My relationship with the color purple has gone up and down over the years. When I was ten I had a dark purple velvet party dress with a white lace collar. It was my favorite, and I would have worn it every day if my mother had allowed it. She didn’t, and eventually, Nature took its course and I outgrew the dress. When I was a teenager I had some dark purple lip gloss that my mother thought was an absolute abomination. Eventually, Nature took its course and I grew out of the idea that dark purple lip gloss was what I needed to attract boys. Five years ago I planted a package of Canterbury bell seeds in mixed shades of pink, white, light purple and dark purple. I preferred the lighter blossoms, but eventually, natural selection took its course and the dark purple ones predominated. Now, fashion has taken its inevitable course and I find that dark purple is all the rage. I can’t imagine what my mother would say.
The garden and shelter magazines are full of dark purple, from bluish dark purple to deep winey reddish dark purple. I saw one spread that featured a bedroom with walls and upholstered furniture covered in purple and white toile. Waking up in such a place (or worse yet, trying to go to sleep in such a place) would be tantamount to imprisonment in a bottle of very fizzy grape Nehi. Still, there are a great many deep purple flowers that work wonders in the garden. Everyone with vertical support should have a good old reliable Clematis jackmanii, with its lush huge purple blossoms and carefree ways. This plant is so easy to deal with and obtain that I am convinced that there are some streets in my town where every household already has a Clematis Jackmanii.
Purple petunias are an easy way of inserting this fashion trend into your planting scheme, as are pansies. You can edge with dark purple alyssum, which smells good in addition to adding the necessary aura of chic in the border.
In the magazines, much has been made of blowsy purple roses, and many of those shown have been on the blue, rather than the red side of the purple spectrum. There are pale, bluish-purple roses such as ‘Sterling Silver’ and ‘Blue Moon’, but for a more saturated color, you have to pick something like ‘Veilchenblau’, introduced in 1909. I have a lovely little ‘Baby Faurax’ rose in my garden, which makes up for the small size of its blooms (about 2-inches across) with amazing abundance. ‘Baby Faurax’ is perfect for pots on the porch, and is a nice blue-purple shade.
Rose classicists have been selecting the hybrid perpetual ‘Reine des Violettes’ for their gardens ever since its introduction in 1860. Its quartered blooms are rich and velvety red-purple. ‘Souvenir de Dr. Jamain’ is, according to one of the catalogs, “the color of port”. What could be richer than that?
Those who want to take a walk on the purple wild side should rush out and buy ‘Purple Tiger’ a purple-striped rose introduced within the last ten years by Jackson & Perkins. Sad to say, ‘Purple Tiger’ did not succeed in my garden, but perhaps the cats were jealous and dug at its roots.
Naturally, if you have purple roses, you need lavender. Lavendula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’, has the deepest color of any of the lavenders and it is widely available.
In the early spring, satisfying the deep purple urge is easy with the abundance of crocus, hyacinth, tulip and allium varieties available. There are some wonderful deep purple lilacs. The ‘Sensation’ cultivar (Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’) spices things up with dark purple petals edged in white. With a little planning early on, you can make sure your garden is filled with all kinds of dark purple irises after the lilacs have faded. There are, after all, the big bearded German varieties, Siberian types such as ‘Ruffled Velvet’ (Iris sibirica ‘Ruffled Velvet’), Japanese iris (Iris ensata), and even the little reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) that lead off the iris parade in the spring.
Butterfly bushes are a must for deep purple lovers, especially the ‘Black Knight’ cultivar. Encircle its feet with Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) for a wonderful contrast.
Later on, in the summer there are salvias, such as the ‘Plumosa’ variety (Salvia nemorosa ‘Plumosa’) that drip with dense reddish purple pigment, and ‘East Freidland’, that has dark blue violet blooms. There are also some wonderful purple phlox.
I can hear the shade gardeners crying out “What about us? Can’t we be fashionable too?” The answer is “yes” and the plant is Astilbe ‘Purple Lance’—just make sure it gets enough water. Purple-leafed Heuchera cultivars are hotter than California during a rolling brown-out, and they thrive in shade. Tradescantia, a tough, frequently underrated plant, also comes in dark purple, and it’s worth seeking out. Someone should tell the hosta breeders that hostas would be greatly improved by dark purple flowers. Then shade gardeners would really have something to crow about.
In the fall, don’t just content yourself with a few dark purple or wine purple mums. Seek out aster varieties that meet your color needs. With planning, you can paint your garden in violet hues throughout the entire growing season.
For accent colors consider the ever-popular white, especially drifts of white phlox or gypsphilia. Lime green works well, especially if things are threatening to get just a bit too somber. Some people also leaven the purple with pink—to my way of thinking the successful commingling of pink and purple depends on the shades and quantities involved and, possibly, the tolerance of the neighbors. Always remember that the shade of green on their side of the fence should be from envy rather than nausea.
Contact Elizabeth Ginsburg