Purple and burgundy-leaved perennials are a welcome colour contrast in many parts of the garden, but until recently there have been few available for shadier places. Purple leaves are ideal for contrasting with any of the bright gold-leaved Hostas such as ‘Piedmont Gold’ or ‘August Moon’. This combination adds an element of colour interest that does not even require the power of flowers to be effective for most of the season. A few shade-loving purple or burgundy leaved plants to consider:
Cimicifuga simplex (Bugbane) – there are now several excellent dark forms, like ‘Brunette’, ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ and ‘Black Negligee’.
Heuchera (Coral Bells), many hybrids, such as ‘Chocolate Ruffles’, ‘Velvet Night’, and ‘Plum Pudding’. These will tolerate full sun in cool summer regions, but for those of us with hot, humid summers they seem happiest with at least afternoon shade.
Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’ (Chocolate Boneset) is the biggest and bushiest purple-leaved perennial for shadier areas. Clumps usually grow to a height of 3 feet, spreading about 2.5 feet wide. Leaves are medium in texture, a deep dusky purple shade in spring and summer, then fading to more of a green shade in the fall, when the plants burst into a display of small white snowball flowers. Native throughout the Eastern US and into Canada, this tough plant seems to even tolerate dry shade conditions with occasional summer watering.
Lysimachia ciliata ‘Firecracker’ (Fringed Loosestrife) has succeeded in a fairly shady part of my garden, with just morning sun available. This plant can be a thug, so give it lots of space to spread. The leaves are deep wine-purple on an upright clump, with small yellow star flowers in early to mid summer. One gorgeous combination I’ve seen is: ‘Firecracker’ underplanted with a late-blooming apricot-orange tulip. The Loosestrife masked the ugly tulip leaves later in the season, but in the spring acted as a stunning purple groundcover.