Color in the garden is a personal choice, and you will find entire books devoted to this subject. Personally, my eye is not offended by a rainbow of blooms of many species decorating my landscape, but I know that some gardeners with a perhaps more finely tuned aesthetic sensibility prefer to coordinate flower colors with more precision. In my landscape, however, pretty much anything goes.
That being said, I do have a special fondness for the color purple in all its myriad shades. Purple has always been a favorite color of mine, and because it is a mix of red and blue, I think it serves to help many other colors blend harmoniously in my landscape. Truthfully, I don’t much think about harmony when I add another purple-blooming and/or purple-leaved plant to my landscape. I just don’t seem to ever get enough variations on purple to stop me from wanting more.
The chive flowers above are on the lavender side of purple, but they still say “purple” to me. The red flowers in the distant background are those of Crimson Clover, a winter cover crop I sow to protect and enrich dormant vegetable beds.
The bit of delicate bronze/red/purple foliage in the back right corner of the photo is Bronze Fennel. The leaves of this herb are a subtle purple-red. The plant grows to about three feet, then sends up zillions of flower stalks that add another two feet to its height. Leaves impart a delicate anise scent/flavor to the nose and palate. It draws admiration from all visitors and requires no work on my part. I grow it for its beauty, and to serve as a food source for the caterpillars of the Black Swallowtail. We have a deal: they leave my carrots and dill alone, and they can have all the Bronze Fennel they want. The fennel always survives without significant impact, and I get more butterflies — win-win!
Today, I want to show you some of the purple plants currently (or recently) showing off in my landscape. I think they all bring passion to my garden.
Spring is iris season in my yard. I love all of them, but the three main types I grow are Siberian, bearded, and Louisiana. I’ve lost track of the name of the cultivar of the above Siberian iris, but its gorgeousness doesn’t need a name, does it? Irises thrive in my yard, I think because they receive nothing but benign neglect from me. If you make sure their rhizomes aren’t too deeply buried and that they get at least four hours of sun a day, the Siberian and bearded varieties do the rest of the work, multiplying steadily every year.
Here’s another Siberian iris whose cultivar name I’ve lost:
Bearded iris remind me of my mother and her mother. Both always grew lovely irises, mostly the pale lavender ones that smelled like bubblegum to my nose. I grow somewhat fancier ones. I invested in several varieties about twenty years ago, and they’ve been multiplying and beautifying ever since.
And here’s another one in the purple family:
I’ve showed you my other bearded iris variety before. This one’s name I remember, because it is named for how it looks:
My bearded irises are just finishing their bloom period, and the Siberians are about half done. But just yesterday, my Louisiana iris cultivars began their blooming cycle. Louisiana irises originated from that part of the US, but I’m not clear on the history of this type. I do know that they thrive in wet conditions, which is why I added them to some of the soggier parts of my floodplain, and one cultivar is planted beside the water feature in my front yard, where I can be sure it gets extra water.
The Louisiana iris by my front water feature is especially lovely. Its first bloom opened yesterday during a brief sunny spell between rain showers.
Although it looks a bit pinkish in this photo, its color is really in more of the magenta family. I think it looks especially fabulous surrounded by my Tradescantia cultivar ‘Sweet Kate,’ which is in stunning full bloom right now. A happy accident on my part is the way the yellow center of the iris echoes the color of Sweet Kate’s foliage.
Here’s a close-up of the flowers of Sweet Kate, so you can more fully appreciate them:
After I noticed the above iris blooming, I made a quick hike to the floodplain and discovered that the water-loving varieties down there are just opening. They will bloom in waves for several weeks, especially if the wonderful rains keep coming.
I don’t just love purple flowers, however. I’m also a huge fan of purple-leaved plants. Most of these have new leaves that start out purplish, then morph into green that might be tinged with purple. But some plants retain leaves that are distinctly in the purple family. Take for example, this ridiculously enormous Loropetalum:
Many Piedmonters have fallen in love with the native Redbud cultivar, Forest Pansy. If you site the tree so that it doesn’t get too much direct afternoon sun, the leaves will remain purplish all season.
One other purple-leaved beauty that I haven’t written about yet is Cotinus ‘Grace.’ It has been adorning my landscape for at least fifteen years now, and I really must show you its flowers and cotton candy puffs of pale pink seed heads when they appear this year. The contrast between leaves, flowers, and seed heads is made more dramatic by the distinctly purple color of the leaves.
These are a few of the purple highlights of my landscape at the moment. Even the wildflowers get into the act this time of year. The Lyreleaf Sage, for example, is currently adorning all parts of my lawn. But for now, I’ll close with another favorite purple perennial:
This cultivar was developed by the talented folks at the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, then introduced into the horticulture industry, so that gardeners everywhere can enjoy it. The only trick to this beauty is to plant it exactly where it will thrive, because it doesn’t do well when you try to relocate it. Baptisias thrive in sunny, well-drained sites, reflecting their heritage as prairie natives. Site them wisely, and your reward will be ever-expanding, trouble-free plants adorned by long-blooming spires of lovely lavender pea-like flowers. What more could anyone afflicted by a passion for purple desire?