Purple Passion

Dating back to the Roman emperors, the color purple has long been considered the shade most associated with royalty and nobility, as well as symbolizing magic, mystery, passion and romance.  The combination of fiery red and serene blue; a culmination of warmest and coolest shades blended together, is said to emote feelings of peace and is often used in meditation practices.  So why not incorporate more of it in the garden?  And not just in flower form, instead using long lasting deciduous shrubs to add charm and charisma throughout the landscape.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Cotinus complements surrounding plants in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Cotinus complements surrounding plants (photo: Kathy Diemer)

Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’: (Smoke Bush) One of the shrubs that flaunts itself from early June to frost is Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’, commonly known as the purple smoke bush. Though it’s called a smoke bush because of the frothy sprays of cloudy grey flowers it produces in the summer, I don’t grow it for that. I grow it for the outrageous deep burgundy maroon foliage. The flowers are really incidental sprays that I am happy to sacrifice to get a more lush shrub.  When the sun shines through the leaves of cotinus the colors range from a fabulous, fiery orange to a deep wine red; unsurpassed beauty for a darker shaded shrub.  Though not native to North America, the smoke bush is hardy in zones 5-8, non-invasive, drought tolerant and deer resistant. Left to their own devices, they can reach up to 15′ with the lower portion becoming very leggy and leafless.  To avoid this tendency, I give them a light pruning during the summer to remove heavily drooping limbs, and a hard pruning in early April (down to about three feet) to promote oodles of glorious fresh growth throughout the rest of the growing season.

Weigela provides dazzling background in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Weigela provides dazzling background (photo: Kathy Diemer)

Wiegela ‘Wine & Roses’: Another purple foliaged shrub I do not grow for the flowers, although the rosy-pink flowers (hummingbirds love) in June add a dramatic contrast when displayed against the dark bronzy foliage. Wine & Roses is a Proven Winners selection in zones 4-8, and the foliage is much darker than other varieties.  The leaves of this noteworthy shrub are what I’m talking about: rich burgundy with chartreuse veining-WOW-yet everyone talks about the blooms.  Blooms schlooms, who cares with foliage like this?  And even in the blazing sun of my garden the leaves remain rich in color, providing several seasons of impact.  They can grow to over 6′ with a rambling form, but I recommend an occasional light pruning (do after it blooms in spring) to keep it tidy and compact around 4′.

Purple Sandcherry accentuates chartreuse companions in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Purple Sandcherry accentuates chartreuse companions (photo: Kathy Diemer)

Prunus x cistena: (Purple Leaf Sand Cherry) Valued for its reddish-purple foliage, fragrant white and pink spring flowers, and bird loved indigo fruit, this small tree (up to 8 X 8) works well individually or planted in a garden setting.  As you guess from it’s namesake, sand cherry tolerates many soils, prefers full sun to light shade for best foliage display, and is drought tolerant once established.   In zones 4-7 a sandcherry will establish relatively quickly and bounces back from a hard pruning.  On the dark side, they seem to be prone to borers and leaf fungus that may cause them to decline.  I’ve had mine for close to twenty years and had it withstood these issues, at least for now.

Diabolo Ninebark's bold statement in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Diabolo Ninebark makes a bold statement (photo: Kathy Diemer)

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Monlo’: (Diabolo Ninebark) This is a shrub with the potential to reach over 8 feet tall with a similar spread, but not in my garden.  Like Bill Cullina, I will sacrifice some of the prolific clusters of rosy blooms (not all are removed with gentle pruning) so that I may enjoy the multitude of darkly enchanting lush maple shaped leaves that unfurl in spring and endure through the fall.  Tinges of red and copper accentuate Diabolo’s leaves as summer comes to an end, and when the last leaf drifts away a treasure of exfoliating bark on intricate branches will carry your interest through the bleak months of winter.

Dark foliage is a superior performer and can be considered for any garden location where you’re looking for some mystery and intrigue . . .

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  1. rebecca wright says:

    Could you kindly provide me the name of the lovely grass that appears next to your 2013 comments in the section titled: “Prunus x cistena: (Purple Leaf Sand Cherry) Valued for its reddish-purple foliage, fragrant white and pink spring flowers, and bird loved indigo fruit, this small tree (up to 8 X 8) works well individually or planted in a garden setting.” Hope this isn’t too much trouble. Thanks.

    • Hi Rebecca: The grass you’re inquiring about is called dwarf fountain grass, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’. It is one of my favorite grasses and very beautiful in fall (often through winter). Read my March 2013 post titled “Cut the Grass” to see pictures of this 2 foot grass through the seasons. Thank you for reading!

      • Laura Noyes says:

        Hamelin reseeded itself all over our lawn! What a mess. Be careful, especially with the variety “little bunny”

        • I’ve grown Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ for decades without any reseeding, I’m surprised to hear of such an issue. Now Chasmanthium latifolium (Northern Sea Oats) is a whole different story! That grass seeded all over the place forcing me to remove it’s beautiful seed heads before they drop in late fall. Thanks for sharing your experience Laura, I will certainly use caution in the future!

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