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Purple Petal Power!

Earlier this year I did a blog on pink flowers, my recommendations for pink garden showstoppers, and the color psychology of pink itself. Now it’s time for pink to step aside and make way for her sister purple! Purple petal power is real and I’m here to spread the word. Purple flowers are always a great addition to a garden because of the versatility of the color. Purple can be seen as prestigious and dignified, serene and calming, or even whimsical and fun. From irises to catmint, these blooms are found year round, in all types of gardens, and in many different shapes and sizes.

Purple, the Pigment

Like most colors, purple’s psychology depends on the shade in question. Dark, rich purples have an entirely separate meaning from their lighter, softer counterparts. Due to a long history of religious and cultural significance, deep purples still to this day represent royalty, extravagance, and status. The Bible mentions Jesus draped in a purple robe as a point of mockery before his crucifixion, Roman emperors forbid their citizens from wearing purple clothing under penalty of death, and Byzantine rulers wore flowing purple fabrics and signed their edicts in purple ink. These examples all boil down to the simple truth that purple dye was a hot commodity in ancient times. Introduced in Homer’s “Iliad” and Virgil’s “Aeneid”, a single ounce of the Phoenicians’ famous “Tyrian purple” came from the harvested mucus of 250,000 sea snails. The laborious process of cracking open thousands of these mollusks is what propelled purple into the spotlight as the signifying color of luxury and wealth we know today. The impression has persisted for centuries as it was the color of choice for the Robe of Estate worn by Queen Elizabeth II following her 1953 coronation.

Light, soft purples are vastly different in their representation. Often seen as peaceful and gentle, light purple is sometimes associated with the aromatic herb lavender, found in almost any spa or bathroom and used for relaxation and rejuvenation. You might also think of a tranquil sky during sunrise or sunset when considering this shade of purple or even the healing powers of amethyst, a crystal some believe to relieve stress and anxiety. According to Katie Smith, color expert and designer, “Purple both calms and stimulates our bodies, putting us in the right place for introspection and focused insight. It fosters creativity by awakening our senses while promoting the quiet necessary to make intuitive, insightful observations. Purple creates a harmonious balance of awareness and peace.”

And that’s just what purple is: balance. Purple is created from red and blue, two opposites in the world of color psychology. Red represents fire and passion while blue represents coolness and serenity. This combination is what makes purple unique. It’s not a primary color which means it’s often seen as independent and innovative. This, along with the fact that it does not naturally occur as often as other colors, is what also makes purple mysterious, elaborate, exotic, and sometimes magical. For example, purple is often used in media to color fairies, unicorns, aliens, galaxies, supernatural phenomena, ghouls and goblins at Halloween, sea creatures, and things that are generally shiny or sparkly.

Finally, one last important aspect of purple’s wildly diverse color psychology is its connection to courage, wisdom, and loyalty. The purple heart, created in 1782 by George Washington, is the highest honor of bravery for the U.S. military. As a nation rooted in pride for its armed forces, this award alone has given purple a new meaning.

The real question is, what do you think of when you think of purple?

Spring Blooms

Now to get to the good stuff. Whether you have a cutting garden or a wild overgrown meadow, here are some beautiful purple blooms that are sure to provide some visual contrast and colorful texture to your landscape.

Here is Baptisia, a native perennial known for being tough and long-lasting. Its name is derived from the Greek baptisis, which means to dip or immerse. Its common name is false indigo or wild indigo. Baptisia can be found naturally on the borders of open woods in the eastern U.S. and Canada. It tolerates a variety of conditions including partial shade to full sun, poor soil, deer, drought, and erosion. Though in this image they appear as a light purple, their color ranges from deep violet and blue, to pink, yellow, and white. Baptisia is great to include in a native garden or pollinator garden as its dainty small flowers are loved by bees and beetles.
Next we have bluebells and don’t worry, I know what you’re thinking, bluebells aren’t purple, they’re blue! The truth is it’s not so simple. Despite their name, bluebells are typically more of a lavender-blue and are sometimes just straight up purple. They can even come in pink! This perennial herb grows up to 1.5 feet tall and boasts large, bell-shaped flowers that droop downwards like someone nodding off to sleep. Bluebells are fairly picky and prefer well-drained soil and partial sun or shade. Like Baptisia, they are also deer resistant. Planting their bulbs can add spring color to woodland gardens, groundcover under deciduous trees, and general beauty to any rock garden or container.
Hear ye! Hear ye! All hail the illustrious queen herself, the royal purple princess of the garden, Iris. Iris varieties are native throughout the world which makes them a great option for a native or woodland garden. Their size and color is unmatched, reflecting their dominance as a perennial showstopper. The flowers are carried at the top of a naked stem that can be as short as 3 inches in dwarf variations to as tall as 3 feet in other species. Irises grow in mounds and rich soils, some preferring wet or marshy areas or even standing water. They enjoy full sun and are deer and rabbit resistant. Needless to say, Irises are the prized possession of most cutting gardens but beware, they are poisonous to cats and dogs. Though the deep purple color of the Iris’ petals indicate her noble status, that doesn’t mean she can’t pack a punch!
Bee balm is a bluish-purple flower that blooms in late spring and early summer. It is one of my all-time favorites. A member of the mint family, bee balm is native to the southern and central U.S. and is known for being extremely tolerant. It can handle full sun to part shade, medium to dry, even rocky soils, and naturalizes well by self seeding. Consistent with its name, bee balm attracts lots of bees and smells wonderful. It is deer resistant and perfect for a native pollinator garden.

Summer and Fall Blooms

Next we have Stokesia, another native and favorite of mine. The power of these purple perennial petals appear in early to mid-summer. Commonly known as a cornflower aster or stoke’s aster, these flowers grow 1-2 feet tall and prefer full sun to partial shade. They are also moderately deer and rabbit resistant, loved by bees and butterflies, fragrant, and drought tolerant. Stokesia’s small, skinny petals burst forth abundantly from the center of the flower like a purple firework lighting the night sky.
Here is Nepeta or catmint as it is commonly known. Nepeta is an edible herbaceous perennial from the mint family owing its name to its strong scent that tends to attract cats. Though it is deer tolerant, the rumors are true, it is NOT cat tolerant. My old cat Stormy is the reason it doesn’t exist in my garden anymore. Nepeta requires full sun and good drainage but it is drought tolerant once established. It is less picky about its soil and will grow in almost any kind including rocky and sandy. Catmint is great for ground cover and will spread all over but you must be mindful of clumping. It’s a great choice for meadows and cottage gardens.
Finally we have Caryopteris, a small blue-ish purple flower that clusters on the ends of its stems and blooms in late summer and early fall. Commonly known as bluebeard, Caryopteris loves full sun and good drainage. It is a native perennial found in the mountains, piedmont, and coastal plains. Like all of the previously mentioned blooms, it is deer resistant and fragrant, loved by bees and butterflies, and a great addition to any garden.

If you want to know more about the power of these purple petals, all of the info gathered here came from the NC State Extension Service’s website. You can look up more purple blooms or read on about the ones mentioned by checking out their extremely helpful site or your local Extension Service’s website. Never heard of Extension Services? Click on my blog here that explains it all and you might even want to get involved. Happy purple planting!

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