Purple in the garden is revered and truly should not go unnoticed. Ever since I watched the original movie, The Color Purple, inspired me to include purple in my garden for what it represents. Many gardeners include this color for balance, harmony, or perhaps because a favored plant has a purple bloom. There are even a few native plants that bloom at what seems like the right time to make a quiet, yet impactful statement. In the latest edition of The Color Purple, the flowers in the landscape have created quite a stir.
I love Celie and all the weeds she encountered throughout her fictional existence. Many women can identify with Celie from events encountered along this journey called life. The book is fiction, yet there are instances where art truly imitates life. In a recent Smithsonian presentation, Miss Celie’s Garden & the Botany of ‘The Color Purple’ with Cola B. Tawkin, the discussion of what kind of flower was growing in the field in the movie, The Color Purple. Most gardeners would see that it is a field of Cosmos. I am a dreamer and would consider a meaningful alternative if the movie was non-fiction. What purple plant is a hardy perennial that would show its resistance to often unbearable conditions?
I could not stop thinking about the period of this movie and how African Americans had a frugal existence. Remember that for many African Americans, there was no money to purchase or time to plant ornamental seeds. Any intentional planting would have been for food and profit. I began to think about native perennial plants that happen to be purple and their significance. The annual Cosmos was the plant featured in the fields, however, everyone knows that a strong African American woman does not have the characteristics of an annual.
For the non-plant folks, Cosmos is an annual. This means in many areas of the country, it starts from seed sown in spring. Cosmos has a long repeat bloom time during the heat of the summer through the middle of autumn. In the warmer zones, when the seed heads are allowed to dry on the stem and fall, this plant will self-sow.
The petals found on the blooms are known to be quite orderly, and uniform. Even with the delicate appearance, the blooms and leaves grace the wire-like stems with a sense of wildness. This randomness of the Cosmos is always appreciated in the meadow and the garden border. Did you know the color of each Cosmos bloom is interpreted differently when used in arrangements?
As I researched the meaning of the name Cosmos, one of the consistent words used in defining it was harmony, joy, love, and balance. In most photos of the young sisters together, there is a field of Cosmos. I could see the joy and the love between the two girls. Nettie and Celie are happy in a world that is balanced between the good and the ugly. Celie and Nettie exhibited unshakeable love. Pregnant while young, her children are given away by her father, who gave her away to a man without her consent. Miss Celie demonstrated the strength of the human spirit even when Mister sent her away for dismissing his advances. Instead of wilting, she quietly became stronger and more resilient.
Yet Celie nor her sister are not annual flowers. I knew there was a flower that I would reflect their strength and presence in each other’s lives. The Native Aster came to mind.
Why the Aster is a question some might ask. The folklore behind the Aster would make it a choice. The Aster evolved from a sentiment of sorrow. Astraea, a mythological, Greek goddess, was not happy. She felt there was a lack of stars at night and cried. As her tears fell to the ground, each one turned into a purple flower, according to the tale. These purple flowers are what we know as Asters. There are other versions of this including Virgo scattering stardust that settled and became purple flowers and more. Mythology tends to romanticize many things. Aster is the Greek word for a star.
The purple Aster symbolizes royalty, wisdom, love, and faith. Observing the characters evolve throughout the movie, each of these virtues becomes evident. With each season, the character’s cycles of life experience the highs and lows that happen with these virtues. Why not imagine that if this were non-fiction, it would be a field of Asters?
This strong flower has endured over time. They often grow three to six feet with stems that stand tall in meadows, moist areas, and full sun. Returning every year, Asters attracts a wealth of birds, bees, and butterflies. A wonderful food source late in the season, Asters spread by rhizomes, and some cultivars spread by seed, naturally.
Asters stand tall in the garden and thrive in less-than-perfect conditions. In my zone 7b garden, I cut the stems of my Asters in half at the end of June. I cut the stems at the rear of the patch, so I have blooms that are just beginning when the front half completes its bloom cycle. These purple blooms are a testament to the strength and dependability of this plant no matter what the temperatures or rainfall were throughout the season.
Celie loved her sister and never gave up on seeing her again. Usually, love between sisters is a commitment to just being in each other’s lives – no matter what. Our life experiences make us wiser as we age and many of us stand on our faith to get us through the roughest of times.
Whether it is Cosmos or Aster, The Color Purple displays meaningful life metaphors that are different for each person. Did you know that Cosmos is in the Asteraceae family? Yes indeed! Its starlike appearance is not just another pretty face in the world of horticulture. While strikingly gorgeous on the surface, it has a deeper quality…like most women.
Celebrating Purple in a Bouquet
I am so glad I saw this movie on the day after Christmas. Creating bouquets with meaning is my way of showing my daughters – Johanna and Thea – how much I love them. To honor this movie, I wanted to create memorable bouquets with a message. I included Lisianthus Select Purple, Yellow Carnations, and Yellow Roses, with a few fillers such as Ruscus and Hypericum. Aster Monarch Purple and Aster Golden Glory added purple and gold, mimicking my late summer garden.
Each of these flowers has a love theme either by cultivar or color. One might symbolize love. Another might represent positivity, strength, or joy. Each of these plants reflects deep-rooted friendships.
The Color Purple is a book and movie that has different meanings for each of us. I have enjoyed watching it with my daughters many times. There are instances we encounter in real life and as we laugh or cry, we say “That is a Color Purple moment”. As we embrace the presence of a new Color Purple movie, I anticipate more conversations with my daughters as we discuss how art imitates life in ways that we never imagined.
If you want to try growing a purple perennial in your garden, here are a few that are easy to find – Salvia, Geraniums, Liatris, Phlox, or Verbena bonariensis. These plants are generally dependable and are noticeable whether short or tall. Many of these plants attract pollinators. When you see the dance of the pollinators by incorporating one or two of these in the garden, you will see how purple is transformative and adds life to the garden.
I think I will intentionally add a patch of Cosmos…pinkish purple perhaps…to honor Miss Celie. Miss Celie will grace my garden this summer by including a gathering of Cosmos. In the fall, I know the Asters will bloom again representing the strength found within.
Thinking about sisterhood…
Teri, Cottage in the Court (NOT AI-generated)by