Hello! This is the first of what I hope will be a long and fruitful conversation we’ll have over a cuppa in the garden. I’m Marie Shallcross (more about me at the end) and you are a gardener I want to help with tips and inspire with planting ideas.
For many of us, the Easter period is when we really get going in the garden. Whether it’s snowing or sunny, there are guaranteed signs of spring all around us. Whatever your religion or if you have none, as a spring festival Easter is synonymous with rebirth. And that makes us want to be a part of such a hopeful season; almost as if we are hotwired to buy plants and pick up trowels.
And one of our ways of celebrating Easter is to eat chocolate eggs. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could combine our love of chocolate with our love of gardening?
Let me let you into a secret: we can!
As chocolate isn't just for Easter! Chocolate plants make it possible to enjoy the colour and or scent all summer long and I have a selection of delectable chocolate plants for you to try.
Let’s start with two foliage plants, both, as it happens, Coleus. Also known as Solenostemon and Plectranthus scutellarioides, Coleus is not frost hardy. However, it makes a lovely summer bedding plant in patio pots or at the edge of a border.
Plant these where they’ll enjoy the morning sun or light shade in the afternoon. Too much sun and their bright foliage will scorch. They like moist free draining soil and are fairly drought tolerant. These chocolate plants will grow to about 12 “ / 30cm in height and spread.
Come mid-autumn, you can lift and compost them with the rest of your summer bedding. Or why not try growing them indoors as houseplants in a pretty cachepot?
Coleus Chocolate Cherry
The flamboyant foliage has a cherry-coloured centre surrounded by a chocolate brown: as you‘d expect from the name. The leaves look as if they’ve been lightly dipped in green food dye.
Coleus Chocolate Mint
By contrast, this plant looks like a dark chocolate mint. Dark Velvety leaves edged with mint green rounded teeth make this look good enough to eat.
But don’t eat it – Coleus are not edible plants. Unfortunately, although they look the part, they don’t smell of chocolate, cherries or mint. But I’d give them garden room anyway.
Cosmos atrosanguineus is a tender tuberous perennial, related to the annual cosmos flowers. A native of Mexico, it can be treated as an annual garden plant. If you prefer, the tubers can be lifted in the autumn and stored in a frost-free shed. In other words, similar to how you would treat a dahlia if you were growing that as a perennial.
At the time of writing, it's not been confirmed which of the following cultivars will be in stock. But as their blooms are velvety and redolent of chocolate, they are all wonderful!
Cosmos atrosanguineus ‘chocolate’ and ‘chocamocca’ both have maroon-brown flowers and a strong fragrance. Most of the chocolate Cosmos are about 3’ /90cm tall and may need staking if your garden is windy. ‘Chocamocca’ is shorter and doesn’t need staking.
The cultivar 'Black Magic' has even darker blooms and would look dramatic planted in a group with Cosmos atrosanguineus ‘Flamingo’, the pink chocolate plant. Pale pink, smelling of chocolate, and like all the cosmos, an excellent pollinator plant. Grow Cosmos in a sunny spot where you can enjoy their scent. They will be happy in pots or in the border.
Hot Chocolate Rose
Sold as Rosa ‘Hot Cocoa’ or ’Rosa ‘Hot Chocolate’, this is a floribunda rose. Dark green foliage sets off pink-orange buds that mature to warm copper brown blooms. Personally, I find this rose has a slightly fruit chocolate scent, which is rather pleasant. And an excellent counterpoint to all those chocolate Cosmos you’ll have growing nearby.
Clusters of blooms flower on a smallish plant, as Rosa ‘Hot Cocoa’ grows to about 3’ / 90 cm high. This is an advantage as you can place it in the middle of a border where the scent will still reach you. It has good disease resistance and is wildlife friendly. Deadheading will encourage more blooms, mulch in the autumn.
The flowers are edible but don’t taste particularly of chocolate. Although, you could dip them in a chocolate sauce before eating…
Like the hot chocolate rose, the next two chocolate plants are both edible. And arguably are the best of our selection as they smell and taste of chocolate.
Mentha × piperita citrata ‘Chocolate’ is a hardy, although not necessarily evergreen, culinary herb. Expect the taste to be chocolate flavoured peppermint with the minty flavour more dominant. The leaves are a delicious addition to cakes and puddings and give an interesting twist to a mint tea.
Like all the mint family, chocolate peppermint can be a bit of a thug about spreading around the garden. Grow it in a decent-sized pot, or a small trough. Because of the way mint grows, it often does better in a rectangular-shaped container. It prefers a shady spot.
Chocolate peppermint has purple stems and dark green leaves, for the scent, rub their aromatic leaves. The lilac flowers bloom in early summer and are much loved by pollinators. The downside of letting any mint plant flower is that the flavour is not so good afterwards. I take the easy way out and have two plants – one for me to use and one to flower!
Pelargonium Chocolate Mint
Pelargonium tomentosum ‘chocolate mint’ is a tender perennial. Like coleus, pelargoniums can be planted in an outdoor container in a sunny spot during the summer. Over winter they make good conservatory plants as the aromatic foliage is retained.
The leaves are mid-green with a dark medallion in the centre and turn red as they mature. There are pink flowers produced in late spring and summer, but this plant is grown mainly for its decorative, aromatic foliage.
As regards eating it, pelargonium leaves are most commonly used to flavour cakes by lining the baking tin. The flowers are edible too and can be added to salads. I would describe the foliage flavour as minty-lime, with a hint of chocolate. There is a school of thought that says ‘chocolate’ refers to the dark leaf marking not the flavour.
There you have our selection of chocolate plants. And there are choices there to suit your garden whether you have a balcony, suburban garden or houseplants.
And as Easter is a time to enjoy chocolate and our gardens, it is satisfying for gardening chocaholics to combine the two!
These wonderful plants will be appearing in your local British Garden Centre over the next few weeks. Keep popping in to see the latest and greatest fresh plants as they arrive from the nursery. Find your local centre here.
But what else needs our attention in the garden? Many things – possibly you feel there are too many. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with all the gardening tasks that are demanding your attention, so try this tip to help you to feel less stressed.
In a notebook, write down the 3 things that annoy you the most. Remember the small things, not just the big expensive project type stuff.
Can you easily change any of them?
For example –
- Do you get frustrated when your seedlings don’t grow into healthy plants? Buy plug plants or small plants instead as they need less TLC. It isn’t necessarily more expensive when you balance it against the seeds, soil, seed trays and your time that was wasted. And you’ll be happier with a garden filled with sweet peas, runner beans, salads and marigolds.
- Or perhaps your composting doesn’t work. There could be many reasons, such as the mix of green and brown plant material is in the wrong proportions. But it could be that you’re not using the right method for your family. Have a look at the different options available. It may be that you need a wormery rather than an ‘ordinary’ compost bin.
Most small things are fairly easy to sort out once you realise exactly what it is that’s irritating you.
That’s all for this month, happy gardening until next time!
About the author
Marie Shallcross is an advocate of edible ornamental gardens - beautiful, practical spaces that are both human-friendly and wildlife-friendly. She is the owner of Plews Garden Design, offering bespoke Gardening Lessons where your garden is your classroom. As well as Garden Design, Planting Designs, and Garden Consultancy.
A member of the prestigious Garden Media Guild, Marie writes a weekly award-winning gardening blog – Plews Potting Shed - plus articles for various publications and websites.