Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Shimmering Silvers

The soft, felted leaves of the butterfly bush 'Lochinch' beg to be touched

My ‘garden-in waiting’ is getting closer to planting. After months of observation, preparing new beds, emptying existing beds of invasive weeds, dealing with serious drainage problems, clearing thickets of alders, cottonwoods and buried concrete (seriously) and adding in the hardscape my fingers are itching to get some plants into the ground. Being on well water we appreciate more than ever what a precious commodity it is, and since we can’t even get a hosepipe to some of the new areas we are waiting until fall and the inevitable rains to help the transition.
Close up of the 'Lochinch' flower

Of course that doesn’t stop frequent trips to the nurseries (see my Facebook page for some of the treasures I have been gathering and drooling over). When you can start from scratch it is easier to plan where each tree and shrub will go as well as balance the textures, shapes and color combinations, although I must admit it is still hard not to just make a list of all my favorites and work out where to put them later!
Artmesia 'Silvermound'
makes a wonderful feathery
dome. Like most silver
leaved plants it is drought
tolerant once established

One thing I am very conscious of and perhaps am known for as a designer, is the use of color echoes and contrast. As much as I love purple and chartreuse foliage I don’t want a garden entirely filled with those. Blue and glaucous shades are easy to incorporate and add gentle contrast while variegation really helps tie different color stories together and set the stage for new color combinations and I mustn’t lose sight of the fact that green is also a color! However, I want to add silver tones also, to catch and reflect the light and to add a little splash of something different.

I love the repetition of colors and shapes
in this border. The yellow spikes of the
red hot poker (Kniphofia) add nice
contrast. Lavender cotton (Santolina)
and daisy bush (Brachyglottis syn. Senecio)
add silver notes
Photo credit ; Andrew Lawson
On a recent visit to a nursery I scanned the sea of exciting trees and shrubs looking for something that would catch my eye. With so many plants now available with golden or burgundy varieties they don’t act as focal points when too many are dotted around, as my eye never found somewhere to stop – until I spied something sparkle at the very back. It turned out to be the ‘Lochinch’ butterfly bush (Buddleia fallowiana) with its large, felted silver leaves. The fragrant flowers are equally beautiful with long cones in rich lavender, each dotted with a distinct orange eye. For now it is in a container on my patio where the hummingbirds get drunk daily on its nectar. I have it combined with white bacopa to echo the silvery shades, lilac swan river daisy (Brachysome) to repeat the lilac blooms and deep black sweet potato vine (Ipomoea) for contrast. I also squeezed in some of the velvety annual ivy geranium ‘Black magic’ for depth. Butterfly bushes are invasive in some areas. However by cutting it back by 2/3rd each spring and deadheading as needed I don’t anticipate a problem.

Swaying in the breeze, the willowleaf pear
adds movement and sound as well
as a break from the more predictable
greens and purple foliage colors.
Looking for inspiration in garden magazines is a good way to get new ideas and take virtual garden tours. Again I realized that it was the silver which stood out from the crowd, especially the willowleaf pear (Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’). This weeping variety can add much needed contrast in form and the narrow willow-like leaves shimmer and sway in the slightest breeze, reminiscent of the quaking aspens as they whisper their secrets.

Silverbush glistens in the sunshine
like a multitude of mirrors

In containers, a rockery or at the front of the sunny border the evergreen silverbush (Convolvulus cneorum) forms a soft mound of metallic silver. Pink buds open to white funnel shaped flowers, each 1” across with a soft yellow throat. Unlike its promiscuous cousin the bindweed, this relative is very well behaved!

For a soft feathery texture look to silvermound (Artemisia schmidtiana); one of the few wormwoods which isn’t invasive. In the larger landscape this looks best planted en masse to form hummocks, but in smaller gardens it can serve as a smaller focal point, perhaps accenting a birdbath or small piece of statuary. This perennial may die down in winter but the spring and summer display is worth the wait.

If you would like more ideas here are two wonderful books I can recommend;

Elegant silvers by Jo Ann Gardner & Karen Bussolini

Foliage by Nancy Ondra

More of my articles you might enjoy;

Color in the garden

Color Echoes - the easy way to play with color
Adding Sparkle with Variegated Plants

Our garden journey

Don't tell me about bog gardens!
It's all a load of MooDoo
Garden Invaders & How to Evict Them.


  1. I'd seen and admired a Willowleaf pear but never knew what it was called, so thanks very much for providing me with a name to add to my huge wishlist. Great post on all the silver foliage, I'm a big fan of silvers.

  2. Thank you Cally. Always happy to give gardeners a reason to go shopping!!


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