Hazy, Hot and Purple

Hazy, Hot and Purple

Purple is one of those colors that just jump out at you in a landscape. Whether it’s the painted pansy faces we think of in spring or the beautiful purple leaf plum trees we see April through November, purple is an audacious color that adds a big punch to a landscape. It can be dressed up or downplayed depending on the plant materials that surround it. Many plants offer either purple foliage or flowers in the heat of summer that can help liven up a somber landscape.

Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’ (European Elder) is a deciduous ornamental offering purple-black leaves in the spring and summer. Brought to gardeners from Kent, England, this Elderberry’s dark foliage is a spectacular backdrop for deep pink, lemon scented umbels that are almost a foot wide. The foliage of this Elderberry will darken as fall approaches and entice us again with dark purple to black berries later in the season. Native to Europe, Africa and Asia this one will grow fast and do well in moist to wet areas. The color and texture of this Sambucus looks great when paired with Limemound spiraea or Hoopsi blue spruce. Minimal pruning will maintain ‘Black Beauty’s’ form making it suitable for smaller garden footprints.

Vitex agnus- castus (Chastetree) is a fast growing shrub that will eventually call itself a small tree. With aromatic foliage, comprised of five to seven lobes, this deciduous beauty holds showy, fragrant flower spikes of lilac-purple in the summer. Thriving in heat and growing ten to twenty feet, Vitex glows with a purple, white or pink cast in the summer depending on variety. Keep plants well irrigated and fertilized early on in the growing season to aid the new growth on the dieback of the previous year. With a rounded habit, this deciduous gem grows as tall as it is wide. The bark, with age, develops a grayish, coarse texture, but will not be pronounced should you choose to cut it back hard each spring. Interesting foliage and late season flowers, almost into September, makes Chasetree a great candidate for your garden. It is native to Southern Europe and Asia.

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Monlo’ (Diablo Ninebark) was selected for its incredible reddish-purple foliage. Native to the United States this species is a tough rounded shrub with arching branches. The three to five lobes of purple foliage can digress to green in extreme heat or light shade in the north. White flowers appear in late May and continue on through early July where they eventually give way to a pinkish cast. The flower occurs in two inch corymbs (fat round snowballs made up of tinier blooms). Following the showy flowers of summer are the red fruit clusters which look as though it’s flowering again in the fall. Try imagining the red fruit set against the purple-black leaves of this garden treasure. Eventually the brightness of the seed cluster fades from intense red to a more dull mahogany.

Autumn brings foliage interests from pumpkin-orange to burgundy-reds. The bark of Ninebark is peeling and cracked and so believed that its name is derived from layers that total nine. Whether you want to hack it back, almost to the ground each year, to keep a more compact form or let it continue on to impress you with its unique bark, Diablo Ninebark is sure to please. Highly adaptable, Diablo likes moist, well-drained soils and at least a half a day of sun. However, it will tolerate shade, clay soils and some dryness.

Color, texture, and size are what make a great landscape. With the unique aromatic foliage and late season flowers of Vitex and the hard purple foliage appeal of Ninebark and Elderberry, you are on your way to providing dramatic skeletal backdrops for even brighter colors. Remember, deciduous plants give us those intense memorable shades that help us through the winter months. And purple is just about as intense as it gets.

Robert LaHoff
Hall’s Garden Center