If I had to describe my approach to color with one adjective, I would probably use a word like quirky. Or experimental. Maybe nontraditional. I like rich, dark colors but would not call myself avante garde, trendy or flamboyant. I don't jump for every new color introduction but I do like to raise some eyebrows with unusual plants--caramel-colored sedges, anyone?--or plant combinations.
Sometimes I wonder what keeps my garden from becoming a riotous mess of color (in a bad way) with the purples, blues, reds, and oranges all tucked into a relatively small space. I think that one thing that saves my garden from garishness is my affinity for silver-foliaged plants.
Silver plants function in my garden much like a neutral matte used on all of the pictures that hang throughout a home, providing a sense of cohesion through the repetition of neutral color. Silver--really grey or grey-green--foliage tones down hot colors and brightens cool shades. Unlike white flowers or variegated foliage, silver does this without adding to the "noise level" in the garden or calling undue attention to itself.
I would love to say that I'm such a brilliant gardener that I had planned to use silvers for the above reasons all along... but that's not true. If you had asked me this summer what I thought of silver plants, I would have immediately thought of the often-overused annual, dusty miller. My inner plant snob would have answered, "Ugh," not even realizing that plants like santolina and sage were quietly taking up residence in my garden as I opined.
How did they sneak up on me? First, I'm a self-professed lover of contrast who grows many plants with purple and red foliage, so it was hard to resist using silvers as foils for the darks. Even humble plants like 'Newe Ya'ar' culinary sage and red-veined 'Rhubarb' chard can look like dramatic events when grown side by side.
Second, many silver-foliaged plants are either drought-tolerant, aromatic, or both. Tough plants work well with my survival of the fittest gardening philosophy, and I am also more apt to select an herb or edible than a "mere" ornamental plant to fill in a space. In a small garden like mine, plants really need to do double- or triple-duty!
Lastly, I would like to think that I somehow knew--or intuited--that silvers would knit a garden together so well. I'm really not sure that I can claim an artistic eye, though. It may very well have been merely a happy accident.
In fact, if silvers didn't combine so well with browns, tans, and reds in the autumnal garden, they might still be flying under my radar. I started thinking about what they do during the rest of the year after the freshness and elegance they add to the fall garden caught my attention. Now that I've noticed them, though, I will have to be more intentional about including them in my garden plans for the future.
Any gardeners out there have a favorite silver plant--annual, perennial, or small shrub--that I might not have tried but should? In addition to herbs like lavender, santolina/lavender cotton, curry plant, and sages, I have grown 'Jack Frost' brunnera, licorice plant, and 'Silver Falls' dichondra. I would love to expand my silvery horizons next year... and maybe even torment my inner plant snob by finding a cool way to use that darn dusty miller!