Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

November 4, 2013

A passion for purple plantsĀ 

By C Rae Hozer
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — A common mistake in landscape design is thinking flowers should be the sole color element. Attractive foliage is a better foundation to build upon.

Take an honest look at your place. If the greenery doesn’t look very spiffy, you may need to change out some of the more boring older bushes and small trees with different selections that have a more exciting potential. Look at the most attractive yards in your area. Snap some digital photos showing specimens with great form, interesting foliage texture and/or with eye-catching leaf color. Identify those plants. Add their names to your landscape plant wish-list. Swapping a few really ordinary woody ornamentals for just one or two outstanding selections can dramatically increase your home’s curb appeal.

I really like plants with dark purple leaves. A deep, strong hue like purple contrasts sharply with foliage that is chartreuse, yellow, gold or orange. Contrasting colors inspire feelings of happy excitement. Purple harmonizes with plants whose leaves are in the red to burgundy range. Purple brightens and perks up most shades and tints of green.

My passion for purple plants started one summer years ago, when a type of sweet basil known as Purple Ruffles (Ocimum basilicun "Purple Ruffles") escaped from my neighbor’s yard and took up residence in mine. I appreciate the dash of interest this gypsy herb has been adding to my gardens ever since. The leaves have a pleasant, spicy aroma that smells like anise. The foliage is darker in sunlight. Dense shade produces less attractive green leaves tinged with purple. Cut sprigs of the purple plant look lovely in flower arrangements.

In Europe branches of the weigela shrub Wine and Roses (Weigela florida "Wine and Roses") were used in cut flower arrangements, as well. Given my passion for purple-leaf plants, it was no wonder I was smitten when I saw my first one in the original demonstration garden planted in 2005 by newly trained Master Gardeners at Discovery Gardens located on the grounds of the UT Plateau Research and Education Center.

Unfortunately, when I returned to the 2005 Small Tree and Shrub Garden for a follow-up photo shoot this summer, not a single Wine and Roses weigela was growing there. I knew every plant in that garden had been hand-picked for both good looks and reliable performance in conditions like those found in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland region. Why had none of the Wine and Roses weigela survived? I asked readers to let me know if they had tried growing this weigela here. If yes, had their efforts been successful?    

I want to thank those who answered my request for information on whether Wine and Roses weigela grows well in Tennessee. All who responded had been growing the shrub successfully for at least four years. One initially reported setting two plants out four years ago; the one in full sun looked good, but the other in shade had not shown the same robust growth. A second email rescinded that. When the resident double checked, she realized she had moved the Wine and Roses shrub that hadn’t been getting enough sunlight. She just forgot about the relocation. Both of the shrubs are now looking good.

Another couple planted their first weigela nine years before. Because it is below their kitchen window, it gets pruned to about 3 1/2 feet in June or July. That specimen has beautiful pink blooms in springtime and re-blooms later the same year. Since the first did so well, they purchased two more last year to use in front of their house. The newer plants are doing great, too.

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Plateau Gardening is written by Master Gardeners for gardeners in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region. Contact UT Extension Cumberland County at P.O. Box 483, Crossville, TN 38557 (484-6743) for answers to horticulture questions, free publications and how to become a Master Gardener. Send email comments or yard and garden inquiries to Master Gardener Rae, MGardenerRae@frontiernet.net.