Six on Saturday: Purple Garden Magic

Mexican petunia, Ruellia simplex, has finally covered itself with purple flowers. Hardy only to Zone 8, it needs special care or a mild winter to survive here year to year.


Purple has a long and regal cultural history, extending back into ‘pre-history’ when early artists sketched animals on cave walls with sticks of manganese and hematite.  Discovered in modern times at French Neolithic sites, these ancient drawings demonstrate an early human fascination with the color purple. These same minerals, combined with fat, created early purplish paints.


Purple Buddleia davidii, butterfly bush, brings many different species of butterflies to the garden.


The ancient Egyptians used manganese in glaze for purple pottery.  Elsewhere around the Mediterranean world, purple fabric dyes were stewed from certain mollusks.

Difficult to obtain, purple fabrics originally were reserved for royalty, rulers, and the exceptionally wealthy.  Purple is still used ceremonially by royal families and Christian bishops.

Later purple dyes were made using lichens, certain berries, stems, roots and various sea creatures.  Synthetic shades of purple dyes were first manufactured in the 1850s, when ‘mauve’ made its debut.  Creating just the right shade can be both difficult and expensive.


Native purple mist flower, Conoclinium coelestinum,  returns and spreads each year.


Considered a ‘secondary color,’ shades of purple range between blue and red.  Artists mix various reds, blues and white to create the tint they need.   As a secondary color, purple has come to symbolize synthesis, and the successful blending of unlike things.  It is creative, flamboyant, magical, chic and ambiguous.  Lore tells us that purple was Queen Victoria’s favorite color.


Rose of Sharon varieties offer many purple or blue flowers on long flowering shrubs.


Violet and indigo form part of the visible spectrum of light, but not purple.  Purple glass is made with minerals, like hematite, melted in the mix to create its rich hues.

Purple flowers, leaves, stems, fruits and roots indicate the presence of certain pigments, known as anthocyanins, that block harmful wavelengths of light.   Purple leaves can photosynthesize energy from the sun.  The rich pigment attract pollinators to flowers and may offer purple parts of the plant some protection from cold weather.  These deep colors are often considered to enhance flavor and increase the nutritional value of foods.


Tradescantia offers both purple foliage and flowers.  A tender perennial, it can be overwintered in the house or garage.  Here it shares its space with an Amythest cluster.


I love purple flowers and foliage for their rich and interesting contrast with all shades of green.  Ranging from nearly pink to nearly black, botanical purples offer a wide variety of beautiful colors for the garden.  Add  a touch of yellow or gold, and one can create endless beautiful and unusual color schemes for pots, baskets and borders.


Verbena bonariensis blooms in a lovely, clear shade of purple from late spring until frost.


Woodland Gnome 2019

And one more:

A new Classic Caladiums introduction this season, C. ‘Va Va Violet,’ offers the most purplish violet Caladium color to date.



Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator.



About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

5 responses to “Six on Saturday: Purple Garden Magic

  1. As much as I dislike it, I sort of think that purple should be more popular in landscape design. It is such an appealingly ‘colorful’ color. (I don’t mean that to be redundant.) We have a bit of it in rhododendrons. It works nicely in the sunnier sites among the redwoods. (It is a bit too dark for the dark spots.) Everyone seems to like it. It seems odd that it is only an accent color.

    • It contrasts beautifully with green. And there are so many different shades- light ones as well as dark ones. I love blues and purples in both flowers and foliage. Blue Hosta are a special favorite, though very hard to grow well here.

      • Bougainvillea is good for purple here, but does not do well in our landscapes, and would look odd among the redwoods. We do have many blue agapanthus though, and several purple rhododendrons.

        • I grow Bougainvillea in pots on the patio, but must keep it indoors over winter. The varieties available here are more red, white or orange. It definitely isn’t a natural looking plant in most landscapes, but so tough and easy! What about purple Salvias, Tony?? I love the rhodies! I like the look of Agapanthus, but haven’t tried them…..I have heard that they don’t persist well here. It may be too humid. I still adore the Brazilian Verbena, Tony. And our butterflies agree 😎

          • Others have mentioned that the popular bougainvilleas are very different from ours. I suspect it is because they are potted, so must be cultivars that are conducive to confinement. Our most popular cultivar is bright magenta, but it is big and does not want to be potted. A purple cultivar that is the second most popular here is the most popular cultivar down south. I think it is less popular her because it is more sensitive to the mild frost. They are spectacular in suburban landscapes just a few miles away.
            Salvias are popular because they fit in with the already popular native salvias. The natives are mostly blue, and not as vibrant. Mexican blue sage gets quite large and very colorful!
            I used to grow rhododendrons, and now work with several big specimens in the landscapes. Purple mixed with lighter pink happens to work very well here. I think we could get more purple if there were more white to contrast with it. Too much purple alone is too dark for the redwood forest landscapes. Rhododendrons have a completely different personality from bougainvilleas. People sort of expect to see the among redwoods.
            Agapanthus would not fit in so well if we had too many of them. They are considered to be cheap and common. The quantity we have works well. I would like to add some white if we happen to come across some. I will not buy any. There is always someone needing to get rid of them. I doubt that they mind humidity; but they might be bothered by pathogens that proliferate in the humidity. Not much bothers them here. Nothing bothers the Brazilian verbena either. Because it is so prolific, I will not plant any. Plenty comes up on its own in the warmer spots.

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