Purple Mountain Majesty

May 21, 2014 Panayoti Kelaidis , Senior Curator & Director of Outreach

Civic center Purple Mountain sun daisy at City and County Building

For over a decade the Master Gardeners of Denver and I maintained a low water garden in front of the City and County Building in the Civic Center of Denver. It was with mixed feelings that I saw this replaced a few years ago with a much simpler, and rather classic garden design. A few days ago, as I drove past, I was startled to see a familiar flash of rosy purple pink: Surely that's not "Purple Mountain Sun Daisy?" I stopped and sure enough, Osteospermum barberiae 'Purple Mountain'--one of the first hardy ice plants to be promoted in U.S. horticulture--was making quite a show. This was introduced to horticulture by Plant Select in 1998--and has gained a steady following across the country over the interim.

Purple Mt. Closeup of Purple Mountain

If you are not familiar with this plant, take a closer look. Photographs have a hard time capturing the distinctive and unique color--somewhere between hot pink and rich purple violet. The color is fantastic, and everyone loves it. There is a slightly darker ring around the disk flowers that make it even more alluring, and it does change hue every so slightly over the days that it opens. The reverse of the ray flowers is a silky bronze color--important because the flowers close at night or in dark weather. And while it blooms most enthusiastically from late April to mid June, there are scattered flowers on this lovely plant all summer long. Did I mention it has leathery, dark green evergreen leaves?

Purple Mt. 2  Purple Mountain bedded out

I take more than a little pride that the park's staff and designers have chosen such a prominent spot to showcase a plant that was debuted at Denver Botanic Gardens in 1991 (a few years later High Country Gardens began to sell this from germplasm they obtained from us). And now I see it popping up here and there around town.

stop sundaisy  Bank planting of Purple Mountain

I took this picture of a mass planting at a bank a few blocks from Denver Botanic Gardens a couple years ago--I noticed it's still going strong and blooming spectacularly this year again...

I've seen wonderful plantings in Pueblo and Vail--two utterly different environments: the plant obviously has a wide latitude of cultural tolerance. I have friends who have grown it in Massachusetts and California. Truth be said, it does seem sensitive to fungal or bacterial damage in some gardens. If you've had trouble with 'Purple Mountain', do try Osteospermum AVALANCHE (see below).

Avalanche  Osteospermum AVALANCHE in the Mordecai Children's Garden

If you have never visited the Children's Garden at Denver Botanic Gardens (thinking it was only for kids), do not pass go, do not collect $200 Monopoly dollars--get yourself down there pronto! You will find amazing spreads not only of this gorgeous South African, but of all manner of wonderful montane and alpine plants that thrive in theCildren's Garden's green roof soil mix.

Denver Botanic Gardens can be proud indeed to have debuted such an important and uncanny group of perennials. The annual Osteospermums are well and good--but these hardy sorts make plush groundcovers, and bloom for months on end. Perhaps you should include a few in your garden? Who doesn't need a little Purple Mountain majesty above one's fruited plains!


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