The Purple Flowers of Autumn–Plant Fix

Monkshood is an autumn standout

I have always loved purple.  It’s a rich and magical color, and surprisingly, not overly abundant in the flowers of hardy plants.  I have wondered why that is.  Are purple flowers rampant in the tropics, but not colder climes? Is purple less attractive to pollinators, giving plants with purple blossoms less reproductive advantage?  Does a purple flower require certain chemicals to produce, and perhaps need more energy than say, a white flower?  I’m sure there are scientific answers to my questions.

Aster 'Hella Lacey' starts blooming in September

Whenever I come across a purple blooming plant that is hardy here, I try it.  For whatever reason, that means that my autumn garden is a purple haze.  The Pulsatilla vulgaris (Pasque flower) bloom purple in late winter and there are many blues throughout the summer, but not until fall do the true, deep and velvety purple flowers break in mass.   The Clematis jackmanii has been blooming since mid-summer, but stands out now in the low angled light.  It will continue to bloom the rest of the month, the flowers opening smaller and smaller the chillier it gets.

'Violetta' mullein normally blooms in the later summer

Verbena bonariensis, which freely seeds around my beds, is tall and lanky and its paler purple flowers wave in the wind today.  Several types of asters are doing their thing—the ‘Hella Lacey’ flowers hold a redder tone, the bedding asters reflect more blue.  Aconitum ‘Spark’s Variety’ (monkshood) is sometimes navy blue, at times purple, depending on the time of day and looks remarkable with yellowing autumn foliage nearby. Surprisingly, a Verbascum chaxii ‘Violetta’ (mullein) is blossoming much later than normal, adding to the fall color festival.

Magical purple fruits of Billardiera vine

There are several plants whose fruits are following the purple theme–the Billardiera longiflora vine has the most incredible purple fruit you can imagine hanging in mass against the diminutive evergreen leaves.  The berries of Aralia californica (spikenard) are shiny and echo the skin of an eggplant. Even when the fruits have been eaten by birds or fallen into the duff, the stalks remain ornamental due to their dusky plum coloration. 

Deciduous foliage is starting to color now, giving the purple flowers and berries warm oranges, yellows and reds to play against.  It’s a glorious time of the year.

© Colleen Miko, 2011

About Colleen Miko

Colleen Miko is a certified professional horticulturist with 20 years experience in landscape design who has designed award winning gardens for the NW Flower & Garden Show as well as HGTV’s “Landscaper’s Challenge”. Colleen is freelance garden writer and speaker.
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