The 2018 color of the year is purple and purple plants are listed as one of the top gardening trends for 2018.
Purple can be perceived as either a warm color or a cool color, depending on what colors it is adjacent to. A purple-blue-green combination will appear cool while a purple-red-orange-yellow combination will appear warm. Cool colors are relaxing and cooling and warm colors are stimulating and warming.
When designing your garden with purple plants, keep in mind that the color purple recedes into the background so you will only enjoy your purple plants up close. To make your garden with purple plants ‘pop’, provide contrast with complimentary colors (oranges and yellows). You can also add interest and contrast with contrasting color and texture in plant foliage.
Purple coloring in plants is due to water-soluble pigments in the plants called anthocyanins. They are responsible for the colors red, purple, and blue in fruits and vegetables. They have antioxidative and antimicrobial properties, improve visual and neurological health, and protect against various diseases in humans and animals.
Anthocyanins are associated with many different plant/animal interactions. These include the attraction of pollinators as well as animals that survive on fruit. They can also repel herbivores and parasites.
Following are a few of my personal favorite purple plants that I have grown, both ornamental and edible.
First off is my favorite purple cabbage: ‘Mammoth Red Rock’.
Brassica oleracea var. capitata ‘Mammoth Red Rock’ is an open-pollinated heirloom cabbage variety from 1889. They average 4-7 pounds when mature. Cabbages prefer cool temperatures and can survive light freezes. They form tighter heads, color up more and taste sweeter if they mature in fall rather than summer. A good gardener friend tells me that purple cabbages are less susceptible to aphids than green cabbages. The cabbage in the photo above had almost 2 more months until harvest in mid to late November. I made a gallon of sauerkraut with half of the mature cabbage.
Other favorite purple vegetables that I grow are ‘Purple Mountain’ potatoes, a Colorado-bred spud, ‘Black Nebula’ carrot, ‘Shiraz Tall Top’ beet (if you can call beets purple). I recently discovered a bush-pea variety with purple flowers that can be grown in containers called ‘Little Snowpea Purple’.
The most dependable purple flowering plant in my garden is ‘Grandpa Otts’ morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea ‘Grandpa Ott’s’), a tender annual vine.
‘Grandpa Ott’s’ morning glory was one of the seeds that started the Seed Savers Exchange. I was given the seeds of this plant years ago at a Pro Green Expo in Denver. I planted them on my deck in a 5 gallon bucket. For the past 10 years, they have been reseeding dependably, but politely, in containers on my deck and occasionally popping up in the garden soil beside the deck.
The photo above was taken a few years ago in early summer before full growth of the morning glories, nasturtiums (Tropaeolum lobbianum ‘Moonlight’) and another favorite that I grow each year because the chipmunks won’t eat them, Dahlberg daisies (Thymophylla tenuiloba). In case you have a good eye, trained to diagnose plant problems, the morning glories look like they have a virus on the leaves but I have only seen that one year. It could have also been caused by reflected heat.
Another favorite purple flower in my gardens is the biennial flowering plant, Canterbury bells (Campanula media).
They are true biennials so they never bloom until the second year, at least for me. But, when they do bloom, they bloom the entire season. They are a hardy, cottage garden flower that re-seed happily in my garden. I love to share the tiny seeds at seed exchanges. They come in shades of purples, pinks and white as can be seen in the far right of the above photo, taken in late June or early July. They also make good cut flowers.
I cannot possibly pick a favorite native flower but the purplest one I can think of is the beautiful and stately larkspur of our mountains, Delphinium barbeyi.
This native flower is common in the subalpine zone. It grows from 4- 7’ tall in moist areas. It is often found growing alongside cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum) or osha (Ligusticum porteri). The photo above was taken in the San Juan Mountains a little above timberline on August 2, 2017.
Other beautiful purple native flowers in Colorado are the delicate bluebells of Scotland (Campanula rotundifolia), many fleabane species (Erigeron spp.), fringed gentians (Gentianopsis thermalis) and many, many others.
Chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) are a native fruit that are used to make sought- after jellies and jams. My grandmother, Eloise McMahon, taught me which native fruits are good to forage and we’d make chokecherry jelly and chokecherry syrup for sour dough pancakes.
The plants, except for the fruit, contain a poison hydrocyanic acid. When you eat them raw they sometimes give your mouth a dry, puckery feeling. The flavor they give jellies and syrups is very distinctive. They supposedly taste sweetest after a frost but by then the bears may have beaten you to them!
My favorite purple Colorado cultivated fruit is the Bing cherry (Prunus avium 'Bing').
I look forward to the cherry season each year and can eat a pound at a time of fresh cherries. Yum! Not only are bing cherries delicious, they also have anti-inflammatory properties. Paonia Colorado has celebrated more than 70 years of cherry harvest in western Colorado around each 4th of July with the festival “Cherry Days”.
Let me know your favorite purple plants in the comments,