Thumbnail Mel Bellar (1)By Mel Bellar

I have never been a huge fan of the color purple in most things in life: clothes, home furnishings, cars or hair. Now music is another thing, as I do confess to enjoying Purple Haze and Purple Rain. Why is it then that since I started my landscape business, I collect clients with an abiding passion for purple in the posies? One client goes so far as to want ONLY purple blooms in her garden. I considered it a victory when I coaxed her into using plants with “purple” foliage and to open up the possibilities a bit by defining “purple” as anything on the blue to red spectrum, with more blue than red. As a result of digging through choices for my purple-loving clients, I have become quite the aficionado of the “purple plant”.

These are a few of my favorites:

Alliums:  There are many great purple alliums. Want some drama and repeat blooms for 3-4 years? Then, do yourself a favor and order some Globemasters. They are a little expensive, but even a small order of 5, placed in a prominent spot, will create an impact that you will enjoy next June. Check out for a multitude of purple possibilities. Don’t miss the Shubertii and Christophii for serious deer-proof drama.allium-globemaster (1)

Catmint: Purple catmints/catnips range in size and shape and are great for our area. Fan of lavender but unhappy with the iffy results here? Consider Nepeta which has a similar visual effect and is very reliable. Yes, it lacks the glorious lavender smell but it will thrive beautifully and if you have kitties they will be thrilled. A great variety is “Walker’s Low”; it is very hearty and has a long bloom life. When the bloom is finished, cut it back and get another flush of new bluish-green growth that looks good until winter. Junior Walker is a nice variety if you want something more compact. “Dropmore” variety is also nice. It is a little smaller than the Walker’s Low and less likely to flop.  Need a tall splash?  Nepeta siberica is much taller with bigger sparser flowers. It is great looking though (warning) I have not had very good luck with it.  All are absolutely deer-proof.

Blue Star: Amsonia tabernaemontana and Amsonia hubrictii are wonderful varieties of this native plant. The ‘Blue Ice’ variety is blooming now in my garden and will continue till mid-June. With nice foliage that turns a beautiful yellow in the fall it is a favorite and the deer do not touch them.

Purple Smoke Bush: Interested in some lovely purplish foliage? Try Cotinus ‘Grace’. Cotinus ‘Grace’ is a hybrid between American smoke tree, Cotinus obovatus and Cotinus coggygria. Not only is it reliable, but it doesn’t tend to get the winter die back that the Asian variety suffers.  With incredibly deep colored leaves punctuated with the pink “smoke”, this plant is eye-catching and unusual. Plant it and listen to your friends all comment!

Purple-leafed Ninebarks:  There are many varieties of the Physocarpus opulifolia, in the nurseries these days and they are in my top 5 of favorite shrubs to use. They pass for native as they derive from mutants of the native green ninebark. They range from a very deep burgundy purple, “Diabolo”, to much lighter cultivars like “Summer Wine”, “Coppertina” and “Center Glow”.  Ninebarks can get quite large with a beautiful vase shape, which I love, but you can prune them back hard each summer after they bloom to control size and tidiness.

Wine and Roses Weigela: Yet another purple-leafed shrub worth mentioning. I don’t really like this shrub’s branch structure but it blooms with an almost hot pink flower in June, and when covered with its beautiful dark leaves it is quite an attractive plant.

Fact – In these parts you can be sure that all these shrubs may get nibbled by the deer! Good news is that usually it is just that, “nibbled,” and does not ruin the effect of the plant.

Clematis ‘Jackmanii’: Vines and vertical accents in the garden are something I love. The Jackmani clematis fits the bill and is a great addition to any garden. While the fussiness of many Clematis can inspire fear, the old Jack is extremely reliable and puts on quite a show.

Wisteria ‘Blue Moon’/Kentucky Wisteria: Think that Wisteria can be fraught with problems? Well, I tend to agree. The Asian varieties with their huge luxurious blooms that can knock you out with their smell will take from 7 to 14 years to bloom and often get zapped with an early frost in our parts! However, consider the “Blue Moon”. It is a native to the south-central U. S., but it is hardy in our area and will bloom within a few years. I discovered this plant by accident. After planting 5 of another variety, “Aunt Dee” (don’t get these!) at a client’s and only one bloomed, I got lucky. By some miracle during the planting, I missed the tag when removing them after planting and discovered that it was a Blue Moon. I have continued using Blue Moon with success ever since.

Alas, I am in a purple panic at the moment as this is just my busiest time of the year. See you in August .


Mel Bellar is the owner of Zone4 Landscapes and a passionate Andes gardener.~