Plants with silver and gray foliage are unusual enough that they readily attract our attention. They are quite different than the typical green leafed plant we're accustomed to seeing. And it's their strikingly different look that provides us with many visually appealing uses in the garden, as companion and specimen plants.
The deserts and arid lands of the world are rich in non-green plants because silver/gray foliage helps to reflect the sunlight and its drying heat. And these same plants often have thin leaves because they lose less water than big, wide leaves. So most of these plants discussed here, have foliage with thin, gray, silver and even white leaves, which makes them exceeding well adapted to hot, dry growing conditions and less-than- ideal soils. They are the perfect choice for xeric landscapes.
How to Use Silver, White and Gray Plants
There are three primary ways to show off these silver and gray plants and to help them make other plants look better.
- Place taller silver/gray plants in the rear of planting beds to serve as a backdrop for shorter flowering plants and plants with green or blue foliage.
- Place silver/gray groundcovers under taller flowering plants and plants with green or blue foliage.
- Mixing tall and groundcover silver/gray plants with ornamental grasses.
- Blue bladed grasses look even more exotic when contrasted with gray or silver. Try Festuca 'Siskiyou Blue' surrounded by Snow-in- Summer (see below)
- Green bladed grasses look less common when they are next to gray or silver.
Some of my favorites Silver/Gray Perennials:
- Agastache rupestris (Licorice Mint Hyssop) - one of the all-time great perennials with fine textured, highly aromatic gray leaves.
- Artemesia 'Powis Castle' (Powis Castle Silver Sage) - a fine textured, non-blooming silver plant that grows in most any climate, even humid heat.
- Helichrysum thianschanicum (Tian Shan Curry Plant) - new for spring 2015, this extra cold hardy form has pure white foliage, bright yellow flowers and a powerful curry scent.
- Oenothera macrocarpa 'Dwarf Silver' (Dwarf Silver Evening Primrose) - a new HCG exclusive for spring 2015. Small, intensely silver leaves and large rich yellow flowers all summer.
- Oenothera fremonti 'Shimmer' (Shimmer Primrose) - unique Dianthus-like foliage that goes from green to pewter-gray by mid-summer. Profuse yellow flowers too.
- Salvia daghestanica (Dwarf Silver Sage) - unquestionably one of the most beautiful Sages with large pure blue flowers and silver leaves. Loves the clay.
- Vernonia lindheimeri v. leucantha (Silver Ironweed) - little known among gardeners, this spectacular silver-white giant is a "must" for any arid garden.
Favorite Silver/Gray Groundcovers
- Achillea ageratifolia (Greek Yarrow) - a white flowered, silver leaved groundcover.
- Cerastium tomentosum (Snow-in-summer) - a fragrant white flowered, silver leaved groundcover that makes a great lawn substitute.
- Thymus lanuginosus (Wooly Thyme) - a superb groundcover with soft, billowing mounds of gray foliage.
- Veronica bombycina (Silver Creeping Speedwell) - silver leaves with bright blue flowers in a small, slow growing form.
Favorite Silver/Gray Shrubs
- Artemisia filifera (Sand Sage) - the ultimate silver shrub with fine foliage to plant in back of flowering perennials.
- Artemisia tridentata (Big Sage) - aromatic, gray and wonderful.
- Lavandula 'Silver Frost' (Silver Frost Hybrid Lavender) - the most silver foliage of any Lavender, it blooms all summer long and is powerfully aromatic. One of the very best. Available for spring 2015.
- Santolina chamaecyparissus (Silver Lavender Cotton) - aromatic gray evergreen foliage and bright yellow button-like flowers. Needs a sandy soil for best results.
For more in depth information and wonderful photos showing how to use gray and silver plants, I recommend this excellent book on this subject: "Elegant Silvers: Striking Plants for Every Garden," 2005, by Jo Ann Gardner and Karen Bussolini.
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