Using Purple in the Garden

Follow these keys to understanding the harmonious use of purple in the garden.
By: Maureen Gilmer
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SHNS_YardSmart10_10b

The high-performance Wave petunias produce an intense purple on fast-growing annual bedding plants. (SHNS photo courtesy Maureen Gilmer)

The high-performance Wave petunias produce an intense purple on fast-growing annual bedding plants. (SHNS photo courtesy Maureen Gilmer)

Barney the dinosaur's color was not chosen serendipitously. Studies show 75 percent of pre-adolescent children prefer purple to any other color. Some home-shopping channel demographics prove customers in general clearly prefer purple-colored products. And purple mood lights are believed to enhance creativity both at home and at the office.

Purple is perhaps the most intriguing color because it has two faces. It runs hot and cold. It is the high-frequency child of two primary colors.

Combining fire red and cool ocean blue can result in ultraviolet, which da Vinci clearly preferred when tackling his most challenging projects. When the two primaries merge to form purple, there is a range of hues divided by the emphasis on one or the other primary parent. The red-purples will be warm and vibrant--seen as more energetic to the human eye. The blue-purples are subdued and seen as peaceful and contemplative.

Nowhere else but in the garden does the full range of hot and cold purples appear. Merely looking for a purple flower can vastly over-simplify a very complex set of hues. If you become aware of the two temperatures, it will provide you a far more powerful grasp of color in garden design. It will also help you train your eye to recognize these subtle differences.

SHNS_YardSmart10_10a

SHNS_YardSmart10_10a

Heliotrope blossoms are the cool purple on the blue end of the spectrum. (SHNS photo courtesy Maureen Gilmer)

Heliotrope blossoms are the cool purple on the blue end of the spectrum. (SHNS photo courtesy Maureen Gilmer)

Above all you want to strive for harmony in your flower-color palettes. Those combinations that are not harmonious will affect you in two ways. First, the colors may be so understated that they are dull or even boring. On the other hand, colors that are overstated or combined without consideration of each may appear chaotic. Essentially these will either put you to sleep or drive you nuts.

The color wheel is vital to understanding the harmonious use of purple in the garden. Directly across the wheel from the purples are lime green and yellow. These are complementary colors that when paired with the purples create a dynamic contrast that really brings out the best qualities of both hues.

While lavender and magenta are common colors in nature, true purples are not. Nature uses purple sparingly, almost as an afterthought. If used carefully in precise locations relative to other colors, you can create dynamic results.

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SHNS_YardSmart10_10c

Lamium is grown as a foliage plant, but its vivid purple blossoms stand in striking contrast to silver foliage. (SHNS photo courtesy Maureen Gilmer)

Lamium is grown as a foliage plant, but its vivid purple blossoms stand in striking contrast to silver foliage. (SHNS photo courtesy Maureen Gilmer)

Red-purple is the complement of yellow green or lime green. Blue-purple's complement is canary yellow. If you were to create purple flowers in a field of green foliage, the purples would be gobbled up by the greens. But when you use these purples with their complements to create three hues in a palette of green, yellow and purple, there is a harmonious combination.

You can also explore analogous colors. These are colors that match. You'll find analogous colors contiguous on the color wheel. For example, red, orange and yellow are analogous.

When using purples, your analogous hues will be different for each one. The analogous range for red-purple would be red and orange. This gives you a hot-colored palette for flowers that work with that type of purple.

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SHNS_YardSmart10_10d

The iris is one of the most reliable and intense plants for purple blossoms. (SHNS photo courtesy Maureen Gilmer)

The iris is one of the most reliable and intense plants for purple blossoms. (SHNS photo courtesy Maureen Gilmer)

When using a blue-purple, the analogs would be blue and turquoise or green. This is the start of a cool-colored palette bouncing off that blue-based purple.

With a new knowledge of the two purples and how they relate to other colors, you will have the basis for a great garden. It tells you how to choose plants by color, and it dictates that you choose those that bloom at the same time to achieve the desired results. A plant that blooms purple in May will not benefit from a complementary yellow daisy that flowers in August. Getting bloom time, color and size just right is the formula for picture-perfect color-garden design.

So if you love purple, use it with aplomb and flair. Paint it with full knowledge of its two faces. Then celebrate with flowers of this same hue of passion reserved for pharaohs, priests and patriarchs.

Purple Plant Photos

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Dahlia 'Thomas Edison'

This stunning purple dahlia is an oldie, introduced in the 1940s, so you know it’s a winner because it’s still around.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Longfield Gardens

Purple Sage Features Pungent Leaves in Summer

The 'Purpurascens' variety sage is a hardy form, with tactile, deeply textured leaves. In the summer, it is topped by tall spires of pretty mauve flowers.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Purple Cabbage Is Both Ornamental and Delicious

Cabbage plants can vary in size, shape, color and texture. For example, some cabbages are purple in color and certain cultivars have pointed heads.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Purple Heucheras Are Known for Colorful Foliage

Heuchera micrantha is an excellent choice for the edge of a border or in containers and tubs. Plants form a low mound of maple shaped leaves, from bronzy green to rich purple red. Spikes of small creamy white flowers appear in early summer.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

'Well-Sweep Purple Miniature' Basil

This purple variety basil has great-tasting, green-edged, tapering leaves. It can add vibrant purple color in the garden or a nice color change on the patio as well.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

'Bowles' Mauve' Erysimum Flowers for Weeks

The Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve' wallflower is a bushy evergreen with narrow, grey-green leaves and erect purple flowers. These nectar rich plants encourage beneficial wildlife, such as ladybugs, lacewings and hoverflies into the garden.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

'Queen of Night' Tulips

The 'Queen of Night' has deep purple-black single flowers that contrast well with light blue forget-me-nots.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

'Purple Sensation'

The deep purple, spherical flower heads of the allium ‘Purple Sensation’ appear in early summer on sturdy stems. This stately allium looks stunning when planted with silver-leaved shorter plants.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Beautiful Barberry

Barberry is a mid-sized deciduous prickly shrub with deep red purple leaves that turn brighter red in autumn. It bears small, yellow flowers and has red berries in autumn.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

'Purple Emperor'

Sedum telephium 'Purple Emperor' features clusters of shell-pink flowers at the ends of its stems from late summer to fall. Its leaves emerge burgundy in spring and turn deep purple in color throughout the season. Brick red stems add winter interest.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Use Common Bugle Groundcover for Moist Conditions

Ajuga reptans, or Bugle, is a mat-forming perennial with spreading dark green obovate leaves, whose erect spikes of dark blue flowers appear in late spring and early summer.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Smoke Bush Grown for Colorful Foliage and Flowers

Cotinus coggygria, a deciduous, multi-stemmed shrub, gets its name from billowy hairs attached to elongated stalks on spent flower clusters which turn smoky pink in summer, covering the tree with fluffy, hazy, smoke-like puffs.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

'Mrs Winder'

Hebe 'Mrs Winder' is a small evergreen shrub with narrow, dark green leaves, tinged with red-brown when young, and small, violet-blue flowers.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Lavender 'Lemon Fancy'

The Pelargonium 'Lemon Fancy' offers a citrusy scent from its leaves. It is vulnerable to frost.

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Purple Coneflower

Purple coneflower ‘Magus’ has purple-pink to rosy purple flowers that develop like a cone that fall back as they age.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Phalaenopsis Orchid Blooms

These ornamental stunners add visual interest when hung in unexpected spots.

(Maureen Gilmer is a horticulturist and host of Weekend Gardening on DIY-Do It Yourself Network. E-mail her at mo@moplants.com. For more information, visit: www.moplants.com or www.DIYNetwork.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)

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