2010-07-08 / Features

Light Up Your Garden

By Carole McCray

Carole McCray Carole McCray Plant sparklers in your garden for a shimmering garden. I am not referring to garden lights, but silver foliaged plants to light up your landscape.

The silver leafed plants complement many annuals and perennials. Another advantage is plants with silver foliage can withstand long periods of drought.

Plant them in your garden and watering will be less of a chore. Many of them are native to the Mediterranean climate where summers can be hot and dry. They can withstand intense heat or cold and can weather harsh conditions.

A popular Mediterranean plant is lavender. One of the best varieties is English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). It is a versatile plant so you can cut it for a bouquet or dry it for a long lasting arrangement. Dried lavender can scent closets for repelling moths or place it in a sachet to add a fresh fragrance to drawers.

The silver plants blend well with other pastel colored plants in the garden. They are also good for cooling down other hot colored plants in the garden. For instance, I planted Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) with pink coneflowers (Echinacea). The silver sage’s feathery foliage blends well with the rosy colored coneflowers.

Pulmonaria 'Moonshine' Pulmonaria 'Moonshine' The silver foliaged plants can cool down other hot colored garden plants. For example I used golden yarrow (Achillea ‘Swellenburg’) next to red Knockout roses. The yarrow acts as a cooling respite to the bright rose bushes. Yarrow is a good cutting flower and can be used either fresh or dried in arrangements.

Also useful as a cut flower or in a dried bouquet is artemisia. Elegant names like ‘Silver King’ (Artemisia albula)), ‘Silver Queen’ (Artemisia ludoviciana), ‘Silver Mound’ (Artemisia schmidtiana) also known as ‘Angel’s Hair’ and ‘Silver Brocade’ (Artemisia stelleriana) are tough and can be counted on to look respectable no matter how hot and dry the weather. I do not think the spikes of white flowers are especially attractive and generally, I prune them off.

French tarragon might find its way into your garden as a culinary herb with silver foliage. The plant has a delicate anise flavor associated with haute cuisine and steeped in white cider vinegar it becomes tarragon herb vinegar. I just set a large glass container filled with the freshly washed tarragon and place it in the container with white cider vinegar. Let it steep in the sun for a week; remove the tarragon that has become mushy and decant the vinegar in clean bottles with fresh sprigs of tarragon. Store in a cool, dark cupboard until ready to use. The herb vinegar makes a nice host or hostess gift for a person who enjoys cooking.

The silver-foliaged plants are not garden wimps. I am especially referring to lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus) and silverleafed mullein Verebascum thapsus). Take a good look at them closeup and you will see the hairy or wooly leaves on the plants. These help protect the plants from intense heat or cold. Wormwood (Artemisia abstinthium), lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina) and gray-green species of thyme are in this group.

In shaded areas of your garden, plants can light up those spots, too. A good choice for ground cover in dry shade is an edging plant named ‘White Nancy’ deadnettle (Lamium maculatum). The marbled foliage sports white flowers and blooms continuously from spring to mid summer.

Two other shade lovers are lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.) and coral bells (Heucheraspp.). A real showstopper iced in silver is Pulmonaria ‘Excalibur.’ Its deep pink flowers have five petals blooming on lanceshaped leaves iced in silver and edged in green and white speckles. Coral bells in burnt orange-red are delicate blooms rising from shiny foliage.

If you have the space, don’t stop with plants. Look at ornamental grasses and silver-foliaged trees and shrubs.

The silvery blue fescue’s, low growing clumps of shimmering foliage can light up your garden—two to try are ‘Elijah Blue’ (Festuca glauca) a stunning blue ornamental grass to team up with other silver plants and ‘Sea Urchin’ with growth in a cushionlike clump. ‘Silverfeather’ (Miscanthus sinensis) is another ornamental grass not to be overlooked

On a small note, there is ‘Blue Rug’ (Junipeus horizontalis), a hardy spreading silverblue juniper. Going up and on a larger and taller note, consider a silvery Colorado spruce (Picea pungens) if you have the space. This spruce adds interest to a barren winter landscape and is a popular choice for a Christmas tree and planted later outdoors. If you decide to plant the tree in the garden, dig the hole before the ground has frozen.

Add a few garden lights with the silver-foliaged plants. Your garden will shimmer in silver day and night.

Carole McCray lives, writes and gardens in the scenic Laurel Highlands east of Ligonier, Pa. She is an award-winning writer; her most recent awrd was the Garden Writers Association awrd for her article on Native Seeds that appeared in The Christian Science Monitor newspaper. She can be reached at mountain26@ verizon.net. Photos courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries.

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