The Colour Purple

 In Garden Design, News


The colour purple is a secondary colour created by mixing the calmness of blue with the fiery energy of red. Purple is a colour that is used by garden designers the world over.
Purple reflects opulence, grandeur, status, and ambition. In history it is the colour that is always associated with emperors, royalty, nobility, and aristocracy. This association arose from the cost. In early 15th century BC Tyrian purple was derived from a type of mollusc making the dye rare and expensive. Thus, it became a colour of power. It later went onto be used by the Roman Catholic Church as worn by the bishops.

There are a great range of purple flowering bulbs, but Alliums must be a favourite for most gardeners. They are part of the garlic family. The foliage tends to look a bit shabby so the best way to plant Alliums is by making sure that the flowers stems rise above other surround plants which keep the leaves hidden. The seed-heads also provide interest so when the flowers are past their best do not be in too much of rush to cut them down.


Whilst we may not choose to dress our interiors with purple, it is most certainly a key colour in the garden when it comes to planting. Purple comes in many tones and shades for the garden, ranging from the deeper more reddish tones through to the bluey violet hues, the paler lilac shades and the extreme darks that verge on the edge of black.
Purples like blues and greens have a calming, relaxing effect on our senses. Have you ever walked through a woodland and come across a sea of bluebells? Not only does it take your breath away but has that calming, relaxing quality. As early as February, purple appears in the garden with deep moody blooms of Helleborus x hybridus Harvington Black. Mid-April, bluebells appear in our gardens and then starts the purple crescendo.

Since purple comes in so many different shades, how do we use it in the garden?


The general, fail-safe rule when thinking about planting schemes is to keep the colour hue intensity, similar for all colours. If you are working with lavenders and lilacs, then use pastels. When using dark velvety purples, combine these with deep burgundy and magentas to create an aristocratic colour palette.

Use purple with its complementary colour. On the colour wheel, yellow sits opposite purple making this the perfect complimentary colour. Look at the colours on the wheel beside yellow. The oranges, greens and pinks also work with purple helping to widen the colour palette that you can use in the garden.

Think about the position of your colours. Dark colours at a long distance or in shade will disappear. Soft pastel shades will drown in full sun.

Looking at the colour wheel we can see that yellows sit opposite purples. They are perfect complimentary colours as seen here with the bluish purple Eryngiums and the yellow tones of the Achillea.


  1. To create cohesion, consider tones of purples. Work these in different shapes and forms through the garden.
  2. Repeat the same purple blooming plant through your various borders. This creates cohesion and rhythm. It will help lead the eye through the garden.
  3. Use purple flowering plants to provide scent such as lavender, lilac (Syringa vulgaris), Catnip (Nepeta Walkers Low). Wisteria can be planted to dress a wall and provide scent.
  4. If you have timber fences think about covering them with purple flowering clematis such as Clematis The President. You may even want to combine this with a pale pink climbing rose so that you get longevity of interest.
  5. There are also beautiful purple foliage plants that can be used in the borders. Purple Smoke Bush (Cotinus coggygria Royal Purple) has ovate dark leaves and makes a stunning large shrub that produces smoky plumes. Sambucus nigra has finely cut, dark leaves and produces umbels of pink flowers. Actea simplex. Purple foliage can also act as a foil for lime coloured foliage, soft sugary pink, or buttery yellow blooms.
  6. The Japanese fern Athyrium niponicum var. pictum is stunning and the foliage is tinged with purple.
  7. Pittosporum Tom Thumb can be trained into topiarised balls or planted as a low hedge.
  8. Ophiopogan planiscapus Nigrescens has beautiful dark blades of foliage that are virtually black. The plants will spread. It looks very effective when planted on mass at the edge of a border.
  9. If you enjoy a Mediterranean look to your garden, put a silvers and purples together. Stachys byzantina or Salvia argentea sit well with purple flowering agapanthus, Nepeta and grasses such as Stipa tenuissima (Nasella tenuissima).
  10. If you enjoy opulence, grow Amarthanus hybridus Opopeo grows tall with extravagant deep burgundy drooping flower spikes and dark luxurious leaves. These look stunning with the pink blooms of Cleome spinosa Cherry Queen, and the combo can be shot here and there with Nicotiana alata Lime Green.
  11. Canna indica Tropicana Black has near-black paddle leaves suffused with traces of plum and red. It bears dazzling scarlet blooms that fade to orange. Grow these with the Musa basjoo (banana), Schefflera and some richly coloured dahlias and you will get a tropical look.

Cotinus coggygria Royal Purple commonly known as the Smoke Bush because of the feather pink flower plumes that cover the plant with fluffy, smoky puffs through summer. When viewed at a distance these plumes look like puffs of smoke.


  1. You do not have to limit yourself with use of purple through planting only. There are other ways purple can be introduced into the garden
  2. Purples can be used as upholstery in seating. Cushions placed on seats or benches either in blocks of purple or where a printed material incorporates plums and aubergines or lilacs and lavenders.
  3. Pots are another way to introduce colour into the garden. Be bold. Use large size pots that create impact. These can be either aluminium powder coated, glazed or timber containers that have been stained or painted. Either set three pots in a line or place them on opposite sides creating an imagery triangle.
  4. Certain hard landscaping materials such a Welsh plum slate or gravel can be used for pathways
  5. There is a now a huge variety of paints on the markets. Some that even have a chalky texture. These can be used on feature walls

Stains have also expanded in colour so use these for fences, sleeper raised borders or timber containers.

Purple can be introduced into the garden through other methods and that goes for any colour. You do not have to limit yourself to colours from flora and fauna. Think about soft furnishings, containers and even painting walls or fences.


Many of us love growing our own fruit and veg. There is no reason why you could not incorporate the colour purple into your kitchen garden. Better still why not grow some of these amongst your ornamental planting borders. Having an Indian heritage and grown up on a feast of Indian culinary delights, I love the peppery taste of moongri which is the legumes that grow on the radish plant. Moongri can be grown as a green or plum purple variety.

Aubergines always look ornamental to me. I love their deep rich purple colour of their shiny skin. I roast them in their skins and then cook the flesh up as a delicious curry called Bhegan Bhartha. The dark foliage of millet adds drama and height in mixed containers but also in the tropical borders that incorporate Cannas and Dahlias. Millet is of course an edible crop.

Chard is another plant that I would use both in a kitchen garden and in mixed containers.

Now a days you can grow purple sprouting broccoli, dark skin carrots, potatoes, and various other varieties of edibles.

Whether you enjoy growing ornamentals or edibles, purples can still be introduced into your planting scheme. If you enjoy gardening with both then how about growing some edimentals like this purple sprouting broccoli that is both edible and ornamental.

Here we have a cool palette of purples through lilacs and blues. These colours have calming effect on our senses.

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