I was in a nursery the other day and was intrigued by the number of plant species, this time of year, that show off flowers in purple (some colorists call it violet) and white. I think these colors are appropriate for Los Angeles area gardens since white, at this time of year, can impart a winter wonderland effect while, in warmer seasons, white and purple are blessedly cool colors, as opposed to more heated yellows, oranges, and reds. And also, however, if you must have pink roses (polls show that, when it comes to roses, pink is the preferred color), they will display splendidly when offset by blooms in purple and white.

Bacopa (buh-KOH-puh), originally only in white but now in purple, lavender, and pink, too, solves the problem of finding long-blooming plants – other than ivy geraniums — for balcony containers and hanging baskets. It also does a magnificent job spilling over block walls. Use bacopa (Sutera cordata) as a ground cover in small entry planters or as a border around the perimeter of any planter. It thrives in half to full-day sun but will need more water as sun exposure increases. Should it get leggy, gently cut it back, a procedure you can perform several times in its lifespan of three to five years.

Bacopa flowers without interruption for months on end. In mid-winter, I have seen it blooming gloriously overhanging an east-facing wall like bright white kitchen curtains, in broad swaths that were at least two feet in length. Inland, it does best in partial or half-day sun even if, closer to the coast, it will grow fine in all-day sun exposures.

Bacopa’s equivalent for full-sun locations would be trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis), also appearing in purple and white versions. In a planter that moves from partial to full sun, plant Bacopa in the shadier area and then shift to lantana when you reach the sunnier spot. From a distance, the two plants will appear the same, blending seamlessly into one another. Or, if all you have is sun, you can create a lantana tapestry cascading out of a container or a carpet growing along the ground that alternates between broad stripes of purple and white.

Upon first setting eyes on false heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia), you might just all in love with it. Delicate purple, white, or lavender-pink flowers are embedded among tiny, glistening leaves. Although advertised for both full sun and partial shade, false heather becomes old and ratty looking after only a few years of overly sunny exposure. Given sun in just the proper dose, which is no more than three or four hours of direct daily exposure, its innocent look of youth may persist for a decade. You will have to occasionally prune it back but this does not keep it from returning to its compact, unblemished stature. If you need a low hedge that grows up to about two feet tall, false heather is the plant for you. Like most plants in its genus (Cuphea), it blooms virtually without interruption throughout the year.

Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) is a favorite annual groundcover with both purple and white possibilities. It also has a mild fragrance. White alyssum has a foamy look as it develops. It goes well with almost any flower selection but also presents itself in unforgettable fashion when planted all by itself in extensive planters in partial to full sun locations.  When it comes to garden design, you can never go wrong being bold and planting lots of a single favorite plant.

There is one perennial plant which, standing alone, is a combination of purple and white. It goes by the name of yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Brunfelsia pauciflora) because its flowers emerge purple, fade to lavender, and eventually turn to white. It is the first plant to bloom in the spring, but may even do so in late winter. It will continue to bloom on and off throughout the year. A member of the nightshade family, all parts of it are poisonous and it thrives in partial to full sun locations. It can live for fifty years or more.

Last but not least, a classic variety of pansy (Viola x wittrockiana cv. Lord Beaconsfield) has both purple and white petals. Despite its velvety look, no winter annual is tougher than a pansy. I have seen its petals covered with a layer of frost in the morning after a freezing night, but none the worse for wear after the frost melted a few hours later.

Tip of the Week: Removal of fallen leaves from a property, whether by blower or rake, is a mistake. There is no better mulch and fertilizer than fallen leaves. Most leaves will decompose completely within four months. Yet certain leaves, such as those from magnolia and loquat trees, are quite slow to decompose unless they are shredded first. Palm fronds should be put in the green waste bin because they take forever to decompose and their fibers will disable ordinary backyard shredders.

In their natural surroundings, plant roots grow under a layer of leaf litter that, as it decomposes, provides a constant source of slow-release fertilizer, in addition to keeping water in the soil and smothering weeds. Beneficial fungi known as mycorrhizae live in association with plant roots beneath this leaf litter. Mycorrhizae are of crucial importance to plant health, easing the uptake of water and minerals, another good reason to surround your plants with fallen leaves.

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