Monday, November 6

Saving Grace: Silvers

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!


Anonymous said...

Yes, silver saves my colorful garden from the Crayola syndrome too. I like 'Powis Castle' artemesia and agaves with silvery blue coloring. Those are probably too cold-tender for Ohio, but they work great here in Texas.

Unknown said...

Oops--I have the 'Powis Castle' artemisia, and I completely forgot to list it!

Funny you mentioned the agaves. High Country Gardens supposedly has a collection of cold-hardy ones that keep tempting me every time I see them in the catalog. Most of my silvery foliage is lacy and fine, though, so I don't quite know where to place the thick bluish agave. Any hints on where they look good in your Texas garden?

Annie in Austin said...

I love your combinations, Kim and have loved greys and silvers forever!! Didn't you have Lambs ears, too?

There's a plant called Evolvolus 'Blue Daze' which has small blue flowers and silvery-green leaves. I have it both in the ground and in a few containers next to silver Dichondra. It's only marginally hardy here, but gives that 'cool' feeling, like lavenders.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Earth Girl said...

I discovered Rose Campion this summer. Similar silver fuzzy foliage as Lamb's Ear but much tidier growth patterns (rosettes) and much more attractive flowers. Lychnis coronaria (Zone 4)

Colleen Vanderlinden said...

Other than lavender and russian sage, I don't have any silver in my garden. Seeing it in yours, though, makes me think I might want to incorporate a little more. It would definitely make all of the blooms I love so much a lot more dramatic.

BTW---I've never liked Dusty Miller. I'm almost willing to say that I'll never have it in my garden, but you know what they say about never saying never :-)

Anonymous said...

American agaves have a great silver color, but they're just too big for my little garden. I'm trying blue-silver 'Whale's Tongue' and greenish-silver 'Harvard' right now. Here's how the Whale's tongue looks: It works nicely with fine-textured plants like Mexican oregano, white narrowleaf zinnia, and white skullcap, and with taller grasses or grassy-looking plants like bulbine:

I'm also in love with Arizona cypress right now, which I saw on a garden tour paired with annual amaranthus. Wow!

Kasmira said...

I love lamb's ear, as everyone who reads my blog knows by now.

I want to try lychnis next season.

Craig said...

Silver and Grey leaved plants that I can think of are: Cerastium (Snow in Summer, especially the small leaved varieties); Androsace lanuginosa; Antennaria (Pussy toes, various species); Arabis; Artemisia (some can spread quickly): ludoviciana 'Silver King' or 'Valerie Finnis', schmidtiana 'Silver Mound', stelleriana (perennial that looks like broad-leaf dusty miller), versicolor 'Sea Foam' (effective contrast with the large leaf purple sedums); Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ (narrow variegated leaves appear silvery from afar); Salvia: argentea (large hairy leaves, biennial or monocarpic (lives a year or more then dies after flowering)), chamaedryoides (blue flowers with grey leaves), discolor (very tender, silver leaves with black flowers), leucantha (mexican sage); Helichrysum argyrophyllum ‘Moe's Gold’ (tender, low-growing spreader with tiny yellow flowers like strawflowers) pic: ; Plectranthus argentea (tender, mint-like plant with large leaves (argentea means silver)); Convolvulus cneorum (Bush Morning Glory, 2-4 ft. bushy plant with very silver strappy leaves, white flowers, 10-15 degrees hardy); Astelia chathamica ‘Silver Spear’ (imagine a silver and hairy leaf Phormium (New Zealand Flax) hardy to maybe 15 degrees) and probably many, many more.

Anonymous said...

Can't complain for a happy accident. :)

Anonymous said...

There is a nursery I visit each spring that this year had an incredible assortment of silver plants. I nearly fainted, they were that amazing. I grow Lamb's Ears, but had been relying on them throughout the garden as the main silver plant--this year I branched out, and as you write, it is a worthwhile experience. Those darn dusty millers--they go into frost--Centaurea 'Colchester White' is beautiful. I want to grow ornamental cabbages next year, too--they cast a glorious color and texture....your post excites and inspires!

David (Snappy) said...

I love the dusty millers although mine need replacing as they get woody after a few years!Hope you find some silver plants for your garden.They are fantastic for contrasting to other coloured foliage.

Kati said...

very funny, Kim. I loved your descriptions of our tendency to be "plant snobs". Of course, I'm discriminating, not really a snob. My sister still avoids all hostas like the plague...can't understand that at all. I think she is pathetically prejudiced, don't you??

Bob said...

I tend to be quite a dark person myself until it comes to colours in the garden then I like bright colours, probably a bit too bright at times. Whe you speak of happy accidents it reminded me of Bob Ross and his paintings. He never made mistakes, just had happy accidents.

roybe said...

I think you have combined your silver plants well Kim. We are planting lots of different silver/grey green succulents at the moment because we are having a serious drought. I find the silver look in the garden quite refreshing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kim,
You could plant Lunaria annua, silver dollar plant or honesty for its shiny slivery seed pods or I seem to remember that some of the iceplants are silver colored. This will give you a mat of silver to frame your other plants. Well... maybe not Lunaria but an interesting looking plant anyway.

Unknown said...

Annie and Kasmira, I actually do not have lamb's ears! I have a thing against pink flowers in the garden, so I've stayed away from those. I have been rather tempted by 'Helen Von Stein' though, which is supposed to not flower. Hmm. (And Annie, thanks for the info on the evolvolus!)

earth girl, do you find the rose campion to be a prolific self-seeder? A sweet old farm house near work grows a whole hedge of the stuff, but its reputation for sprouting everywhere worries me.

Colleen, really, are you my long-lost sister?!?! *grin*

Craig thank you for the list--I'll be busy for a while checking out all of these options! I definitely want the Astelia chathamica, but I'll have to grow it in a pot. (The site where I found it says it's only hardy to zone 9.)

jlb and ukbob... happy accidents are the most successful things in my garden, I admit! :D

judith, I like that 'Colchester White'! It kind of looks like a cross between artemisia and achillea with that fine foliage. (And I wish our local garden centers would be that adventurous with their displays!)

snappy I think things are different in gardening-mad England. Here dusty millers are left to fend for themselves or used to make a ridiculously small collar around a tall tree, etc... it's the misuse I dislike more than the plant itself, I admit!

Kati, did I say that I was a plant snob? I meant that I'm discriminating, of course! ;) I've just come around to some hostas myself--tell her to keep looking and she'll find something she likes, I bet.

roybe thank you for stopping by. I bet that the silvers will work in well with all of those exotic-looking hoyas you grow... but I hope that your drought ends straight away.

thanks, ki! I forgot about that--we used to call it money plant back home. Now that I think about it, there are a few poppies that have a silvery glow to the seedpods, too. Hmm...

Thank you all for the wonderful ideas... it's great food for thought for this upcoming winter!

Anonymous said...

"Better late than never" - I guess.

Great post Kim. I think silver in gardens is the same as beige in a house. It just kind of ties it all together.

Nice pics.

lisa said...

Here's my "nearly silver-ish" suggestions...moth mullein is one, the leaves are similar to lamb's ears except more yellowish-silver, the flowers are yellow and on tall stalks, and the goldfinches LOVE the seeds! My other suggestion is edelweiss...the leaves are silvery (in my garden), and the flowers are white and pretty. Otherwise, I'd say you have it pretty well covered!

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