On The Garden Path: Silver Plants

Shimmer of silver plants brings glamour to garden

| February 2008

The word 'silver' conjures up visions of gleaming teapots, sparkling museum pieces brought from faraway places and hours of polishing to prevent Mother's cutlery from tarnishing. Silver has little place in the modern home, because, after all, no one has time to polish candlesticks. However, you can bring the glamour of these silver memories to your garden by planting silver-leaved plants.

Silver plants appear silvery because their leaves are covered in a coating of wax or tiny hairs that reflect light. This layer not only looks good, but it also protects the leaves from extreme weather conditions. In addition, many silver plants hail from near-desert climates, so they're great for dry and gravelly spots.

Even with the extreme heat and drought last summer, I was impressed by the exceptional performance of several plants with sparkling silver foliage. While the petunias and sunflowers were wilting in the heat, and the hydrangeas were prone to dehydration, the artemisias and dichondras stayed as cool and refreshing as ever. Then, when winter set in, with thick frost upon the grass and harsh winds sweeping down from the north, the silvers continued to shimmer. If anything, their leaves were enhanced by the etching of frost which fell upon them.

Beautiful shimmering plants

Perhaps the most astonishing new plant in my garden last year was Dichondra 'Silver Falls,' a tender perennial that shimmers down in a cascade of icy silver leaves. Silver Falls is the sort of plant passionate container gardeners dream about. Its leaves are scalloped, about 1/3  inch across, and they shimmer as if they were coated in a layer of mother-of-pearl. However, the most astonishing thing about Silver Falls is its trailing habit. It plunges down, forming 3- to 6-foot-long cascades of silver beauty.

While visiting the Missouri Botanical Garden, I observed this plant spilling out of baskets, the shimmering waterfalls of foliage nearly reaching the ground, while out of the top of the baskets arose a haze of gaura grounded by sparkling white pentas. My own plants were slightly less spectacular, but still impressive with 3-foot-long trails of leaves.

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