most resembles dark rich chocolate.

The Chocolate Daisy is often described as having the best chocolate scent of all.