I don’t know what spurred my recent interest in plants with purple foliage, but everywhere I turn, deep, dark leaves are catching my eye.
Like other plants with “special” colored foliage, including chartreuse, silver and variegated, purple plants have to be used sparingly, lest they lose their impact. They also work better when set against a lighter background, like a house with light-colored siding or lighter green foliage.
Here are a few of the pretty purple plants that are catching my eye right now.
The purple weeping beech Fagus sylvatica ‘Purple Fountain’ combines dark leaves with a weeping form for a double whammy of impact. I love that pleated leaf shape.
Redbuds are stunning trees with big, heart-shaped leaves and flowers in spring. There are a few dark-leafed varieties, but the one that caught my eye is Cercis canadensis ‘Ruby Falls’, a short weeping variety that is probably more shrublike than treelike.
Of course elderberries offer amazing purple foliage, along with beautiful edible flowers. Sambucus nigra Black Lace is Proven Winners variety with lacy leaves and pink flowers. The only caveat is that elderberries are highly susceptible to verticilium wilt so you should avoid them if you have that problem.
I’ve shared my love of dahlias here on many occasions, and I have oodles of “favorites,” but some of the most useful dahlias are those with purple foliage, which adds an additional bit of interest to a plant we normally just think of for its flowers.
For whatever reason I’ve not paid too much attention to Alternanthera (aka Joseph’s Coat) much in the past, but since I’m on this purple foliage kick it caught my attention in a big way. I’m thinking it would make an amazing mass planting in my circle garden, perhaps dotted with frothy Diamond Frost Euphorbia. Purple and white is a stunning combo.
Purple Oxalis (aka shamrock) is about as charming as a plant can be. Charmed Wine has a wide range of exposures so it could be combined with a lot of other plants, but I think it would look best mass planted on its own in a container.
I grew ‘Wild Magic’ basil last year for the first time and I’m completely smitten. It has purple foliage, pink flowers and a great deal of vigor. It’s sterile, so the flavor hangs on, but I didn’t dare eat it last year. It was just to beautiful to pilfer from. The only source I’ve found for it is Annie’s Annuals.
Last year I grew Pennisetum Vertigo and it was a stunning centerpiece in large containers. Perhaps my newfound love of purple foliage started there, but I’d absolutely grow it again. However, if I were going to grow it again, I’d plant it in a large nursery pot on its own and sink the pot in a large container. It is an absolute glutton in a container and took up every bit of space I gave it, even in a 36-inch square container. Keeping it a little bit in check would at least make it easier to remove at the end of the season.
This year I’m going to go all in on purple and make a statement with Colocasia ‘Distant Memory’, an enormous and stunning elephant ear. Dark foliage might recede into the background but with leaves this big, it’s all about being in your face.
There are so many other great plants with purple foliage (Coleus comes to mind). With color like that, flowers are optional.
What are your favorite plants with purple foliage?
P.S. Want to know a secret? I hate the color purple and pretty much always have. But I see (and treat) colors in the garden and in nature differently than the colors that I wear or paint my walls. So in summary: Purple in the garden = good, purple shirt = nope, not going to happen.