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Purple-leafed shrubs

06/19/04 12:00AM By Charlie Nardozzi
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(Host) Commentator Charlie Nardozzi has been looking for shrubs with rather unusual coloring. Here's what he's found.


(Nardozzi) I've developed a fascination with the color purple in my landscape plant choices. Perhaps it's because at my new home I have one of those vestiges of the 1970's. A purple leafed 'Crimson King' Norway maple adorns the south side of my property. I could also make a case that the color purple contrasts well with the new house color, a light gray. But really it all just comes down to taste. And for me, landscaping this new home, purple is in.

I could have settled for planting flowers with reddish-purple blooms, such as geraniums or cosmos, but why only fleeting glimpses of purple when you can have big splashes of it? So I settled on purple leafed shrubs for my landscape plants. It's fortunate because in the horticultural world purple is fashionable. There are many purple leafed versions of popular shrubs such as sand cherries, plums, and barberries. However, I've selected three more unusual purple shrubs to make my maple feel at home.

Ninebark is an oft-neglected native shrub that features white flowers in summer, red berries in fall, and a fast growing, upright habit reaching 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide. It's hardy to zone 3, and the new 'Diablo' variety features, you guessed it, purple foliage. As the shrub ages, the trunk reveals peeling bark that looks like "nine layers of bark" -- hence the common name, ninebark.

I've always loved the billowy flowers of the smokebush. They bloom in midsummer, and the blossoms look like the cotton candy you get at a country fair. Smokebush is a hardy shrub that grows to 12 feet tall. There are purple leafed varieties such as 'Royal Purple' and 'Velvet Cloak' available.

Finally, the newest member of the purple leafed shrub family is an old friend. I've grown elderberries before to make jams and juice and to feed my feathered friends on the fruits I left behind. It's a tough native that grows wild in pastures and along roadsides. Now from England comes a stunning purple foliage variation with 10-inch diameter pink flowers that feature a lemon scent. 'Black Beauty' grows 8 to 10 feet tall, but since it flowers on new growth, it can be sheared back in spring into a smaller shrub and still produce blooms. The purple-black foliage provides a dramatic contrast to the pink flowers, and the leaves actually get blacker as the weather turns cool in fall.

I don't know if 20 years from the now the owner of my house will look at the landscape and wonder: What was I thinking? Will they look at my purple leafed shrubs the way I looked at the avocado colored bathtub when I moved in? Are purple foliage shrubs just a fad? I don't know; but it's my house and I like purple. So these shrubs are here to stay.

This is Charlie Nardozzi in Shelburne.

Charlie Nardozzi is an all-around gardening expert with a speacial fondness for tomatoes and roses.
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