Neil Sperry

Purple plants are one of the most cooling colors for your garden. Here are my favorites

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I’ve made the decision that purple is the easiest color to blend into a landscape. It seems to combine well with almost any other shade in the garden. And, as we head into the summer, purple is one of the most cooling colors we can add to our plantings. It lies back quietly, never screaming out for attention. So I present to you here several of my own favorite purple plants of late spring and into the summer.

Purple oxalis

I bought six or eight small pots of this great little plant once. My intention was to pot them into a nice hanging basket, but where I’d set them onto the ground in my garden I liked the way that they looked. I figured if the old green oxalis would do as well as it did, maybe I could plant these, too. Perhaps these would make a handsome little border, and that’s exactly what happened. I’ve had them for years and they’ve survived all the weather North Texas can throw at them. But they do need moisture and shade.

Forest Pansy redbud

This is a grafted selection of our popular spring-blooming tree. Its flowers, however, are deeper burgundy pink, and the leaves are rich purple for 10 or more weeks in the spring, until summer’s hot weather turns them a purplish green. And there’s an extremely weeping selection of purple-leafed redbud called ‘Ruby Falls’ in the nursery market as well. These are very dramatic tree options.

Purple coneflower

The original form of this popular perennial is pinkish-purple, but hybridizers have been busy bringing us many different hues. Bees and butterflies love them, and you will, too. They produce new plants freely, so you’ll want to thin them out periodically and share them with friends. This combines well with almost any other perennial flowers, and it looks great mixed in with purple foliage as well.

Purple fountaingrass

Every gardener falls in love with this handsome ornamental grass. Its purple foliage alone is enough to get you to grow it, but then you mix in the plumes of tan/purple blooms and it’s a graceful “thriller” plant for the backs of beds or the centers of large patio pots. It adds drama to its part of the garden from now until frost. Give it full or nearly full sun. It is an annual in North Central Texas, so plan on buying new plants each spring.

Purple pentas

This great annual flower is actually sold in shades of pink, red, lavender and white as well as rich purple. But least common among them is that purple, and it’s a perfect match-up for beds that have other shades of purple in other plants of different textures. Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds love pentas.

Magilla perilla

Yeah – it looks like a coleus. And it probably is if you look at the ongoing arguments on the Web. But that’s all botanical static as far as I’m concerned. I just love the plant for the intense colors it brings to my garden. I’ve been growing this plant for 10 or 15 years. It’s great in morning sun with afternoon shade. It’s robust and striking, growing to 36 inches tall and wide and turning all shades of purple, red and even green. Any way you grow it – as a background plant in large beds or in very big patio pots, this baby is born to dazzle.

Purpleheart

It’s a sister to wandering Jew, but it’s completely winter-hardy in North Central Texas. It dies to the ground with the first hard freeze, then it comes bounding back as the soils warm up in April. If you’re willing to tolerate bare ground in the winter, it makes an eye-catching groundcover, or you can use it for pockets of growing-season color in a perennial bed. It’s so tough that I’ve seen several cities use it in narrow street medians where they just didn’t want to have to edge turf in high-traffic locations.

Trailing lavender lantana

I know it’s a pale shade of purple, but it blends so well with all the other plants that we’ve covered, I thought it deserved a space in our discussions. This is the lowest growing of all our garden lantanas, spreading several feet wide but growing only 4 or 6 inches tall. It blooms non-stop May through late fall. It is the least hardy of all our lantanas, so use it only as an annual flower in this part of Texas.

‘Catawba’ crape myrtle

Finally, as we head into the summertime, it’s time for my favorite crape myrtle of all. Catawba crape myrtle brings the rich purple color to an intermediate-sized tree (15 to 18 ft. tall). This was one of the earliest introductions from the U.S.D.A.’s breeding program under the hand of Dr. Don Egolf, and it combines a lovely color with resistance to powdery mildew. Watch for it as nurseries gear up for the summer sales, and notice how much easier it is to combine it with other colors than it would be to use some of the really bright reds.

You can hear Neil Sperry on KLIF 570AM on Saturday afternoons 1-3 pm and on WBAP 820AM Sunday mornings 8-10 am. Join him at www.neilsperry.com and follow him on Facebook.

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