Horticulture Magazine

37 Favourite Plants With Purple Leaves

Salvia officinalis 'Purpurascens' leaves up close

Choosing plants with purple leaves can help break up the green and add interest to your garden.

Purple leaves can add drama to a planting scheme. They can break up the verdant hues and help you play around with perspective and draw the eye. They can help you in creating the perfect colour scheme for your space, and in creating diverse and interesting planting schemes – even helping you beautify food producing spaces.

Read on for suggestions of trees, shrubs, perennials and even edible plants with purple foliage.

Top Trees With Purple Leaves

purple leaves of Acer palmatum Atropurpureum
Acer palmatum Atropurpureum

First of all, consider trees with purple leaves, as these larger plants can often have the most impact. There are a huge range of trees with purple leaves that can work very well in a garden. No matter how large or small your garden may be, you should have no difficulty finding one or more purple foliage trees to suit. Some great trees with purple leaves to consider are:

  • Acer palmatum (Japanese maple – e.g. ‘Atropurpureum’, ‘Burgundy Lace’).
  • Acer platanoides (Norway maple – e.g. ‘Crimson king’, ‘Crimson sentry’).
  • Betula pendula (Birch tree – e.g. ‘Purpurea’, Dark Prince’).
  • Cercis canadensis (Redbud – e.g. ‘Merlot’, ‘Ruby Falls’).
  • Cornus mas (Cornelian cherry – leaves turn purple in autumn).
  • Fagus sylvatica (Copper beech – e.g. ‘Atropurpurea’, ‘Purpurea’).
  • Malus malus (Crab apples – e.g. ‘Radiance’, ‘Purple Prince’ or ‘Royalty’).
  • Prunus cerasifera (Ornamental plum – e.g. ‘Princess’, ‘Pendula’ or ‘Thundercloud’).
  • Prunus serrulata (Flowering cherry – e.g. ‘Royal Burgundy’).
  • Sambucus nigra (Elder – e.g. ‘Black lace’, ‘Purpurea’ or ‘Black Beauty’).

A number of these not only have ornamental appeal, but also have fruits which can have edible uses. Crab apples, for example, and elder berries, are useful crops that can be used in making preserves, wines, and more.

Get the trees right first, and the rest of the planting scheme should follow. Layered planting below your trees with beneficial guild plants can help you make the most of your space, and achieve lush and impressive results.

Top Shrubs With Purple Leaves

Cotinus coggygria Royal purple leaves
Cotinus coggygria Royal purple

To complement any trees with purple leaves you have planted, you should next consider adding some purple leaved shrubs. Shrubs might be placed below or around your trees, at the back of garden borders, or even included in mixed hedgerows. Consider including some evergreen shrubs with purple leaves as well as some which lose their leaves in winter. The more variety you add in your garden, the better it will be for wildlife, and the more interest there will be throughout the year.

Some interesting shrubs with purple leaves to consider are:

  • Berberis thunbergii (Barberry – e.g. ‘Royal burgundy’, ‘Bagatelle’ or ‘Royal Cloak’).
  • Cotinus coggygria (Purple smoke bush – e.g.’Royal purple’, ‘Velvet Cloak’).
  • Corylopsis sinensis (e.g. ‘Spring purple’).
  • Corylus maxima (Purple-leaved filbert – e.g. ‘Purpurea’).
  • Hebe (e.g. ‘Burning heart’, ‘Heartbreaker’, ‘Caledonian’).
  • Loropetalum chinense (e.g.’Fire dancer’).
  • Pittosporum tenuifolium (e.g. ‘Tom Thumb’, ‘Breeway’).
  • Rincinus comunis (Castor oil plant).
  • Salvia officinalis (Purple sage – e.g. ‘Purpurascens’
  • Weigela florida (e.g. ‘Foliis purpureis’)

Remember, deep, dramatic purple leaves can really stand out amongst lighter green hues. Purple leaved shrubs can make a marvellous backdrop for lighter green, yellowish or silvery foliage. Sometimes, those with cooler hues can help make the garden boundaries recede into the background, and might even make your garden seem larger.

Perennials With Purple Leaves

Heuchera foliage with cream coloured rocks
Heuchera

Using purple foliage plants in your garden, of course, does not have to end with the trees and shrubs. There are also plenty of other plants to consider including in your garden planting schemes. Some further perennials with purple leaves should also be considered. Some interesting options, for example, are:

  • Actaea (e.g. ‘Brunette’, ‘Queen of Sheba’, ‘Pink Spike’).
  • Ajuga reptans (Bugle – e.g. ‘Atropurpurea’).
  • Anthriscus sylvestris (e.g. ‘Ravenswing’).
  • Canna (e.g. ‘Russian Red’).
  • Dahlias (e.g. ‘Magenta star’, ‘David Howard’, or ‘Tally Ho’).
  • Euphorbia dulcis (e.g. ‘Chameleon’).
  • Heuchera (Coral bells – e.g. ‘Sugar berry’, ‘Purple petticoats’ or ‘Fireworks’).
  • Ophiopogon planiscapus (e.g. ‘Nigrescens’).
  • Rheum palmatum (ornamental rhubarb – ‘Atrosanguineum’).
  • Sedum telephium (e.g. ‘Xenox’).

Of course, this is by no means a complete list. You could not only plant these and a range of other purple cultivars of perennial flowers, but should also consider many different grasses and sedges to introduce russet, red, bronze and purplish tones into your garden.

Of all the options on this list, Heuchera is perhaps one of the most impressive and the most versatile. Though any of the plants listed above should be considered if you can meet the right conditions for their growth in your garden.

Purple-Leaved Edibles for the Vegetable Garden

Red orach plants in a vegetable garden
Red orach

The largely ornamental plants mentioned above can all really bring interest and drama to your garden. But a garden should ideally be productive and provide yields as well as visual appeal. Fortunately, growing food and giving some space over for vegetable cultivation does not need to mean that you sacrifice aesthetics.

A vegetable garden can also be a beautiful space – filled not just with companion plant flowers, but also with visually arresting vegetable varieties and herbs. There are actually a wide range of edible plants with purple leaves to grow in a vegetable garden. For example:

  • Amaranthus (Purple amaranth – e.g. ‘Velvet Curtains’).
  • Atriplex hortensis var. rubra (Red orach).
  • Chenopodium quinoa (Quinoa – leaves often turn purplish as they age.)
  • Cichorium intybus (Chicory/ radicchio – e.g. ‘Palla rossa’)
  • Lactuca sativa (Lettuce – e.g. ‘Ruby’, ‘Red fire’, ‘Merlot’, ‘Red Leprechaun’ etc…)
  • Ocimum basilicum (Purple basil – e.g. ‘Dark opal’, ‘Crimson king’).
  • Perilla frutescens var.crispa (Chinese basil)
Amaranth 'Velvet Curtains' on a timber surface
Amaranth ‘Velvet Curtains’

There are also many, many Brassica cultivars which have purple leaves. Many varieties of cabbage, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, mustards, tatsoi, pak choi, and kohlrabi can bring vibrant purple hues to your garden. Some of these have a particularly vibrant and arresting purple hue.

Redbore kale growing in a garden
Redbore kale

Remember, too, that these edibles do not have to be relegated to your vegetable plot. You can integrate these with other plants in your garden. Perennial brassicas with purplish leaves in particular can be very useful ornamentally as well as for culinary use.

Plants with purple leaves can be found on the above list which will suit many different gardens, with many different climates, microclimates and soil types. But of course, when choosing any plants for your garden, you need to think about the conditions where you live. You need to choose the right plants for the right places.

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