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Originally published Sunday, October 11, 2009 at 12:07 AM

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Plant Life

'Black Plants' shows the beauty of the darker side

As we settle into fall, we can settle into a few good books that will inspire us for the next gardening season and beyond. Among the choices: "Fearless Color Gardens: The Creative Gardener's Guide to Jumping Off the Color Wheel" and "Great Gardens of America."

IT'S NEARLY time to put the garden to bed and come indoors. Books fresh off the press help ease the transition from working in the garden to reading about it. Whether you want to perk up your garden with brilliant color, grow it taller or increase its cool quotient with black plants, there are new books to inspire and guide you.

Or if your idea of a perfect autumn evening is perusing pages devoted to the world's finest gardens, pull up a chair, turn on your reading light, and settle in:

"Fearless Color Gardens: The Creative Gardener's Guide to Jumping Off the Color Wheel" by Keeyla Meadows (Timber Press, $27.95). Meadows is a California artist and garden designer with an acute and lively color sense. Her book is rich in exercises, ideas and photos designed to put you in touch with your inner color guru. Meadows takes her cue from flowers' own color contrasts, encouraging gardeners with visuals that fairly vibrate off the page. If you're shy about using color, this is the book for you, because Meadows hasn't met a shade, tone or hue she couldn't put to clever and expressive use.

"Black Plants: 75 Striking Choices for the Garden" by Paul Bonine (Timber Press, $14.95). To calm down after all that crazy color, pick up this book. While Meadows draws you in to participate, Bonine takes a straightforward approach with his compilation of photos and descriptions of black or near-black flowers and foliage. The book is small, pretty, concise . . . But why is Bonine so into these over-pigmented plants? Why does he think we should be? I kept looking for more information than I might learn in a Google search. Considering the gloominess of our weather, what we could really use is a book with ideas on how to use ebony plants for maximum impact with minimum murkiness.

"Tall Perennials: Larger-than-Life Plants for Gardens of all Sizes" by Roger Turner (Timber Press, $34.95). Short of planting corn or sunflowers, there's no quicker way to add height and structure to a garden than with tall perennials. Turner makes his feelings clear from the outset: "So dig out all those prostrate subjects that grovel on the surface of the ground . . . and plant something bold and attention-seeking instead." Tall perennials can add mystery, texture, privacy and impressive biomass. And don't for a minute think your garden is too tiny for such impressive plants. Turner writes, "Just because your garden is small, there's no logic that compels you to have only low-growing plants." From lofty, yellow-flowered Rudbeckia 'Juligold' to airy meadow rues that top out at 10 feet, Turner offers up 600 soaring perennials.

"Great Gardens of America" by Tim Richardson (Frances Lincoln Ltd., $50). Because it looks so classically coffee table, I'm afraid this "great" book won't get the attention it deserves. You open its big, thick pages expecting to see traditional estate gardens, but Richardson has written about, and Andrea Jones has photographed, a very contemporary look at gardens all around the country. Public and private gardens are included, along with two Seattle-area gardens, Windcliff and Bloedel Reserve. Many of the gardens are modern, unusual and personal, and the format is large enough to do them justice. The text is lively, the photos stunning, the effect like an armchair coast-to-coast garden tour.

"Hidcote: The Making of a Garden" by Ethne Clarke (revised edition, W.W. Norton & Co., $45). Historian Clarke tells the story of one of England's grandest country gardens in a fond yet knowledgeable tone. She's pieced together the biography of reclusive bachelor Lawrence Johnston, the expatriate American who devoted his life to his Cotswold garden. Historical and current photos trace Hidcote's development, helping explain why it's been so admired and visited for more than a century. Johnston didn't create Hidcote in a vacuum, and Clarke puts his work into perspective with an exploration of the gardens that influenced him. This is a beautiful book, full of life and a story well worth telling.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "A Pattern Garden." Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.

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