Purple in the Garden was the title of a talk I recently presented to the Mt. Prospect Garden Club. I was thrilled when they requested this particular topic because I love purple.
This mix of the primary colors red and blue brings out the best in neighboring plants. It eases the harshness of red flowers. It adds pizazz to a yellow or orange color scheme. Purple creates excitement when paired with chartreuse foliage, and it spices up cool colors. If high contrast is not your style, use purple to fashion a seductive effect when it’s combined with deep rich red blossoms.
Purple foliage looks even darker when it is planted near plants of high contrast. White may seem an obvious choice, but that combination can sometimes look stark. Silver-foliage plants are better partners. An even softer effect is achieved when purple is mingled with pastel-colored blooms.
There are many plenty of plants with purple flowers from spring tulips and summer bloomers like this Penstemon ‘Purple Rock Candy’ to asters and mums in fall. But savvy gardeners know flowers are fleeting. They choose plants with purple foliage for persistently purple plantings.
Ajuga, commonly known as carpet bugle, offers many cultivars with purple foliage. Catlin’s Giant is one of the largest growing six to eight inches tall. Chocolate Chip is one of the smallest remaining a ground-hugging two inches. Create a stunning combination by planting either under large gold-leaved hostas or coral bells with rosy foliage.
There are several varieties of coleus with dark, sultry colors. Some are solid-colored; others edged, veined or splashed with lime or red. With varieties for sun or shade, every gardener can add some to their gardens or containers.
Ipomoea ‘Densana Bronze’ has striking dark purple foliage when grown in full sun. Let its color and texture trail over the edge of large containers.
Eupatorium ‘Chocolate’ has clusters of white flowers in September and reaches three to four feet tall. It is best grown in full sun with consistent moisture. Without a constant supply of water, site it in light shade. It is spectacular paired with hostas with blue foliage.
Sedums offer several sumptuous, purple-leaved cultivars. Smaller varieties are best for edging; taller types are ideal for the middle of the border. All are low-maintenance plants and prefer a hot, dry location.
Cimicifuga ‘Pink Spike’ has exquisite, dark bronze-purple foliage. Growing up to four feet tall, it carries twelve-inch spires of pale pink flowers in September and October. It may take some searching to find this perennial and it can cost a pretty penny, but it is well worth the time and money to include this beautiful plant in the landscape.
An abundance of purple-leaved varieties are available in the coral bells family. The foliage of Obsidian resembles purple satin; the leaves of Midnight Rose are splashed with rose-pink; and the foliage of Amethyst Mist is overlaid with silver. Coral bells perform best in filtered light or morning sun, but afternoon shade.
Weigela ‘Merlot Pink’ is a versatile shrub that can be integrated into a shrub or perennial border, used as a small hedge or utilized as a foundation plant. It grows three feet tall and four feet wide. Its showy pink flowers attract hummingbirds in late spring and early summer. Although they will grow in part shade, best foliage color is achieved in full sun.
Physocarpus ‘Summer Wine’ is an easy-to-grow, adaptable shrub with deeply cut, dark reddish-purple leaves. Maturing at five to six feet tall, it is perfect for the mixed border.
Cotinus ‘Royal Purple’ grows slowly to ten feet tall and wide. Its maroon new growth matures to purple. In summer, large panicles of wispy, purple-colored flowers look like clouds of smoke among the foliage.
The danger when planting plants with purple foliage is over-doing it. Using too many can create a black hole in the garden. Instead, strategically position small groups in different areas in the landscape to provide continuity, to give the eye a path to follow as it moves across the garden.
These are just a pittance from the plethora of purple-foliage plants. Pick your favorites and plant a punch of purple. You will be pleasantly pleased – I promise. Garden with me!
Author’s Note: Parts of this post originally appeared in a Chicago Daily Herald article in August, 2015. Read my column each week in Sunday’s Home & Garden section.