"Forgotten silver"

Silver foliage can be so useful in the garden.
Sunday, 14 June 2020     

Poa labillardieri Suggan Buggan with dwarf Watsonia

I have previously written two blogs about silver leaves: one focused on those plants which light up shaded spots, and the other looked at those that cope well in hot, sunny positions. Glancing over these blogs, I realised I had left out a few plants, so this week I am going to talk about these.

For shade, one of my favourite silver plants is Tradescantia zebrina (ht 20 cm), with its striped leaves of silver and olive green. I have to admit that yes, indeed, it is a relative of that horrid weed wandering jew, but though it is very easy to grow, I have never regarded it as a menace. I wouldn't put it in rich, moist soil in a prize position - where it would surely swamp everything in sight - but used in a shady, dry border where little else will grow, it forms a lush carpet and brightens up dark corners. I just pull up handfuls of it when it has wandered too far. I like to grow it with silvery-leaved rhizomatous Begonia, which also grow so well in dry shade. I also use it to cover areas where shade-dwelling spring-flowering bulbs such as bluebells are dormant over summer: I simply remove it when the bulbs are starting to send up their new foliage. This Tradescantia also looks superb in a hanging basket if you prefer to constrain it.

I also have the Tradescantia growing nearby a diminutive plant for shade that comes from the Acanthaceae family and is another tough one for dry spots. Justicia scheidweileri (ht 20 cm) has elongated, silver-marked leaves and pretty burgundy and mauve flowers over a long period. It self-seeds gently but new seedlings are always welcome and are a pretty contrast to the pure silver leaves of Plectranthus argentatus. This Justicia can also be used as a basket plant.

Ctenanthe setosa has some silvery forms, including 'Grey Star' (ht 1.2 m), which has large, oblong leaves with green veins: however, these plants can stealthily spread more than some gardeners appreciate - I keep them for very difficult dry shady areas where little else will grow. I also have a miniature form, which has grown no higher than 15 cm and is forming quite a good groundcover, and doesn't aggressive like the tall ferns. I haven't been able to find out its name yet. I have it growing with ferns - some all-green and others silver-marked.

Some shade-loving shrubby and cane Begonia have silver spots or markings but the most ornate is possibly the shrubby cultivar 'Little Brother Montgomery' (ht 50 cm), which has showy, star-shaped leaves with dark centres. It pairs well with dark purple foliage. It also has pretty pink flowers! It grows well in a pot. A recent addition to my garden is the compact cane Begonia 'Looking Glass' (ht 60 cm), which has delectable silver leaves with deep green veins and reddish undersides.

Many silver plants do well in hot, dry spots as their silvery colouration is an adaption to these conditions. Salvia fruticosa, sometimes marketed as Salvia 'Greek Skies', is a good example. It is a shrubby plant to about 60 cm tall, with attractive sky-blue flowers in spring. Its leaves look and smell like the culinary sage (Salvia officinalis), but I haven't dared to eat it so far. Another plant for a sunny, well-drained spot is Poa labillardieri 'Suggan Buggan' (pictured at the start of the blog), with lovely slim blue-silver leaves and dainty panicles of flowers in the same hue. It looks effective teamed with a broad silvery leafed plant such as Artemisia, or white or very dark blooms.

The genus Buddleja has several silvery-leaved cultivars. 'Lochinch' (ht 2.5 m) is one of my favourites of these, with its soft lilac blooms in several flushes from late spring through to autumn. I also like Buddleja crispa, a tall shrub (ht 2-3 m) with large, triangular leaves like pieces of silver felt. It makes a good background shrub, and grows best in full sun. It has small pink flowers in spring if left unpruned: as I cut back my plant very hard in late winter, my specimen never blooms!

So silver plants can fill some of those 'difficult' spots that every garden has: from dry and shady to hot and sunny. I've probably forgotten lots more - they will have to wait until another time. Please let me know some of your favourites!

This blog was first posted on 1 June 2014; updated 14 June 2020.

 Reader Comments

1/9  Carole - 2230 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 02 June 2014

I love the buddleia. Some of my favourites are artemisia absinthium,marvellous to make a quick hedge and cuttings take well.But they like more sun than I can give them now.I love stachys byzantina(Lambs Ear)for filling a gap or draping a little and santolina chamaecyparis(Lavender Cotton)for a informal lovely edging that is easy to grow from cuttings but they all need sun. I can't leave out cerastium tomentosum(Snow in Summer)or the lavenders, dianthus Oooh the list goes on thank you Deidre. They are all great plants, Carole. Deirdre

2/9  Annette - 4306 (Zone:11B - Tropical) Monday, 02 June 2014

Hi Deirdre, there are quite a lot of silver/grey salvias that do quite well in shade or semi-shade , and the Phlomis plants have a beautiful range of silver type leaves. These are just starting to flower up my way, and they are stunning, and hardy. Regards, Annette Thanks, Annette - I would like to know more about those salvias you have mentioned. Deirdre

3/9  Maureen - 2118 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 02 June 2014

Great silver blog and timely after a recent CGC tour into Vic highlands where so many beautiful silvers were studded around gardens. Yes I find the Wandering Jew relie a jewel in the garden. That tour sounded wonderful. Glad you like that Tradescantia too! Deirdre

4/9  Chris - 4034 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 02 June 2014

We are very lucky to have silver grey foliage in plants. I have made my garden more foliage friendly and can now make a floral arrangement with mainly foliage. You have reminded me of some plants that I had forgotten. I wonder if there are any ferns with silver like fronds. Thanks for your blog. Your arrangements with foliage sound great. And in the garden, foliage is around for longer than flowers! There are silver-leaved ferns - such as some of the brake ferns (Pteris species). Deirdre

5/9  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 02 June 2014

Am also a fan of silver foliage. Tradescantia zebrina, Justicia scheidweileri and Plectranthus argentatus all do an excellent job. In my garden, I have teamed B. "Little Brother Montgomery", and its cousin, B. "Connee Boswell" (more silver in its leaves), B. "Silver Sal" and Rex "Grey Ghost", with Strobilanthes dyerianus - Persian Shield? - to make a pleasing picture. That sounds great, Margaret. That Strobilanthes is a lovely plant and I recently put another one in my garden. Deirdre

6/9  Lillian - 3951 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 02 June 2014

Great as usual, Deirdre But don't forget those great small shrubbies - the many Senecios and former S's, like Ajania with its silver edging. Yes, they are great plants. Have just put in a new senecio in a hot, dry spot. Deirdre

7/9  Bren - 2540 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 15 June 2020

Another great groundcover with silver in the leaf is Lamium maculatum Pink Nancy, which seems to enjoy similar conditions to Tradescantia zebrina. Yes it is such a great plant! Deirdre

8/9  Kerrie - 2104 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 15 June 2020

Some of my favourite plants there especially Justicia scheidweilri. I'm loving that gorgeous begonia little brother that I don't have. It is a good begonia, Kerrie. Hope you can find it one day. Deirdre

9/9  Sue t. - 2566 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Salvia discolor, with its almost black flowers, is another interesting grey leaved plant for a sunny spot. i find that some grey leaved species of Phlomis don't cope with Sydneys humidity. Thanks, Sue. That salvia is a wonderful plant. I have never had any luck with Phlomis. It seems to grow OK in the Hills District which is a bit less humid and has colder winters. Deirdre

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