purple foliage plants

Purple Foliage Plants

Purple foliage plants: the royalty of the plant kingdom

In ancient Rome, certain shades of purple were reserved for the rulers. Wearing purple by non-royals was punishable by death. This royal color in the plant kingdom ranges from rich purples to warm burgundy and deep coppery reds, and even a dark red-green that appears almost black.

People tend to gravitate towards purple foliage plants because used properly, they are a striking foil for other plants. Darker foliage lends depth to a plant group that is mainly pastels, preventing it from looking too cute.

Used along with reds, yellows and oranges, the purples will bring together these vivid colors into a jazzy composition. It is a great neutral, and seems to work with everything. Considering that red is the complement to green, the deep purplish tones of purple foliage plants work well with the greens of most other plants.

purple foliage plants

If you’re beginning to experiment with color combinations, start with combinations of seasonal purple foliage plants in containers. Coleus has a number of cultivars that are almost black. Planted with a combination of fuschia and orange impatiens, it’s a vibrant accent.

Sweet potato Blackie has nearly black, deeply lobed leaves. Along with other brightly coloured annuals, it is stunning in a container.

In warmer climates, purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) is a striking accent for your landscape. Or if you’re in a cooler climate, just grow it as an annual. It’s reddish-purple leaves and bottle-brush flower heads make it a great focal point in a container. The slightest breeze will have it dancing!

For sheer drama, you can’t beat canna lilies, which have deep rich red-green leaves that show their best colour in full sun. Because they will grow up to over 1.5 meters, plant them in the center of a round garden or the back of a border. Lime green foliage of plants such as lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), maidenhair fern (adiantum pedatum) sets off these majestic plants brilliantly.

Add a few perennials with rich colorful foliage to your garden. Reddish-bronze bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) is a charming ground cover. Heucheras, now growing in popularity, have a purple leafed variety, ‘chocolate ruffles’. These form a mound of colourful heart-shaped leaves. The tiny cream flowers held high above on slim stems set this plant off to perfection in a semi-shady area.

redbor kaleIf you have a hot sunny spot, plant a bold New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax). It’s spiky one-meter tall leaves combine well with silver-leaf plants such as the sea hollies.

You can even add a culinary purple foliage plant to your borders. Redbor kale has curly red-purple leaves. It’s a great hardy ornamental, with deep purple curly leaves on large upright plants. Packed with nutrition, the flavor gets better after frost.

Shrubs with purple foliage

Don’t stop with annuals or perennial ornamentals. There are several shrubs  that have purple toned foliage, and can add more zing to your landscape.

One of my favourites is Cotinus. It is a large deciduous shrub with rounded deep purple leaves that turn red in autumn. It sports masses of tiny flowers in spring and summer, giving the appearance of smoke. This one makes a good focal point.

Search out Japanese maples for the yard as well. Several varieties of these beautiful small trees show palmate or deeply lobed purple foliage that turn a vivid red in fall. Many also grow well in a container, so are ideal for a small space.

crimson queen

All of these handsome purple foliage plants can add interest and contrast to your garden.