Variegated Plants Tending to Silver
Foliage plants are beautiful in their own right and an assortment of plants with colourful leaves can do wonders for a garden.
Some of the prettiest of the foliage plants are silver coloured and a judicious mix of these will lift a garden that is a bit bereft of flowers. Silver foliage works beautifully with flowering plants and is also very effective in 'moonlight gardens'.
There are several artimisia varieties (above) which have attractive silvery foliage. 'Silver King', 'Silver Queen' and 'Silver Mound' are three that will enhance any garden. The foliage of Silver King has a fine texture which can provide a nice contrast in a garden bed. It grows 2 to 3 feet high but is a rapid spreader which is a drawback if you are worried about aggressive growing plants. Silver Queen is similar but has a more compact shape. Silver Mound grows 1 to 2 feet high but keeps to a tightly mounded habit. Dense, silver-grey foliage makes for an attractive specimen. Artemisia are suitable for zones 3 to 9.
Snow in summer (Cerastium tomentosum) (above) gets its common name from its blooming habit. Snow-in-summer forms a dense mat making them suitable as a groundcover. They are also useful in rock gardens and along borders. It is commonly found in zones 3 to 7. They flower profusely in early summer and are drought tolerant. The pristine blooms are white with little notches in the petals. The leaves are delicate and silvery with a woolly texture. The plant reaches 6 to 12 inches in height and spreads from 12 to 18 inches wide.
Snow in summer spreads quickly by reseeding itself and producing runners. Like the artemis, snow in summer is regarded as an invasive weed in some areas. It prefers sun and thrives in well-drained, poor soil.
The herbaceous perennial, lamb's ears, (above) is wonderfully furry to the touch and are well named as the shape and feel is exactly like a lamb's ear, being soft and velvety. Its binomial name is Stachys byzantina. They spread readily and can become invasive. This feature means they make a very effective groundcover. The light purple flowers are borne on tall spikes. Deer find the texture of lamb's ears unpalatable which is a bonus. It grows best in full sun and is suited to zones 4 to 10.
Mullein plants (Verbascum thapsis) (above) can be seen growing wild. They have tall spikes of yellow flowers. The leaves are an attractive silver. This plant is widely used for herbal remedies for skin, throat and breathing problems. It has emollient and astringent properties and has been renowned for its medicinal qualities for thousands of year. Although seen as a weed, it rarely becomes aggressively invasive. It grows best where there is little competition.
The short-lived perennial, rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) (above) is named for its flowers. However the silver leaves can make a stunning impact in a garden. This is sometimes known as mullein pink, gardener's delight, dusty miller and bloody William. It is also referred to as 'Our Lady's Rose', perhaps because of the heart-shaped petals. It is an heirloom plant with stunning magenta blooms and soft, silvery foliage. It grows well in a sunny or lightly shaded position and is suited to zones 3 to 9
Rose campion grows from 2 to 3 feet tall. It is best in a moist, fertile, well-drained soil but is drought tolerant and will grow in drier soils. If cut back after the first flush of flowers, it will reward you with a second flowering. The plants reseed easily but are easily weeded if you don't want the plants the following year. The silver dust variety has delicate leaves while the silver lace type has even finer, feathery leaves. Deep indentations border the leaf edges. If surrounding plants are chosen with smooth-edged leaves, a nice contrast can be achieved.
Woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus) (above) is a low maintenance plant with fine, felted grey leaves. It is a groundcover and spreads to a dense mat. The foliage is evergreen and it rarely flowers. It is suited to zones 4 to 9. It attracts bees but is resistant to both deer and rabbits.
Jack Frost Brunnera (Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost') (above) has leaves of a distinctive silvery white with green veins and a thin green rim to the leaf edges. This clump-forming perennial has tiny blue flowers in spring but the beauty of the silver and green leaves lasts throughout the growing season. It is easily grown in average, well-drained soil in part shade but is intolerant of dry soils. Flower stalks grow to 18 inches in spring.
If you'd like some metallic silver-grey tints in a shaded area, try Japanese painted ferns (Athyrium niponicum 'Pictum') (above). This plant was named the 2004 Perennial Plant of the Year and is a low-maintenance but very showy fern. It is very hardy and suited to almost all climatic zones. The 12 to 18 inch fronds have hints of red and blue. The plant prefers partial to full shade and adds colour, texture and form to home gardens.
Lamium maculatum is another plant which deer don't find attractive. The spotted dead nettles (totally different to stinging nettles) may have purple blooms (Purple Dragon) or white flowers (White Nancy). Another is Yellow Archangel which has silver flecks on a green background. Again, this plant is shade-loving and deer-repellent with pretty variegated foliage.
The licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare) (above) can be grown as a perennial in zones 9, 10 and 11. Further north, they are best treated as annuals. The long stems are covered in heart-shaped leaves that look like cut-outs of silver-grey felt. It will cascade over walls or rockeries or can be pruned into a dense, rounded shape. It needs replacing every few years as it becomes very sparse at the centre. It will cope with mild frosts but may rot in very moist soil.
Russian sage (Perovskia) (above) is a perennial sometimes called a 'lavender' substitute. The stems, even more so than the foliage, are silver. It bears a profusion of delicate flowers and grey-green leaves, imparting a 'misty' look to its environment.
Foliage plants give visual interest to a garden at a time when colour from flowers may be in short supply.