Purple Pleasures of Spring

freeway daisy (Osteospermum fruticosum)

freeway daisy (Osteospermum fruticosum)

My favorite color of early spring is described on the artist’s color wheel as violet, but is more commonly known as purple. Although violet is exactly halfway between red and blue on the color spectrum, violet/purplish flowers in nature generally lean more in the direction of violet-red than violet-blue.
Let’s start with the shimmering violet-red productus ice plant (Lampranthus productus). If you are fortunate enough to have a sunny slope and were wise enough to plant this ice plant there, you are presently a witness to a glowing display of flowers that brings on repeated rushes of adrenalin when it is viewed this time of year. An advantage of the productus ice plant is its productivity. Whereas most other ice plant species flower only in late winter or early spring, productus blooms heavily now, but will also continue to flower on and off throughout the rest of the year.
Whoever invented the word “delightful” must have had the purple freeway daisy in mind. This cheerful flower (Osteospermum fruticosum) is also seen in wedding-gown white but the violet version is more famous. Freeway daisies got their name from being planted on highway slopes where their trailing growth habit is shown off to full effect.
Among impatiens, the most popular variety just may be ‘Blue Pearl.’ This is actually more of a mauve than a blue and is strikingly similar in color to the purple freeway daisy. For contrast, it is frequently planted with red-orange impatiens varieties.
It is surprising when you realize how well orange and purple look together in a flower bed. While few people would walk down the street wearing purple pants and an orange shirt, the combination of these same colors somehow works in the garden.
Lots of gardeners plant orange and purple petunias together. Perhaps they are merely mimicking nature as, just now, orange California poppies and purple lupines are blooming together in open spaces and in gardens of native annuals. Purple Mexican sage and orange birds-of-paradise also seem to find themselves planted together nowadays.
A plant with glorious, if seldom realized, potential is blue hibiscus (Alyogyne huegelii). What we are really talking about here is a 5- to 6-foot shrub with purple, mauve, lilac or lavender flowers, depending on the variety and the available light. Rest assured, blue hibiscus does not get giant white fly like the more common tropical hibiscus so this pest is not a limiting factor in its flowering.
The problem with blue hibiscus is that it absolutely must get four or five hours of direct sun from every direction to flower its best. If light is blocked by neighboring plants or structures on any side, it flowers pathetically. This is a real shame since there is no more spectacular site than a mature blue hibiscus covered with hundreds of flowers on every side.
And last, but not least, we should not forget to visit the lilacs at Descanso Gardens in La Canada. There is no better place in all of Southern California to view these fragrant beauties, flowering now in every shade of lilac-purple.
TIP OF THE WEEK: To improve drainage over a large area of your yard or garden, install a French drain. This is a gently sloping series of perforated pipes, laid on a bed of gravel 12-18 inches below the soil surface, that allows water to drain down and away from the problem area. Where you have smaller, discrete areas of poor drainage or water accumulation, you will need to install a dry well, which is simply a 3-foot deep by 3-foot diameter pit with gravel in the bottom half and fast- draining top soil up to the soil surface.

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