Dark shades for a thrilling gothic garden

By Heather Kirk-Ballard

LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

Gardening has seen many trends in the past 200 years. Many reflect societal shifts, technological advances and ever-evolving aesthetic changes.

The early 19th century highlighted the Victorian age, when many landscape designs used bedding plants placed in complex patterns. They were a display of status and wealth, especially in gardens that featured exotic plants. Inspired by the Romantic movement, romantic and picturesque gardens emphasized the beauty of nature over formal structure, creating Arcadian-type landscapes.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a push against the industrial revolution with gardens that favored traditional craftsmanship and the garden with the home. This encouraged the design of gardens that complemented the architectural style of houses. During this period, cottage gardens became more evolved from the Victorian era and were popular as cozy, less formal gardens. Their designs emphasized dense plantings and a mix of both edible and ornamental plants.

The post-World War II economic boom resulted in the rise of suburban homes with lawns, foundation plantings and backyard gardens as standard features. Modernist gardens appeared from the 1930s to 1960s. The gardens of this time began to reflect modern architecture with minimalistic designs and the use of new materials like concrete. This period favored function and form with an emphasis on simplicity.

As environmental awareness increased in the 1970s, organic gardening gained popularity. This paved the way for gardening practices that focused on sustainable practices by avoiding synthetic chemical use in the lawn and creating habitat for local wildlife.

Now in the 21st century, we have seen a rise in urban farming and gardening. With more people living in cities, urban gardening has risen in popularity, including rooftop gardens, vertical gardening and community gardens. Making the most of less space, urban gardeners are growing in raised beds and containers.

Today’s gardeners often have concerns about climate change and water scarcity. Much like in the ‘70s, many people now focus on sustainable and low-maintenance gardening. There is a trend toward using native and drought-resistant plants, permaculture techniques and systems that reduce chemical, water and energy use.

According to the Garden Media Group's 2024 Garden Trends Report, which is based on surveys, there is another growing interest among modern gardeners: a style known as gothic gardening. This unique approach is set to be a leading trend for the year, characterized by its embrace of the mysterious and the melancholic.

Drawing heavily on the gothic traditions found in literature, art and architecture, gothic gardening incorporates elements that emphasize a romantic and sometimes eerie ambiance. The central theme of gothic gardens is dark. Plants with dark leaves and blooms in shades of deep purple, black and dark red are commonly used.

Examples include black pansies, Queen of Night tulips, Black Prince snapdragon, Blood Red sunflower, Black Peony poppy from Park Seed, Black Cherry floribunda rose and Pine Knots Select Strain hellebores from Jackson & Perkins.

You also can incorporate dark delights such as pottery and statuary and consider up-lighting trees for evening ambiance. You can even allow plants to take on a slightly untidy appearance. Withered plants and faded blooms contribute to the thematic experience, giving you an excuse to let the garden get away from you this year.

Gothic gardens also often include architectural features such as wrought-iron gates, gothic arches and gazebos. These structures contribute to the ancient or historical feel typical of gothic settings. Statues of gargoyles, angels and mythical creatures can add a sense of mystery and antiquity. Ornate benches and old lanterns are also popular.

The layout typically includes hidden nooks and shaded corners, evoking a sense of secrecy and solitude. The use of climbing ivy and shade-loving plants enhances these areas. Reflective pools, fountains and small ponds can add an element, evoking the introspective and melancholic themes found in gothic literature.

The appeal of gothic gardening lies in its capacity to create a landscape that feels both historical and otherworldly, making it a particularly immersive and chilling garden style.

Outdoor fountain with statues.

Statues of gargoyles, angels and mythical creatures add a sense of mystery and antiquity. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

Plant with deep purple bloom.

The central theme of Gothic gardens is dark. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

Plant with deep purple foliage.

Plants with dark leaves and blooms in shades of deep purple, black and dark red are commonly used. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

Plant with brown foliage.

Dark foliage can create a striking visual effect. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

4/15/2024 5:16:50 PM
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