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.
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