Plants kissed with a silver shimmer

Foliage can light up shady areas, offer contrast to darker or brighter plants

In the Garden

August 29, 2004|By Nancy Taylor Robson | By Nancy Taylor Robson,Special to the Sun

To be honest, there are almost no unequivocally silver-foliaged plants. There are silvery green, frosty blue, ghostly purple, pewtered-burgundy, and even silvery rose. But while every silver-foliaged plant has a drop of color underlying the pearled leaves, their overall effect is one of shimmering light.

"Silver leaves catch the moonlight," says landscape architect KenSchmidt, a principal with Mahan Rykiel Associates in Baltimore. "They're nice for edges and walkways, so at nighttime you can really see them."

Since they show up in low light, silver-foliaged plants can also illuminate shady areas. And in sun-drenched spots, they act as foils to dark-leafed or bright-bloomed shrubs and perennials.

"They offer a striking contrast to plants with deep-red foliage or purple flowers [among others]," notes Schmidt.

Silver foliage can also be used as a visual complement to bring out thebest in another plant. For example, Euonymus japonicus 'Silver King,' an evergreen (or rather ever-silver) shrub can enhance the bright silvery blue of Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star.'

"Silver makes blue look better," says Jason Sersen, general manager at Kingsdene Nurseries in Monkton.

Silver highlights

Silver-foliaged plants run the gamut from sun worshipers to shade-lovers, from ground hugging to mammoth. For example, fat-leafed Mullein (Verbascum), whose 5-foot-tall furry spike punctuates ditches and medians along Maryland's highways, can also make a great focal point in a sunny garden, like a majestic, gray-haired sentry. At the opposite end of the spectrum are cultivated, partial-sun ground covers like Ajuga 'Silver Beauty' and Cerastium 'Silver Carpet,' while silver-tongued Pulmonaria longifolia 'Diana Clare' prefers full shade. Which means there is a silver-foliaged plant for virtually every need.

"We love Euphorbia myrsinites, called donkey tail spurge," says Martha Simon Pindale, owner of Bluemount Nurseries in Monkton. "It's evergreen so it looks really great in winter. It starts blooming in early March with electric yellow flowers. And it has a sprawly flat [growth] habit with long trailing stems so it looks great in rock gardens, spilling over a wall or in containers."

For shade, there are several varieties of Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum). A. niponicum 'Pictum' has silver-green frond edges with silver-purple interior, while A. niponicum 'Silver Falls' is luminescent gray with pink-red ribs. Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost,' which grows 14 inches tall and wide, sports big heart-shaped pewter leaves with green veining while Heuchera 'Silver Scrolls' looks as though its burgundy leaves are veiled in cloth of silver. Cascading Lamium maculatum f. album 'Beacon Silver' has silver foliage with green margins, L. 'Ickwell Beauty' has cream and pewter foliage with white flowers, and L. 'Pink Pewter' has silvery foliage and pink flowers.

In the sun-loving group, there is 24-to-30-inch-tall Sedum 'Fros-ty Morn' with silvery petals and icing-white flower clusters. Santolina chamaecyparissus, also known as lavender cotton, grows to a beautiful silver-sage mound dotted with little button-like yellow flowers. Russian Sage (Perovskia) has 3-foot-tall filigreed spires of tiny lavender flowers and robust culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) blooms purple in late spring.

There are Hen and Chicks (Sempervivum 'Braunii' aka 'live forever'), and low-growing deer-resistant Lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina), whose hairy leaves are spangled in late summer and fall with morning dew like a thousand bright diamonds. There are even silver grasses like Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium 'The Blues'), a metallic-blue reedy leaf that sends up 30-inch-tall pink seed plumes on deep rose stems, and Miscanthus 'Morning Light', whose white-striped blades look silver in the sun. Yet while there are silver-leafed versions of many plants, the quintessential silver-foliaged plant is Artemisia.

"It's as silver they come," says Sersen, "and there are all forms. Some are upright and grow to 3 feet tall, some are mounding forms that only grow to six inches."

There is Artemisia 'Valerie Finnis,' whose clusters of silver-gray leaves look like floppy alien-hands; bottle-brush foliaged A. 'David's Choice,' and A. frigida 'Fringed Sage' with airy arching silver stems that wave wispy silver threads. There is A. stelleriana 'Silver Brocade, A. 'Silver Queen,' A. 'Silver Mound,' A. 'Powis Castle' and A. 'Cut Leafed Sage.'

Cultivation

Since silver-foliaged plants run the gamut from woodland to scorched-earth-lovers and tender to hardy, be sure to ask about cultivation needs before buying, especially if you have a specific spot for a silver-leafed beauty in mind.

"Many are Mediterranean plants, so they love heat and sun and can cope with cold, but hate having wet feet," says Pindale. "So be sure you aren't planting these at the foot of a hill, or in a place where the water will sit, especially in winter, since that will rot their roots."

In contrast Lamium, often used for containers, needs dense shade and moist (but not wet) soil, while Santolina takes everything from blistering sun and heat to cold, provided the soil is almost dry.

Sources

Kingsdene Nurseries Inc.

16435 York Rd.

Monkton, MD 21111

410-343-1150

www.kingsdene.com

Bluemount Nurseries

2103 Blue Mount Rd.

Monkton, MD 21111

410-329-6226

www.bluemount.com

Open Saturdays to retail customers.Free lectures start Sept. 11 with Grasses and perennials for fall color.

Valley View Farms

11035 York Road

Cockeysville, MD 21030

410-527-0700

www.valleyviewfarms. com

Carroll Gardens Inc.

444 E. Main St.

Westminster, MD 21157

800-638-6334

www.carrollgardens.com

Grandfather's Garden Center Inc.

5320 Phelps Luck Drive

Columbia, MD 21045-2329

410-730-3131

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