Plum Crazy: The Late Spring Garden

Baptisia 'Purple Smoke' is a delightful perennial with upright spires to 3'

Baptisia ‘Purple Smoke’ is a delightful perennial with upright spires to 3′

The woodland garden is quieting down; trout lilies, hellebores and epimedium are now setting seed.  In the meantime, the rest of the garden has just about caught up as the last of the leaves unfurl. Wisteria is always late, the leaves showing up at bloom break.

The garden is plum crazy right now.  The seemingly unnatural color of bulbs is  a memory and the pale and tender foliage of most plants make the violet hues stand out all the more.

The deep and delightful purple foliage of Diabolo ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus ‘Diabolo’) and Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii cultivars) may recede into the lushness of the summer landscape, but for now they appear novel in concept.  Purple foliage! The deep, moody leaves are wine, purple or red, depending on the direction of the light that falls and the foil of neighboring plants.

Clematis jackmanii blooms on the deck railing

Clematis jackmanii blooms on the deck railing

This year my summer blooming clematis jackmanii is quite early and has caught up with the floral show of clematis montana ‘alba’, which started in April.  I missed the late winter window to prune away last year’s dead, crispy leaves before the huge flowering, velvety purple clematis bloomed on new growth.  I ignore the tangle of brown yesteryear because the mess of 5″ wide flowers have a colorful hedgerow in the background.  A tall ornamental plum and several large, arching Rosa glauca are the backdrop that echo the plum symphony.

Rosa glauca is a garden shape-shifter whose dusky stems and leaves alternate from grey, muted blue, red and purple.  I would be lying if I said that I had planned the effect; it simply happened when I added as much purple to the landscape as I could find.

Persicaria 'Red Dragon' is a stellar perennial best protected with applications of deer repellent

Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’ is a stellar perennial best protected with applications of deer repellent

The purple-blues of the garden such as columbines (Aquilegia alpina) and camassia have been surpassed by mauve–chives, Penstemon ovatus, and meadow rue (Thalictrum aquilegifolium).  The bees are foraging. It’s these plums that shine alongside the more reddish foliage of heucheras, Persicaria ‘red dragon’ and Japanese maples. Rosa glauca will add yet another hit of this rosy hue in a few weeks when it’s tiny flowers open in clusters.

The mornings are still cool and moisture hangs in the air. It won’t be long, however, before the summer sunshine of yellows, oranges and reds arrives to overpower this moody, purple haze.  Plum foliaged plants compliment May flowers now but also contrast the hot colors of summer and fall making it the most adaptable and seamless foliage color to add to the overall landscape.

©Colleen Miko, 2015

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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