A Passion for Purple

Gomphrena_DBG-CO_LAH_8573Do you like flowers? Are you passionate about purple? If so, you can’t miss out seeing the newest themed garden at Denver Botanic Gardens. Carved out of previously inaccessible space, this small but packed area is dominated by purple in all its glory. From mauve to plum, through violet to amethyst, every shade of purple is represented by the variety of flowers chosen.

When I asked at the information desk, I was astonished to learn that the plants have only been in the ground since August. You’d never guess. While the shrubs are still small, and obviously new, the annuals and perennials spill over rocks, fences, and one another in a profusion of blossoms.

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I Love Veronicas

Veronica peduncularis 'Georgia Blue' @DBG LAH 171rs

It looks like the sky has fallen and landed among my perennials. Purple-blue flowers formed a dense carpet nearly obscuring the thick layer of green foliage underneath—and the whole show was only a few inches high. I have a weakness for “blue” flowers (when it comes to botanical descriptions, usually that means purple), and the various speedwells are at the top of my list.

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(Not Just) Purple Coneflower

Echinacea purpura_Purple Coneflower_XG_ColoSpgs-CO_LAH_5655

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) used to be purple. You can still buy the purple-flowered version of this perennial (actually more of a pink, at least to my eye), but purple is only the beginning. Consider passionate hues such as raspberry pink and florescent orange. On the other hand, perhaps you’d prefer delicate pinks, or even an innocent snowy white. A related species, E. paradoxa, below, is a pure lemon yellow.

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Pretty in Purple

LAH_2023Thank heaven for spring bulbs! Just when I can’t bear another day of bleak winter landscape, leafless branches, dried and disintegrating foliage—along come neon-bright crocuses, dancing daffodils, and my favorite, luscious purple grape hyacinths. Not true hyacinths (which are borderline hardy in my 7,000 foot high garden), grape hyacinths are also sold under their genus Muscari. They’re native to southeastern Europe, and are widely cultivated for their early spring flowers in pink, purple, white, or a two-toned combination. Continue reading

New England Asters

aster-novae-angliae-new-england-aster-etnaca-2006sept01-lah-005Everyone loves daisies, so it’s no wonder that New England Asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) are so popular. Bright purple (or pink or white) daisies with contrasting golden yellow centers adorn these shrubby perennials from August until October. Growing to four feet high and wide, the plants tend to sprawl unless staked, especially in very fertile soil or partial shade. Stems bear long, lance-shaped leaves of dull green.

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Locoweeds

oxytropis-lambertii_locoweed_kcs-co_lah_3438nefI was hiking on a nearby ranch last week when we came across some spectacular wildflowers. As I knelt to grab some photos, my plant expert companion remarked, “You know that’s locoweed. We should pull it out!”

What? Destroy these beauties? Why? I was about to receive an education.

Locoweed (or crazyweed) is the common name for two genera of western plants, Oxytropis (left) and Astragalus (also called milkvetch), both in the pea family, and both including some species that contain the toxin swainsonine. Swainsonine interferes with protein metabolism and causes nerve damage.

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Flowering Cabbage (Brassica oleracea)

_dbg_20090915_lah_0651Cold-resistant flowering cabbage takes the stage after tender annuals have succumbed to Fall’s first frosts. Flowering cabbage isn’t really a flower, but a loose head of large ruffled, fringed, or smooth leaves in vibrant combinations of cream rose, purple, and green. Although grown as an ornamental, flowering cabbage, also known as ornamental or flowering kale, is completely edible.

Technically a biennial, these cabbages are grown for the open rosettes that forms the first season. Summer heat results in stunted or leggy plants that are often attacked by cabbage loopers; plants are at their best in cool fall weather. Frosty nights intensify the colors. In late August or September, set seedlings out 15 – 18 inches apart in full sun. All cabbages prefer rich, moist soil.

Ornamental cabbages are most typically massed as bedding plants. Plants continue to look attractive for a while after the ground freezes. Use for fall/winter color, contrasted with dormant perennial grasses in shades of tan and gold, or harmonizing with groundcovers, such as some junipers, that turn purple in winter.