We’re still in drought. It’s Japanese beetle season. The temperatures have been higher than normal and the humidity too high – but things are not all black in the garden. Unfortunately, they should be.

Not everywhere, of course, but this year I planted an experimental “black” garden, with every deep, dark foliage plant that I could lay my hands on – as well as those with very dark flowers.

It has not been a smashing success.

Oh – most of the plants look healthy enough. The dahlias, in fact, look downright gorgeous. The little patch of salad I used as an edging is flourishing in shades of red, burgundy and chartreuse – a perfect complement to the darkness that it is supposed to be enclosing.

The flowers also look great – bright red and electric lavender predominate at the moment, while blues and yellows had their moments earlier – preceded in spring by a flourish of red, pink and white tulips.

The problem? My black garden isn’t black. At least not nearly as much of it as should be. In fact,. Most of my so-called black foliage plants are decidedly green.

OK – I know that there is really no such thing as a black plant. What we see when we look at one of those plants we call black is actually very dark green, purple or red. But at least they are very dark plants and a stark contrast to the usual greens, gold and silvers I plant in my everlasting quest to do a garden of foliage so colorful that the flowers aren’t missed.

But this year plants that have been reliably dark for me in previous years are green.

Not all of them. My Physocarpus ‘Diablo’ is a satisfactory deep reddish black, and the Ophiopogon nigrescens is a truly blackish green. The purple smoke tree retains its dark purple hue – except that many of the leaves are now rimmed in scarlet.

But what of the rest? The dahlias are, at best, dark green. The popular sweet potato vine, Ipomoea batatas ‘Blackie’ is a sickly greenish purple with emphasis on green and sickly, as is its relative, ‘Ace of Spades’. Ricinus communis ‘Carmencita’, which has always been a shiny, deep mahogany is decidedly green – and, most disappointing of all, so is the usually awe-inspiring elephant ears of Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic.’

What’s happening here?

To answer that question, you have to first understand what makes a so-called black plant black in the first place.