Purple haze

Dahlia 'Teesbrooke Redeye'Back in June when we planted the lavender/purple experiment in the Display Garden, I said that I would talk more about it. Since it’s officially full grown, nearly past full bloom and it’s Garden Bloggers Bloom Day (hosted by Carol of May Dreams Gardens), I figure it’s high time, now or never. First, I want to state for the record that I love the bed. It’s like a calm hush and easy-breezy on the eyes. But I also think it’s not entirely successful.

Purple is a difficult color. I knew that going in. Not only is it nearly impossible to photograph accurately (anyone have any pointers?) but it has a tendency to disappear a little in the landscape. It’s just not very assertive – that is, unless it’s paired with yellow and then – Watch Out! Perhaps here I should interject a little color theory vaguely remembered from art school: Red and Blue are both primary colors that combined, make purple.  Purple is exactly opposite to yellow (the other primary color) on the color wheel. Red is considered a hot color that appears, to our eyes, to advance while blue is a cool receder. Mix the two and you’ve got luke warm, staying put – just like green (blue + yellow) which we all know as a calm, steady ever-presence. No two purples are quite the same either – some are pinker, some are bluer and the pinkers clash with the pinker stills and the bluers dissolve into the background. It’s tough, I’m telling you. Colchicum autumnale - Autumn crocus

Purple, the color of kings and bishops, is said to be a rare color in nature – though we gardeners know the truth. Gail and I chose plants like our faves African blue basil which has deep blue-ish-purple leaf backs and veins and paler purple flowers; Stachytarpheta jamaicensis which is as true a straight purple as you’ll ever see; Verbena bonariensis because it chose us and we couldn’t have edited it from the garden if we wanted to (we’ve wanted to); Gomphocarpus physocarpus (a.k.a Asclepias physocarpa ‘Oscar’ or ‘Hairy Balls’) which has just the barest tinge of purple-ish on the almost insignificant flowers, and heliotrope. We also tried a dahlia called ‘Teesbrooke Redeye’, a 4′ tall gomphrena called ‘Fireworks’, petunias, spoon shaped African daisies (Osteospermum), Brazilia button flower (Centranthemum) and a couple of other basils. — The dahlia and gomphrena are pinker rather than purpler but we love them anyway. Against and in the midst of all of that we threw in a few other colors, like green, orange and blue (I couldn’t do yellow) just to observe the relationships.

Gomphocarpus physocarpaStachytarpheta jamaicensis - Porter weed

Benary Giant Lime zinnias, Gomphrena 'Fireworks' and African blue basila frothy view within the purple bed

The main problem I have with the bed is that it has no snap-crackle. Not only are the colors fairly quiet but the foliage is Gail’s and my signature delicate – we’re always on the lookout for more foliage contrast and end up finding the extremes – like Gunnera. (That would have been overkill a little.) And most of the flowers in that bed are diminutive too, giving the whole thing a sort of wispy, frothy look. But when it comes right down to it, I don’t mind because now we know a lot more than we did about purple – and about our own predilections. That bed will look very different next year…

How do you feel about the color purple?