The Colour Purple

I think I was about 8  when I learned from a Just William story that red food dye, an ingredient in Bott’s Digestive Sauce, came from cochineal beetles, and it was with a similar feeling of, ‘Wow’ that I discovered that the most precious of ancient dyes was made from shellfish. A total of 250,000 mollusks was required to make one ounce of purple which accounted for its great price and purple cloth being reserved for ceremonial garments. So, being convinced that no knowledge is ever wasted, and with apologies to vegetarians, I am offering the above to accompany this week’s photographs of our current beautiful purple blooms.


Visitors coming into the north courtyard never fail to stop and sniff at this lilac shrub as they go towards the front door of the mansion house. The first recorded use of lilac as a colour name in English was in 1775, although well connected botanists had the shrub in their gardens at the end of the 16th century.


For those who know their onions you will have noticed we have a wealth of purple alliums this year in the Italian Garden and around the entrance way to Reception. Allium giganteum, common name giant onion, is a central and south western Asian species of onion, but cultivated in many countries as an ornamental border plant and don’t they just do the job?


Our foxgloves are appearing now, especially along the path near the old dairy, purple, white and pink. The scientific name means ‘finger-like’ and refers to the ease with which a flower of Digitalis purpurea can be fitted over a human fingertip. The flowers are produced on a tall spike, are tubular, and vary in colour. Although the entire plant is toxic and led to the plants being called Witches’ Gloves or Dead Men’s Bells, digitalis is used in drug preparations to treat congestive heart failure.


Thalictrum aquilegifolium or Columbine Meadow Rue has lovely fluffy flowers on dark stems above leaves that remind you of the aquilegia plant.


This stunning clematis on the terrace of the Sunk Garden is The President, a deciduous climber. Single cupped flowers the size of a dinner plate, with eight overlapping rich violet purple-blue sepals, silvery on the reverse with pinkish and deep red stamens. Flowers now and late summer to early autumn.


The worldwide success story of the Iris probably began around 1479 B.C., when King Thutmose III of Egypt had conquered Syria where irises grew in great profusion. Being a gardener as well as a warrior pharaoh, Thutmose ensured that irises should be immortalised in sculptures at the Temple of Amon at Karnak, as well as in the gardens of Egypt. In drawings they were shown as symbols of the renewal of life. Named after the Greek messenger of the gods, Iris, who was said to have golden wings and to travel on a rainbow, Iris means ‘rainbow’ in Greek, fittingly representing the many colours of the iris flower. Here we have lovely purple ones to fit our theme. Find them at the stream near the Japanese bridges.

And finally, those of us who own cats know that their favourite colour is….purrrrrrrple!



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