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Paint my Garden Purple


by Vicky Barney
Unintentionally, my garden is a sea of purple flowers.  The flowers are blooming on a few natives and a non-native, all in shades of purple and all in bloom at the same time.  Before now, I would have thought that a garden of only purple flowers would be rather boring, but it is quite striking.

The wildflowers in bloom are Showy Daisy (Erigeron speciosus) and Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon strictus).  A few Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) are scattered about as well.  The non-native plant is the Clustered Bellflower (Campanula glomerata).  The last was a surprise; its roots were intermingled with clumps of daylilies from a friend’s garden.  All are perennials, all have been spreading for the past few years, and each complements the others in appearance.

Showy Daisy, also called Showy Fleabane or Aspen Daisy, grows from 1 to 3 feet tall and produces 1-10 small flowers that perch on top of each stem.  With yellow centers and numerous thin petals ranging in color from pink to blue to lavender, the flowers are a nice landing spot for a variety of insects including butterflies.  It thrives in moist areas and aspen groves in the Rocky Mountains, as well as in xeric gardens.  The native has naturalized in my garden, blooming in swaths of lavender in sunny and partly shady locations, and may rebloom if deadheaded, but I’ve not had firsthand experience yet.

Rocky Mountain Penstemon is another native that thrives in our area.  Like the Showy Daisy, it grows tall, is happy in both sun and part shade, is drought tolerant, and spreads easily.  It’s striking blue-purple tubular flowers bloom up sturdy stalks and are frequented by bees and hummingbirds.  It spreads by seed and now blankets several of my flowerbeds.

Harebell, the smallest of my purple bloomers, appears here and there in my garden and will continue to bloom all summer long.  It has blue-lavender bell shaped flowers on thin stems that grow to about a foot tall.  Native to the Northern Hemisphere, it is also called Bluebell.  It will grow in sunny and shady areas, in dry to moist conditions, and reseeds readily.  It sometimes surprises me with white blooms.

The non-native purple flower I’ve inadvertently planted is also a bluebell and is called Clustered Bellflower.  It is the showiest of the bunch, its stem growing up to 2 feet tall and the deep purple bell shaped flowers forming a colorful ball on top.  The Clustered Bellflower has found a welcome spot in my garden – a sunny location that was irrigated for a time for the naturalizing daylilies – and is spreading by rhizome among the daylilies and in the grass nearby.  The daylilies keep the heavy flower heads upright and appear to be keeping the invasive plant in check.  Although not native, the flowers are regularly perused by bees and other insects, and it continues to thrive in the sunny location with minimal irrigation.  Its flowers are suitable for cutting.

My purple garden has been delightful, tranquil yet humming with pollinator activity.  I will be sad to see it disappear.   Yet the process has begun, with the purple color fading and flowers in other colors starting to bloom.  In no time, though, with a little added water and more summer sunshine, my garden will take on a new identity with new colors and textures to enjoy.  It’s a wonderful time of year in the garden.

Vicky Barney gardens for wildlife and is a member of the Master Gardener Class of 2011.

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