Purple is my favorite color, and it’s been the color of royalty 4,000 years. I’m always looking for ways to add a bit of this color to my garden, and there are many lovely ways to do it.

Persian shield

Persian shield has intensely purple new leaves, which fade to silvery lavender tones.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer


Red castor bean is easy to grow from seeds. Another option is to plant it early in a greenhouse and bring it out once the soil has warmed.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Purpleleaf pepper

Purpleleaf peppers offer intensely dark leaves and edible fruits.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Purple fountain grass

Try planting purple fountain grass with chartreuse sweetpotato vines for a knockout combination.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Purple millet

Both the flowers and foliage of purple millet are purplish-black.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

While lots of plants offer purple flowers, purple foliage is something else. Most purple foliage isn’t really purple – it’s more of a reddish-black or bronzy brown-purple. There are several trees with purple foliage, such as purpleleaf plum, red Norway maple and purple smokebush, that offer great color year after year. But there are also some great purple-leafed annuals that you can use to give your garden that royal feeling.

Of all the purple-foliaged annuals, Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus) may have the most truly purple leaves. Although it produces lavender flowers, it’s really grown for its attractive iridescent purple leaves, which grow about 6 inches long and fade to metallic silvery and lavender-pink tones. The plants reach about 3 feet tall and wide. It’s important to plant Persian shield in part shade because plants wilt quickly and too much sun causes foliage to fade. I like to combine it with New Guinea impatiens with hot pink flowers.

The reddish-purple leaves of red castor bean (Ricinus communis) can grow as large as 3 feet across! The plants grow very fast and reach anywhere from 5 to 10 feet tall and about 5 feet wide, depending on how long the growing season is. The stems are dark red, and although the flowers are nothing to write home about, the seeds are gorgeous. They are produced inside decorative red husks from midsummer on. Simply plant them from seed, but be sure to wait for soils to warm a bit and soak them in warm water for a day first. Then put them in full sun and stand back! For superbly stunning selections, look for cultivars such as ‘Carmencita’ and ‘Sanguineus’. Combine them with other large plants, such as angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia), wild parsnip (Angelica archangelica) or banana (Musa). Or use them by themselves as a focal point in the garden.

There are some great ornamental pepper selections (Capsicum annuum) with terrific purple-black foliage. I love ‘Black Pearl’ and other cultivars with 'Black' in their names, which boast not only purple leaves, but purple flowers and fruit. Peppers need full sun. All ornamental peppers are edible, but some are definitely better (and hotter!) than others, so do taste test first. Depending on the cultivar, plants grow about from 1 to 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide and flower throughout summer. Peppers appear soon after the flowers, if they were pollinated, but you may not notice them until around midsummer. Be sure to plant them in full sun. Mix them with other ornamental vegetables, such as red okra or Indian corn.

Two grasses with distinctly purple foliage are purple millet (Pennisetum glaucum ‘Purple Majesty’) and purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’). The flowers of both resemble bottlebrushes. Purple fountain grass flowers are tan and purplish-red, while purple millet has heftier flowers in shades of purple and almost black. Purple millet is a stiffly upright plant, reaching 4 to 5 feet and about 2 feet wide. Purple fountain grass is a little shorter, gracefully arching 3 to 4 feet tall and wide.

For both, the flowers are produced above the foliage in mid- to late summer. Use purple fountain grass as an edge-of-the-border plant or to line a driveway or a pond. Plant purple millet with chartreuse sweet potato vine for a winning combination.

The great thing about annuals with purple foliage is that they look great even when they’re not flowering. They add weight to the garden and combine well with almost any color. Mix them with chartreuse or yellow, dark pink and even orange! These plants are so easy to use – and there’s no better way to add a touch of royalty to your surroundings.