Thursday, June 20, 2013

Gray goes with everything

I mentioned in my previous post, I had an attraction to gray foliage plants for use in the garden. Most tend to be gap fillers as their flowers are minimal, but they have some interesting attributes. I spoke of the monstrous old lavender plant in the back yard last post, it is reverentially referred to as "silver bear." This twelve year old plant has survived many a beagle digging attack, as well as drought and harsh winters. It is not very productive anymore but the foliage is so fragrant I won't pull it out until it dies.

"Silver bear" my ancient lavender
Dusty miller
Some of my very favorite grays are in the Artemisia family. I am fortunate to have real stone planters and walkway at the front of my 50 year old house and I enjoy the silvery repetition between the stone and the plantings. Dusty miller (Artemisia stellarianna) was my first gray to nestle amongst the stones. It has a lovely upright 6"-12" growth and firm yellow button flowers. It's a drought tolerant & almost no care perennial. As an interesting fact, once I watched a bee repeatedly come to the velvety leaves and slowly peel up the fuzz to carry off to it's hive. All the more reason to pop a few more of these plants (they come in six packs at Home Depot) into the garden to support the helpful bee populations. Some of the folklore surrounding the artemisia family. named for the Greek goddess of the moon, Artemis; it was blessed with her magical powers to protect mortals from pestilence and disease. Reputedly sprigs placed between woolens repel moths and bunches in cupboard deter ants. Now, I have no experience with these pest deterrents but I may try hanging a bunch in the closet.

Silver brocade in foreground
Another lovely artemisia is the variety known as "Silver Brocade." This is a low growing creeper is a spreading mat of bright silvery white lobed leaves with insignificant flower spikes. This artemisia is a little more delicate and does not do well over-wintering unless it's in a protected area. I have lost two of my three plants even though it is USDA zoned for range 2-9. Even so, it is a graceful filler plant and looks nice when I set my candle pots into the planter while relaxing on the front porch.

Santolina (Santolina chamaecyparissus) sometimes known as Lavender-cotton is another charming gray plant with globular, lacy foliage and cute button yellow flowers. Brushing your hand over the leaves gives a rich, spicy beach smell. Nostalgically, this plant grew on the East Coast in the Rhode Island sand dune lines and was always a favorite crush & carry scent for my beach bag. It's a bit hard to find in the Midwest but occasionally it's mixed in with the herbs at nurseries. There is no food use for santolina. This little gem likes full sun and makes an excellent clumping border. I will have to move mine soon as it is being overgrown this year.

Hope you enjoy the grays as much as I do. They totally bring out the green in any companion plant. The past few years I have planted tomato red geraniums with the artemisias and it looks stunning.


  1. I'm getting a new appreciation of the grays... Thanks! My favorite was the pettable Silver Mound. Very soft and fluffy. I had a lovely specimen before an overzealous housemate tossed a handful of dry Miracle Grow on it and burned it way back.

  2. The grays are my white in the garden. A lovely neutral that sets off all the other color, yet gives your eye a place to rest.