by Terry Kramer
When the moon is bright, ocean waves glow iridescent silver as they break and send their froth along the sand. With silver-leaved perennials you can create this stage in your garden.
Many think perennials must produce flowers to be useful or beautiful. But silver-leaved perennials, whether they flower or not, offer striking accent to other plants, and on a moonlit night they can mimic the drama of the sea.
Silver-leaved plants may play many roles in a garden setting. They will highlight bright, colorful perennials like red verbena, blue campanula or pink mallows. They can mellow out strident colors of orange Zinnia angustifolia, bright yellow yarrow or a magenta cranesbill geranium.
Garden paths and walkways glow at night when edged with silver foliage. Silver adds light and sparkle to dull, green areas.
Many silver-leaved plants get their hue from hundreds of tiny hairs that cling to leaves. Most plants' leaves are actually green, and it is downy fur that gives a silver-gray hue. Silver sage (Salvia argentea), for example, is cloaked with white hairs designed to protect the plant from excessive heat and sunlight, allowing the plant to conserve moisture. This is nature's way with many silver-leaved plants.
If you think a silver-leaved plant might perk up your perennial garden consider the following -- all perform well locally.
ARTEMISIA STELLARANA ( "Silver Brocade") -- In the landscape, Artemisia, also called wormwood, is valued for its strongly aromatic and silvery-gray foliage. The cultivar silver brocade has fine silver leaves chiseled into scallops. It resembles the annual Dusty Miller, but is hardier and much more refined. This Artemisia is a fine plant for edging, accent or container. Plant in full sun and well-drained soil. It looks stunning when combined with blue nepeta, lemon yellow yarrows or pink mallows.
SALVIA ARGENTEA (Silver Sage) -- It's the perennial you want to pet. Like a large, sensuous teddy bear, this furry salvia lends extravagance and drama to a perennial garden. It grows in a flat, rosette fashion and produces silver-white furry leaves, 6- to 8-inches long, lightly sculpted in arrowheads as plants mature. Since silver sage is a bold plant to be admired, it looks best when placed near the front of a perennial border, next to the edge of a path or in a large container. Like all other salvias it grows best in full sun and very well-drained soil. Although considered a biennial in some locales, this sage can live for many years if not allowed to go to seed. It sends up tall stalks of helmet-shaped white or pink flowers in the early summer. Remove them before seeds form.
SEDUM SPATHULIFOLIUM ( "Cape Blanco") -- A California native from the Coast Ranges and Sierra Nevada, this little succulent offers silver-blue leaves powdered white, resembling tiny hens and chicks. It is a choice ground cover, rock garden subject or container plant for dry, well-lighted areas. Once established on the coast it needs little water during the summer and only light fertilizing in the spring. It produces yellow flowers in late summer and grows 1- to 3-inches tall and spreads 12 inches.
HELICHRYSUM PETIOLARE (Licorice plant) -- Silvery gray licorice plant is a wonderful low-growing perennial that produces long stems which can weave in and out of a flowering perennial garden. Leaves the size of a nickel cling to long, willowy stems. What gives this silver plant its beauty is that one side of each leaf is gray and the other side silver, which lends a two-tone effect. Foliage has a licorice-like scent, but is not used as the traditional licorice flavoring. This perennial is a good filler plant where it will snake throughout the garden intensifying the hues of brightly colored flowers. Makes a nice hanging basket or window box plant, too. It can grow up to 4 feet tall with stems reaching 3 feet. Clip occasionally to maintain shape or size desired. It combines nicely with red verbena, red nicotiana, blue pansies and orange-flowered Zinnia angustifolia.
CERASTIUM TOMENTOSUM (Snow-in-the-summer) -- It will never snow here in June, but a frothy blanket of Cerastium tomentosum in bloom will give you a winter-like carpet. This ground-hugging perennial has small silver leaves that become smothered with white flowers in early summer. It is wonderful as an edging plant or massed as a ground cover in sunny, well-drained areas. It grows well in containers, or along borders and walkways. Planted in thick wandering drifts, it will contrast nicely with magenta, dark pink, red or blue flowering perennials. Well-drained soil is a must.
LYCHNIS CORONARIA (Angel Blush) -- This easy-care perennial features airy, silver-gray foliage topped with 1 1/2-inch white blushed pink blossoms that are excellent for cutting. It grows up to 3 feet tall and makes a stunning display when massed in clusters. Good for cottage-style gardens. Grow in full sun. Combines nicely with many cottage garden-style annuals such as larkspur, cosmos and nicotiana.
Terry Kramer is a Bayside free-lance writer and owner of Jacoby Creek Nursery.
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