Some folks head for the hair dye at the first sign of gray; others consider their gray hair a “crown of glory.”
People often react similarly to a gray garden, one emphasizing plants with gray or silver foliage. Some feel a garden with such a color scheme is warm or exciting, while others consider it odd or unnatural.
Silver and gray plants are not uncommon in nature, however. The gray or silver appearance of leaves and stems comes from hairs or from a waxy covering. Many of these plants come from seashore areas. The hairs and waxy covering help keep moisture in and salt out, as well as aid the plants in dealing with intense sunlight.
Some annuals and perennials with gray, silver, or green-gray foliage to consider growing are dusty miller, lamb’s ear, catmint, sage, Jerusalem sage, Russian sage, mealycup sage, gray santolina, lavender, cornflower, some yarrows (Achillea spp.), rosy campion, California poppies, wooly mullein, some pinks (Dianthus spp.), eryngium, pussytoes, butter-and-eggs, wooly thyme, rue, snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum), ‘Silver King’ and ‘Silver Queen’ artemesia, blue spruce sedum, showy sedum, mother-of-pearl plant/ghost plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense), glaucus blue lyme grass, blue agaves and nutmeg geranium. Woody plants to consider include shore juniper, Arizona cypress, eucalyptus and vitex.
Most of these plants prefer full sun and excellent drainage. A sandy soil that is low in nutrients will suit many of them just fine. The perennials especially hate to have wet feet during the winter. Rotting occurs if drainage is not good enough. The sandy soil at a beachfront home would be an excellent place to try a gray garden.
One type of gray garden emphasizes only silver and gray. A wide variety of colors is discouraged; however, some green plants may be allowed in for contrast. Plants in this type of gray garden may have attractive flowers, but gardeners will keep them trimmed because they do not want the flowers to disrupt the garden’s overall design or color harmony. Sometimes white flowers are allowed, giving the garden a restrained, cool, even frosty effect.
On the other hand, brightly colored flowers amid gray and silver can have a jewel-like quality. The gray and silver intensify some colors. Blue and violet flowers stand out more against silver than they would against a green background. Gray and silver also seem to enhance subtle differences in the colors of pastel flowers.
Some people consider flowers of intense orange or gold too brassy or hot with gray or silver. The rose-crimson flowers of rosy campion are so intense they can be downright eye-popping. However, these color combinations can be exciting, creating the effect some gardeners are seeking. No one said that a garden cannot have a flamboyant side, even if it is considered a “gray” garden.
-- Arty Schronce
Arty Schronce lives and gardens in the historic Cabbagetown neighborhood of Atlanta. He and the Georgia Department of Agriculture encourage all Georgians to discover the pleasures of plants and gardening.