Tuesday, April 23

The power of purple

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Courage and a representation of women’s rights

The colour purple has a powerful history. It represents women’s rights and signifies dignity and justice. The combination of purple, green and white to symbolise women’s equality originated from the Suffragettes and the 1903 Women’s Social and Political Union in the UK.

Purple is the official colour of International Women’s Day each March which celebrates women’s social, economic and political achievements, and represents the colour of the future.

National Women’s Day on Thursday commemorates the 1956 march of thousands of women to protest against the apartheid pass laws, and the determination and strength of women to continue to fight for justice and human rights across southern Africa and the world.

Tyrian purple was an ancient dye produced from mollusc species. The sails on Cleopatra’s barge were Tyrian purple, and in Byzantium and ancient Rome, only emperors wore purple. Purple was the colour of the first synthetic dye made in 1856. Called “mauveine”, it was made out of coal tar.

Butterflies sip nectar from purple flowers. Picture: Kay Montgomery

Purple links

Purple is associated with songs, books and movies (Jim Hendrix’s Purple Haze, Prince’s Purple Rain and The Color Purple by Alice Walker). Pantone’s Colour of the Year 2018, ultra-violet – a hue of purple – signifies visionary thinking that points us to the future.

Garden choices

The variations of garden purple – lavender, lilac, mauve, amethyst, plum, ultra-violet and deep purple – have always been popular choices in the garden.

At its full strength, purple is a show-off Mardi Gras colour found in Petunia “Night Sky”, iris, delphinium, bougainvillea, Agapanthus “Black Pantha” with almost black buds opening to violet-blue, cobalt-blue Salvia “Black and Blue” and purple-blue Salvia “Mystic Spires”.

Purple is pretty with pink, stunning with orange and opulent with red, it complements yellow and contrasts with lime-green. Evening tones of mauve, indigo and violet introduce shadows in the garden and add depth among lighter shades.

Purple shades are found in climbers (clematis, petrea, wisteria), in indigenous bulbs (babiana, geissorhiza, Moraea villosa, gladioli, Zantedeschia “Black Panther”), and in exotic bulbs (allium, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, anemone, dahlia, iris, tulip).

Purple is a guide for pollinators. Some flowers have purple stripes on their petals, known as nectar guides. Plant a bee-friendly garden in mauve and violet with touches of yellow, as bees see these colours best. Plant in groups and choose single flowers for easy access to nectar and pollen.

Dark foliage

Wisteria creates dappled shade alongside a quaint seating area in this cottage garden. Chelsea 2018. Picture: Neil Hepworth/RHS

Dark-coloured foliage is a great contrast with lighter colours and is best seen in sun, as dark colours tend to fade in shade. Use them as highlights, as a strong statement with hot colours, and to add a touch of elegance with pastels. Purple combines well with silver-grey, gold and lime-green foliage. Succulent Aeonium arboretum “Schwartkop“ has rosettes of dark purple almost black leaves. There are heucheras with purple foliage; some solenostemons (coleus) have dark foliage in various patterns. The shrub strobilanthus (Persian shield) has leaves of purple, silver and green. Ornamental kale comes in various colour patterns including purple and is a perfect spring foliage plant for pots.

Striking taste

Lavender planted alongside a path creates a fragrant walkway that delights the senses. Picture: Leonie Ballard-Tremeer

Purple fruit, vegetables and herbs are trendy with gourmet chefs in side and main dishes and as garnishes, and with the food industry for their striking colour, and because they are rich in antioxidants. Following this trend, homeowners are growing purple edibles in their gardens, and in pots on patios and balconies.

They are not only pretty to look at. Purple asparagus, eggplants, purple potatoes and carrots, purple beans, purple broccoli and cauliflower, purple corn, purple peppers and tomatoes, purple grapes, blueberries, blackberries, plums and red cabbage have a natural purple pigment called anthocyanin that helps fight disease.

Herbs with flowers and foliage in purple hues – thyme, lavender, basil, rosemary, oregano, opal basil, chives and purple sage – are attractive in borders and pots.

Paint it purple

Paint a purple wall for a powerful focal point. Picture: Kay Montgomery

Colour in the landscape is not just about plants. Purple in its full strength is best used as a focal point. Paint a door purple and it becomes a decorative accent and a focal point; brighten a potting bench with a coat of purple paint. Increase your kerb appeal with a purple entrance gate and pots of orange marigolds in purple pots.

A lavender wall would complement a purple petrea; a mauve garden bench becomes a colour accent, blending or contrasting with surrounding plantings.

Paint obelisks, garden gates and arches, a garden bench, a wall, or a tool shed door and window frames in shades of purple. If you are unsure, try pots in these shades in various places.

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