Purple and gold: A garden

Our neighbours G. and W. got a blank slate when they purchased their corner property: a sunny blank slate once their towering Norway maple was devoured by carpenter ants (not all of it, just enough to make removing it a better, safer idea).

Look what a dramatic garden they’ve created in place of the old chainlink fence, indifferent patch of weeds and straggly mock orange.

Rather than taking a bitty, one-of approach, they’ve anchored their corner with three ‘Rose Glow’ berberis (Berberis thunbergii var. atropurpurea ‘Rose Glow’… for short). These fantastic, purple-leaf shrubs grow to about five feet up and across. One of the prime strengths of this cultivar is its sprays of variegated, rose-pink new growth in June, just when the ‘William Baffin’ Explorer rose I passed on to them blooms as well.

At the feet of the purple berberis are a number of dwarf golden Berberis ‘Aurea Nana’. I use “golden” loosely, as the colour is more acidy-yellow-meets-chartreuse. Even that’s not quite right. Whatever you call it, individually these shrubs are interesting enough; together, the effect of the purple and yellow is striking.

G. has built on the colour scheme with other yellows, including Potentilla and repeated clumps of tall Coreopsis. Blues and purples crop up in irises, catnip (Nepeta mussenii, also from my garden), Campanula and a variety of thymes. Occasional pinks appear in the roses and big-root Geranium macrorrhizum (more sprinklings from me. What can I say? A very small garden needs room to spread.)

Then there are white accents, such as a well-applied swath of snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum), along with silvery grasses. A larger serviceberry (Amelanchier) adds height and G.’s pet (and one of my objects of desire) is the delightful bottle-brush shrub Fothergilla. Both have white spring flowers and bold fall colour.

Fall colour is another fine attribute of purple berberis, which takes on layers of orange, red and yellow hues that give it the look of embers. Yellow spring flowers, particularly decorative on the ‘Rosy Glow’, are also beloved of bees and are followed by bunches of small, glossy red fruit.

A garden is always a work in progress, and in my opinion, the only thing missing here (G., tell me if you agree) would be some large-leafed plants for textural contrast. But with a double addition to their family coming soon, that detail might have to wait.

Unless I do the neighbourly thing and offer to drop by to plant some. I might have a yellow hosta that needs dividing.


  1. Very colorful! I'm a big fan of purple in the garden, along with white and green. For some reason I'm not a huge fan of red, orange and yellow. I guess I'm more of a romantic garden kind of gal.

  2. I just photographed 'Rose (labeled 'Rosy' when I bought it some years ago) Glow' in my garden as it's looking better than ever. I'll show it paired with brightly contrasting perennials & shrubs.
    Found it very interesting to come upon it here, iused in such a lively planting, which it lends itself to, clearly:-)

  3. How do they get the alternating color of dark and light on the berberis? Do they clip parts of it back? It is just spectacular!

  4. Sylvana, I know that G. trimmed back the berberis this spring to keep them contained in size, but the new growth on 'Rose Glow' is just naturally pinkish. Closely examined, the leaves are reddish with a network of fine white lines, like crinkling. Very pretty.

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