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Chocolate in garden absolutely calorie-free

Got chocolate in your garden? There's good news for lovers of chocolate. Not only has it been proven that eating chocolate is good for your health, but chocolate-colored plants are also an easy way to add flavor and color to your landscape.

As my hometown of Enumclaw celebrates its second annual chocolate festival, here are some sweet tips for adding chocolate to your own landscape:

For just a little chocolate:

Chocolate Chip ajuga: A sweet groundcover

Very easy to grow, this ground-hugging perennial does not get out of control like regular ajuga and sports rich, chocolate-brown foliage capped by lacy blue flower spikes each spring.

Chocolate Chip ajuga only spreads 2 or 3 feet after a couple of years so I use it in container gardens.

The dark foliage looks especially nice spilling over the edge of a cream- or light-colored pot and this ajuga won’t smother its neighbors.

It makes an especially nice statement when combined with the silver leaves of Dusty Miller.

As an added bonus, the chocolate foliage stays looking great all winter long – and it looks especially good on a snowy day when a nice pot of chocolate really warms the heart.

Chocolate Cosmos: To perfume your garden with the smell of cocoa.

Grown for its fabulous fragrance, this cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus) has attractive deep-red flowers that appear in late summer and early fall. I’ve had problems growing this semi-hardy plant before because I failed to respect its demand for quick-draining soil. The solution is to grow it in a large pot, use lightweight potting soil and don’t overwater. If you have only a balcony or small patio and still like the idea of chocolate in the garden, this is the plant for you.

Chocolate Beech Tree: To use chocolate as a backdrop for drama

Okay, chocolate does not grow on trees here in Western Washington and even though the dark foliage of the purple or copper beech trees do look a bit like chocolate, there are no beech varieties with chocolate in the name. But adding any tree with rich, deep foliage to your landscape gives the garden an instant shot of color contrast. We live in a state of perpetual green with shades of gray. Adding a tree with foliage that reminds you of a Hershey bar provides a backdrop for dramatic color combinations. Ring your chocolate tree with white-blooming Glacier azaleas, or plant the variegated green-and-white Pieris japonica nearby. It’s all about the contrast. Once you have the dark foliage as a foil for light-colored plants, your landscape will shine with light on even the grayest of days.

A reminder

The end of January is your last chance to dormant spray your fruit trees, roses and other leaf less trees and shrubs.

Dormant sprays are used by some organic gardeners as they contain a safe horticultural oil to coat the cracks and crevices of insect-and disease-prone plants. Then when spring arrives, the over-wintering bug eggs and disease spores suffocate under the invisible oily film. There are also dormant sprays that contain copper for killing off the spores of peach leaf curl, blights and scabs. Get to a garden center this week and read the label and instructions now. Your window of opportunity for applying a dormant spray is beginning to close.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. For gardening questions, write to her at PO Box 872, Enumclaw, WA 98022. Please send a SASE for a personal reply. She also can be reached at www.binettigarden.com.

Meet Marianne

Jan. 27-31: Meet Marianne Binetti at the Tacoma Home & Garden Show. She’ll speak at 2 p.m. every day of the show and give away new plant varieties to some audience members. Info: otshows.com/shows/ths.

Jan. 30-31: Add Some Chocolate to Your Garden. Learn how to use color and contrast in the garden at 11 a.m. at Enumclaw Chocolate and Wine Festival at King County Fairgrounds. Info: www.enumclawchocolate festival.com.

Feb. 6: A lecture on “How to Eat Your Front Yard” at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. Talk is at 11:30 a.m. See next Wednesday’s features section for a story on the topic. Also, a lecture at 2:15 p.m. Feb. 7 at the flower show, “Adding Chocolate to the Garden.” Info: gardenshow.com.

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