Think summer, think silver

By Dawn Pettinelli - UConn Home & Garden Education Center
All - posted Fri., Jul. 27, 2012
- Contributed Photo

When selecting plants for flowerbeds, color is an important criterion. Some gardeners like it hot and dress their beds and borders in fiery reds, vibrant oranges, and shades of gold. Others prefer the cooler more subdued look of pastels. Regardless of which direction your tastes in color turn, the use of complementary colored foliage can do much to enhance your plantings.

A favorite foliage color of mine that sets off both cool and warm toned blooms is silvery-grey. Plants with blue-grey or greenish-grey also work quite well. Although these silvery-grey leaved plants often have a lacy and delicate look to them, many are actually quite tough. A number of these plants are native to the Mediterranean region. Summers are hot and dry and depending on elevation, winters can be cold. Many plants with grayish leaves thrive on hot, sunny sites. Once established, they are usually very drought tolerant.

A most popular silvery leaved plant is the annual, dusty miller. Often it gets used rather sporadically.  Try repeating groupings of three or more throughout a flowerbed to accentuate the colors of the flowering plants and to unify the garden as a whole. The only other silver-leaved annual I grow regularly are gazanias. Not all gazanias have silver foliage but I found some at a local garden center with the large white blossoms and an orange eye. They look quite elegant next to a planting of the small orange signet marigolds.

Silver-leaved dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ is a tender perennial used as an annual mostly in container plantings. It has gorgeous strands of silver, fan-shaped leaves that can trail several feet over the sides of hanging baskets, window boxes and other containers. Try it with purple coleus and salmon petunias or lemony yellow lantanas.

Plectranthus ‘Silver Shield’ has velvety-gray, soft silver leaves and is another tender perennial. Cuttings taken from this plant can be overwintered indoors. Mostly this plant is also used for containers but I have seen it used as a bedding plant in some plantings here at UConn and it performs quite well. Silver Shield can reach 3-feet-tall and prefers part shade, and sometimes even sports a few white flowers.

Choices of perennials with silvery-grey, green-grey, and blue-grey foliage are much more plentiful.  Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantia) is a favorite with both the young and old because of its soft, fuzzy, silvery leaves. If you find spikes of magenta flowers disquieting, simply cut them off as they appear.

Artemisias have silvery-grey aromatic foliage ranging from very finely cut to rather coarse. Some varieties tend to be more aggressive than others but the shallow roots make control not too difficult. A few varieties, like “Silver Mound” stay short and pretty self-contained. I have tall purple alliums planted amidst my artemisia bed and they seem to coexist pretty well.  Southernwood (A. abrotanum) is a woody shrub with silvery, scented foliage that does not get much over two feet tall for me.

Lavenders offer grayish foliage, purple blossoms, and a wonderful fragrance.  “Hidcote” is generally considered hardy around here and grows to about 18 inches. The taller “Mitcham Grey” is also quite cold hardy.

Ornamental species of catmint like Nepeta racemosa “Walker’s Low,” N. x faassenii, and N. mussini have lovely, billowy, grey-green, aromatic foliage and lavender-blue blossoms. Cut back after blooming for a second show.

Other grayish-green species to consider for sunny areas are horehound, wooly thyme, anthemis, various succulents, and sage. For dry shade, nothing quite lightens up the area like the Japanese painted fern “Ghost.”  Fronds are two-and-a-half feet high, and this striking plant is widely available at many local garden centers. I have even found a few volunteers in my white garden.

Think about including some silver-leaved plants in your garden. They may be just the sparkle you are looking for. For information on plants with silver leaves or for questions on other home or garden topics, call us, toll-free, at 877-486-6271, visit our web site at or contact your local Cooperative Extension Center.


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