06 October 2007
More purple passions
Yesterday I was procrastinating my way through breakfast, which is to say I was reading the paper while trying to eat. Something about double doses of antibiotics (still fighting with the diverticular aliens in me innards) just puts me off most things other than soup and sherbet, neither of which are recommended breakfast foods. I settled for half a pear, half a banana and some yoghourt, and was pushing that around in its dish when something caught my eye in the ‘living’ section of the paper.
Purple, apparently, is very hot this year in fashion.
Well, shucky darn. For some of us, who tend to make fun of fashion and who dance to our own music, purple is ALWAYS in. It’s one of those polarizing colours that people seem to either love or hate. Count me in the ‘love’ category. I trace it back to childhood and wanting most desperately to have my room painted lavender and also wanting a purple satin bedspread. I got the walls, (remarkably, in several of the houses we lived in as we moved around the Atlantic provinces with my pilot Dad) but the bedspread was another matter. I don’t remember having any clothing that was purple—in any shade, from lavender or mauve to deep purple—until sometime in my teens, but hey, it was the seventies and we were all wearin’ purple jeans, purple love beads, purple vests, weren’t we?
Okay, that was definitely a digression from gardening, but it might slightly explain my ongoing love for purple in the garden. I also love amethysts, my favourite fragrance is lavender, and while there are no purple walls or floors or furnishings in the house, the gel pad I rest my wrists on while typing is definitely purple, and there are purple accents throughout my office, from the fused glass mobile of the purple starfish to my purple exercise ball to the hatbox covered with hyacinths…okay, you get the picture.
Purple is associated with royalty, but while I respect and honour our Queen, I’m not particularly a monarchist. The colour has also meant wealth and power because in days gone by, only the most expensive of dyes could be used to create fabrics in shades of purple. I read somewhere that there are surveys showing that up to 75 percent of children pre-adolescent children prefer the colour purple over all others (gee, does that mean I was just an average child?)
How many shades of purple can you name? Lavender, mauve, grape, lilac, burgundy, violet, aubergine, orchid, magenta, amethyst, fuchsia…interesting, isn’t it, how many of the descriptive names echo those of flowers? Some tend more towards blue, others towards grey; some towards pink, others towards red. Perhaps you prefer those with bluer tones than those with hints of red in their depths. You might like the deep purple of an iris but shun the magenta—muddy magenta, as Eleanor Perenyi sniffed in one of her essays, is just far too common and shouldn’t be in a well-bred garden.
While I delight in Mrs. Perenyi’s ‘Green Thoughts’ (which we’re going to be discussing in the Garden Blogger’s Book Club) I lean more towards the late, beloved Christopher Lloyd, who embraced magenta and all other shades of purple. He did write, in Colour for Adventurous Gardeners, that he is wary of deep purple in the garden, saying that “if they are to show up, you need to be close to them and with sunlight behind you.” Or else you might need to have a LOT of it to make a strong statement. The Warsaw Nike clematis that stretches ten feet into the air on the east wall of our barn has no sunlight behind it, but it is such a striking wall of deep purple that you can’t help but notice it.
Or consider this hydrangea that brought me to a stop in the middle of a street, last autumn in downtown Yarmouth. The entire shrub—actually it was three or four shrubs—were covered in masses of deep purple mophead flowers. I have no idea if it was a combination of soil acidity and weather—this was in late October—or if a trip to Yarmouth in a week or two will show the same results this year. All I know is that I look back at those photos and am instantly happy with that huge wash of royal colour.
And of magenta, Lloyd says, “Don’t feel you have to be subtle in your use of magenta. It is apt to be brash but we are talking about flowers, after all, and their delicacy goes counter to brashness.” If you’ve rejoiced in the delicate frills of a magenta fringed orchid, or been gleeful over that ‘Sour Grapes’ penstemon, you understand exactly what Christo meant.
Or look at the star in the Grandpa Ott morning Glory, and see purple meet magenta in a jubilant flood of richness.
Some may find purple, especially its deeper hues, to be a somber colour; and indeed, it has been used as a sign of mourning in some cultures.
But to me, anything purple has joy in it, whether it’s the bronzy-purple leaves of a beech or the velvet falls of a bearded iris. Perhaps the happiest flower of all—and one I don’t have a photo of right now—is the simple, humble, pansy or Johnny jump up. I don’t care if they’re common as dandelions; I see a pansy in any colour, and I feel happier; I see one in shades of purple, and cares are blown away on the autumn wind. Which is actually WHY I don’t have a good photo of a pansy with which to conclude—although like others we’re enjoying a mostly mild and delightful October, we are having wind most days with great zeal…and today the Johnny-jump-ups were too busy jumping to stand still and have their portrait captured.
Pansies and Johnnys remind me of my maternal grandmother, who had these, and lupines, and poppies, in her long-ago garden of my childhood. And it was three tiny, deepest purple Johnnys, blooming bravely in the little greenhouse attached to the barn—in a bitterly cold February—that prompted me to declare my love for this place and for us to purchase our home. So the Johnnys grow free-range all around our gardens, smiling their deep purple secret smiles at us. We smile back at them, sharing the joy that we felt on that frigid February day when we found the place where we needed to be.
Instead of a Johnny-jump-up, I leave you with flowers on a butterfly bush—not purple as you would expect, but honeycomb gold. Because purples will really pop with gold, lime green or orange near them, and gold also may help to cleanse your colour palate if you’ve been overwashed with an excess of purple.
As for me…I’m off to bed. To sleep on lavender sheets of smoothest cotton, with the scent of lavender under my pillow. And to dream of purple blossoms, perhaps.