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Silver foliage plants have amazing quality– they can highlight other plants and flowers in the garden. Learn more about them and find out the best you can grow.

The silvery foliage has a precious and bright appearance. This color not only brightens up the dull, dark corner but it also accentuates the plants and flowers of other colors around it.

1. Silver Sage “Salvia”

Salvia argentea is a short-living perennial, it forms an unusual rosette of furry leaves. In the second year, it produces a spike of white flowers in summer and then wilts. The plant is not suitable for tropics and requires a climate with moderate summer.

2. Dusty Miller

Ideal for borders or in compositions with other annuals. The dusty miller is suitable for pots too and probably one of the most commonly grown silver foliage plants. The reason maybe is that it is easy to grow and looks amazing with almost every other flowering plant.

3. Curry Plant

Helichrysum Italicum, which is also sometimes called the curry plant (however, it is not the actual curry plant) is a beautiful silver foliage plants. It grows best in warm temperate climate and flowers in summer.

4. Rose Campion

Beautiful plant; beyond the words when in full bloom. The dazzling display of magenta or deep pink or purplish flowers from spring to summer together with grey-green silvery foliage is exquisite. The best thing about this perennial is that it is hardy in USDA Zones 4-10, which means it can be grown in both colder and warmer climates.

5. Silvermound Artemisia

Mounds of glossy and bright silvery leaves eventually expand a little and line the floor. This exceptional silver foliage plant just grows up to 12 inches tall and requires well-drained soil and full sun. It grows best under USDA Zones 4-8

6. Japanese Painted Fern

If you think all ferns are green you are wrong. The Japanese painted fern has cool silvery-gray foliage and reddish stalks that accentuate its beauty. This prolific plant is low growing and easy to grow. Providing it light to full shade and well-drained but moist soil in cool temperates to warmer zones.

Also Read: Growing Soft Tree Fern

7. Heuchera “Sugar Frosting”

Heucheras are great foliage plants. Its cultivar called “Sugar frosting” has beautiful silvery-burgundy leaves. This beautiful perennial requires well-drained soil and partial sun (or can be grown in full sun in cooler regions) to thrive.

8. Buddleja ”Silver Anniversary”

It is a medium sized shrub and can be grown in containers too. The flowers are fragrant and attractive to bees and hummingbirds. The plant has silver-gray foliage, it has average watering needs and requires warmth and full sun in order to grow. You can grow this butterfly bush in warm temperates to subtropical regions under USDA Zones 5-9.

9. Lamb’s Ear

It forms rosettes of elongated silvery leaves, very soft when touched. It’s a beautiful groundcover and can be grown in containers easily. It requires well-drained soil and full sun to thrive.

10. Brunnera Macrophylla “Jack Frost”

Commonly known as “Siberian bugloss”, this stunning plant is probably one of the best silver foliage plants you can grow in your garden. It is suitable for shade. Also, its small blue “forget me not” like flowers appear from spring and the plant looks speechless throughout the summer.

11. Blue Spruce

Colorado blue spruce is an American conifer that bestows the garden with its attractive silvery-blue foliage. It looks magnificent and if you have a big backyard you can grow this wonderful tree.

12. Brachyglottis ‘Sunshine’

This plant comes from daisy family, it has beautiful silver-green leaves. In summer, it adorns with showy golden yellow flowers that makes it even more valuable bush. This small shrub can grow up to 3-5 feet tall, it prefers full sun and moist but well-drained soil.

Also Read: Gerbera Daisy Care & Growing Guide

13. Melianthus Major

Melianthus is a suitable plant for gardeners who live in a warm tropical or subtropical climates. However, you can grow it as an annual in cooler regions. It requires the sun, heat, and well-drained soil to grow. The plant can be grown in USDA Zones 8-11.

14. Russian Sage

Russian sage is a dramatic plant, it looks similar to lavender and also requires full sun and well-drained, dry soil to grow. The plant has beautiful silvery-gray foliage and lavender colored flowers that start to appear from late spring and bloom till fall.

15. “Silver Shimmers” Lungwort

This easy to grow, shade-loving, deer resistant plant looks pretty impressive and if you like to beautify your garden with silver aluminum color like foliage, try this plant. It requires rich and moist but well-drained soil. Providing a good circulation around this plant is essential as pulmonarias are susceptible to mildew.

Silver Plants: Using Silver Leaved Plant To Add Interest To The Garden

Silver or gray foliage plants can complement nearly any garden, and many of them are low maintenance too. Most of these interesting plants perform well in hot or dry areas. In fact, a large number of plants with gray and silver foliage are even native to drought-like environments. The main reason for this is their hairy foliage or the waxy texture that some silver leaf plants have. Both of these characteristics enable them to reflect sunlight and conserve water.

In the garden, silver leaf plants may take on several different roles. They can add unique interest anywhere, working well on their own as focal points or with other plants. A silver leaved plant can be an excellent contrast to green plants while breaking up the monotony of single colored gardens. They can also tone down bright colors. Silver plants blend nicely with shades of blue, lilac, and pink. They also contrast well with purple, red, and orange.

A List of Silver Plant Names

No matter how to choose to use them in the garden, this neutral color will add some dimension and interest to nearly any landscape. Here is a list of some of the most commonly silver plant names for the garden:

  • Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) – its fine white hairs give it a soft, fuzzy gray appearance. Great ground cover with inconspicuous blooms.
  • Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) – lavender blue flowers with gray aromatic foliage
  • Faassen’s catmint (Nepata x faassenii) – somewhat hairy gray green foliage with blue flowers
  • Amethyst sea holly (Eryngium amethystinum) – steel blue flowers hovering over gray green foliage
  • Sivermound mugwort (Artemisia schmidtiana) – wooly gray clumps with tiny pale yellow flowers
  • Rose campion (Lychnis atriplicifolia) – showy rose colored flowers rise high above its silver green foliage
  • Dusty miller (Senecio cineraria ‘Silverdust’) – annual grown for its hairy, silvery white foliage
  • Lungwort (Pulmonaria saccharata) – speckled silvery gray foliage with blue flowers
  • Woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus) – low growing ground cover with gray felt-like foliage
  • Mediterranean lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – aromatic gray green foliage and purple flower spikes
  • Edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum) – leaves and small yellow flowers are covered with white hairs, giving silver appearance
  • Snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum) – ground cover with small metallic, silvery leaves and bright white flowers
  • Ornamental mullein (Verbascum) – resembles lamb’s ear but with attractive flower spikes of white, yellow, pink, or peach

The Role Of Silver-Leaved Plants In The Garden

Many focal plants are bold and bright. Our eyes are drawn to bold foliage with color and stripes. The soothing velvet background of green leaves is punctuated with the bright color of flowers and varied with textures and shapes. I find myself drawn by foliage in  purple and mahogany tints, and contrasts with golden  or cream variegation. But the retiring silver leaf plants play roles the others do not. Have we underestimated the impact and contrast silver and gray lend to the landscape?

Silvery Foliaged Plant Roles In Garden Design

  • Softening, mellowing, melding effects
  • Focal point contrasts
  • Partner and frame for intense flower color
  • Variegation and texture interest

Achillea kellereri; Photo by Patrick Standish on Flickr. CC2.0

Great garden designers have implemented the mellowing properties of gray leaves in some of their most effective plans. Take notice of Vita Sackville-West’s celebrated White Garden. Using the silver leaf plants to seam together her white flowers and their green foliage, centering the entire space with a silver-leaved pear, the whole garden takes on a dreamy look that is both calming to the eye, and exciting in its own way.

I visualize the white trumpets of dozens of Regale lilies, grown three years ago from seed, coming up through the grey of southernwood and artemisia and cotton-lavender, with grey-and-white edging plants such as Dianthus Mrs. Sinkins and the silvery mats of Stachys Lanata, more familiar and so much nicer under its English names of Rabbits’ Ears or Saviour’s Flannel. ~Vita Sackville-West

This garden was successful far beyond her purported expectations, if its worldwide popularity is any indication. I think those soft gray leaves are largely responsible for setting off the beauty of the white blooms in this garden room at Sissinghurst.

Silver gray, as a leaf color, has a subtlety of shade and contrast that places emphasis -without tiring the eye the way bold complementary schemes might. It quietly emphasizes plants, unlike the purple leaf’s impression of receding dark spots.

So, while gray foliage plays second fiddle to the similar role of white flowers, it can have a strong supportive role in a garden picture. It also may feature as a focal point, almost as much as flower color might.

Silver Leaf Plants Get Along Well With Flower Colors

While silver shines out of a shady spot, it mellows the harshness of mid day sunshine. Using gray leaves to weave a continuous thread of middle tones gives a cohesiveness to the space and keeps it from looking too choppy when strong contrasts are otherwise included. The more gray, the more a feeling of dreaminess and unity.

That is why it works well in a Serenity or Meditation garden.

For Moon gardensa garden planted primarily for evening time enjoyment it helps reflect the light with the white blooms.

The Natural Assets Of Gray Foliage

For the plant world, gray and silver tints perform a function. Pigments may create the look of this color, but structural features such as plant hairs which reflect light and lower the surface temperature of the plant also play a part. It helps prevent water loss, which is a characteristic valued in xeriscape landscaping.

Another source of gray or glaucous (bluish) leaf color may be from a waxy surface. Seen on many succulents, it is another “grayish looking” impression that helps plants conserve moisture in hot dry environments. (1)

These qualities put them high on the list for areas which require drought tolerant plants.

Visually they almost shimmer in sunlight as well as reflect light in night time.

Common Gray Or Silver Foliage Plants

Here are a few of the perennials, annuals, and shrubs that I have appreciated for their peace making ways in color design.

Stachys Lanata

Lambs Ear, Stachys Lanata

Good old “Lambs Ears” needs to be at the top of the list. It has its flaws, but nothing is easier to grow with a more pleasing silvery look. For those who dislike their hot pink flowers, there is a variety to dispense with the blooms, or they can simply be sheared off, but be aware that bees love them. Why deny bees a source of nectar?
Grown from seed, division, or pot plants, Stachys lanata spreads a little too well, but I just rip it out where it isn’t wanted.

Very wooly in texture with a bright silver color, the felted leaves grow low to the ground and the flower spikes can be somewhat floppy.

I use them to add accent, line a walk, and they are a good ground cover.

Lavender Spp.

Although it varies a bit, most of the Lavender species have a gray to silver foliage which is very pleasing when kept shaped by pruni

Often included in herb gardens for its fragrance, this is a useful plant in rose gardens and borders, too. It is somewhat stiff looking, but the color helps blend surrounding plants with purple or yellow blooms. It is perfectly paired with pink, white, or blue flowers.

All About Growing Lavender

Silver Makes A Contrast

For years I had a lavender hedge along my front pathway. One effect of silvery leaves is that they stand out visually in the big picture. The vast majority of plants have some shade of green which is calm and restful, but when you wish for more contrast, silver and gray can certainly stand out. Especially in a sunny spot, where these plants are most at home, the color is most accentuated.

Eryngium

This Eryngium has silvery brachts.

The Sea holly, Eryngium giganteum, known by the name “Miss Willmott’s ghost” was so-named because famous English plantswoman Ellen Willmott would surreptitiously scatter seeds of this variety in gardens she visited. It’s an oft repeated story that cannot be verified, but illustrates the imposing opinion of one if the great woman gardeners of her time.
The story also underlines the value of the plant itself. It brings structure and interest along with its silvery brachts, functioning both as a focal point and as a harmoni

Dead Nettle Cultivars

Lamium Maculatum brings light into shady place. The most striking varieties like ‘Silver Beacon’ or ‘White Nancy’ shine out from their lowly heights of only a few inches tall. It is one of my favorite plants and always brings a neat tidy look wherever it is planted.

The dead nettles are very useful for their fine foliage, but also because they tend to do so well in difficult dry shady areas. Although qualified as a ground cover, I’ve never found them to be invasive.

In more moist shady environments, try Japanese Painted Fern, Athyrium.

Lamium maculatum

Brunnera Macrophylla

The Brunnera cultivars of ‘Jack Frost’, ‘Looking Glass’ and ‘Silver Heart’ have almost white leaves that are also a bold shape, bring good contrast to the usual finer textured gray garden plants like Achillea or Artemisia.

False forget-me-not (another common name for Brunnera) likes a more moist and partially sunny spot than most of the other gray or silver leaved choices. This is a relatively new plant for me; very hardy and holds its own with weedy conditions. The leaves do tend to look a little “ratty” toward the end of summer, however.

It is a plant chosen more for its ability to contrast than to mellow and meld a design.

Caryopteris x clandonensis

A small shrub with fine textured gray leaves and soft blue flowers in late summer, it is another of the drought resistant additions to a garden plan. The attractive blue bloom during the hottest part of summer is their primary feature for most gardeners, I think.

They are a weak shrub that looks more like a perennial plant, and need good drainage to do well.

Once established I found the “Blue Mist Shrub” to be a long lasting member of my garden space. They do need full sun, as well.

Artemisias

A group of plants well used by english gardeners for a long time, they are not as well loved by many Americans for some reason. The favorite is probably Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Silver Mound’ for its nice shape (while young) and impossibly silver hue.

Other good ones to try are:

    • Artemisia stelleriana ‘Silver Brocade’
    • Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’
    • ‘Silver King’ artemisia

Achilleas

While most of them have leaves considered to be a gray green, not all qualify as “silver leaf plants”. The less hardy Achillea kellereri is the one most likely to give pleasing results for this purpose. It is available from specialty nurseries, so look for it by name. You could also try Achillea ageratifolia. The selling point for these might be more in their pretty white flowers, but they also contribute gray toned foliage.

Not long lived for me, perhaps because I have to be careful to provide places of good drainage for those perennials that require it.

Temporary Sources of Gray Foliage

Container of silver leaf plantsvby designer Deborah Silver

Grown as annuals I always purchase a certain number of tender plants for summer silver leaf effects. They are especially good in container plantings.

  • Dusty Miller, Senecio cineraria
  • Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’
  • Helichrysum petiolare

Contrasts From Variegations

Variegated Holly Photo by Leonora (Ellie) Enking on Flickr CC2.0

By now it is apparent that the role of silver leaf plants is dual, either producing interest from the way it contrasts with solid greens, or as a mellowing factor for what could be a strident conclave of color.

Variegations can be found that have a lot of distinction within each leaf, but give an overall silver effect. Hollies are an example of that, i.e. Ilex aquifolium ‘Argentea Marginata’. It tends to look rather busy.

Softening Effects

On the other hand, an Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Silver Mound’ is soft in aspect. It looks and feels as comfortable to the eye as the Holly seems spikey and stiff. In nature such silver and softness is often seen with bright golden yellow flowers. Chrome yellow and gray are a classic color harmony.

Infusing The Garden With Light

I hope reading this post inspired you with ways to infuse the landscape with light through the many gray toned foliage plants available. From focal points to mellowing filler plantings, the role such plants give is the one you chose while staging the plan of your garden.

Besides their color, these brighteners bring texture and interesting forms to all sorts of purposes in your landscaped areas.

Try silver leaf plants with shrubs, borders, and in containers. Their contribution will enrich the look in very pleasing way no matter which role you choose for them.

50 Shades of Grey at Sophie’s Patch

I love shades of grey at Sophie’s Patch, not the movies, but the plants. Grey (or silver) foliage not only looks great and makes a great contrast with all flower colours and other plants, it indicates a hardy plant, able to withstand the onslaught of our tough summers. Grey, silver and white foliage plants have adapted and evolved to cope with extreme conditions of heat and drought, with the silver colour reflecting sunlight so the leaf does not get as hot. Many grey foliage plants are also hairy and these hairs act as an insulation layer for the leaf, like a windbreak, reducing water loss from the leaf. Most grey foliaged plants are sun lovers, thrive in full sun, and once established grow with minimal or no supplementary watering.

So, here is a list of some of the grey (or silver) foliaged plants grown here at Sophie’s Patch. I have ordered them in height, down from trees, tall and medium shrubs, dwarf shrubs, perennials and groundcovers, and then added in a few annuals at the end.

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1. Elaeagnus angustifolia – Russian olive

This stunning deciduous tree has bright silver foliage which hangs gracefully off its branches. It produces an insignificant small lemon coloured flower in spring with a delicious sweet scent.

2. Pyrus nivalis – Snow Pear

This deciduous ornamental pear has attractive silvery-grey leaves and smothers itself with single white flowers in early spring. The leaves turns shades of orange and gold before dropping in autumn.

3. Eucalyptus caesia ‘Silver Princess’

This beautiful architectural tree has weeping branches which have a greyish white coating on them finished with large grey-green leaves. The large gumnuts open to reveal showy cerise flowers from spring to autumn.

4. Acacia saligna – Weeping myall

Graceful wattle 6-10m high with pendulous branches. Pale cream flowers in spring.

5. Acacia salicina – Broughton willow, willow wattle

Spreading tree to 10m with handsome foliage and yellow flowers.

Tall & Medium Shrubs (roughly 1.5 metres or more high)

6. Atriplex nummularia ‘Eyre’s Green’ – old man saltbush

Tall shrub 3-4m and hedges well. Attracts beneficial insects. Dreaming of slow cooked, saltbush fed, dorper lamb curry at the Standpipe Hotel in Pt. Augusta! 😊

7. Artemesia arborescens – tree wormwood

Traditionally grown by the chook yard it forms a great hedge 1.5-2m high. Prunings put in nesting boxes to deter mites.

8. Buddleja crispa – Himalayan butterfly

Partially deciduous shrub to 4m with stunning large silver leaves and pale pink flowers in spring.

9. Melianthus major – Giant honey flower

This 2-3m high shrub had bold architectural grey-green foliage and tall flower spikes of dark red flowers which the nectar feeding birds adore! Be warned of its weed potential in some parts of Australia.

10. Buddleja ‘Buzz’ Purple – butterfly bush

These medium shrubs to 1.5 m flower for many months in late spring and summer with a sweet honey scent that attracts butterflies and honey eating birds.

11. Phlomis playstegia – Jerusalem sage

A lovely Jerusalem sage to 1.2m with whorls of deep yellow flowers above silver grey foliage.

12. Teucrium fruticans – germander

The silver spiky growth of this hardy shrub to 1.5 m with lavender blue flowers tames and trimes really well and this plant makes a great hedges or large ball.

13. Teucrium heterophylla – germander

This germander has larger silver foliage and salmon-orange flowers and grows 1.5m high and trims or hedges well.

Dwarf Shrubs (roughly 1m or less)

14. Artemesia absinthum – absinthe

Attractive member of wormwood family with grey hairy foliage forms a low mound to 60cm high. Leaves and flowers used to make Absinthe, the alcoholic spirit, once believed to have hallucinogenic effects.

15. Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’ – wormwood

This dwarf shrub gets 1m high with stunning silver foliage but needs a hard haircut each year to stay compact. Prunings also good in chook nesting boxes.

16. Convulvulus cneorum – Silver Bush

This plant forms a neat mound of silvery white foliage and smothers it self with white flowers in autumn winter.

17. Cotyledon orbiculata – Pig ears

Stunning succulent with bright silvery-white foliage and vibrant spikes of apricot-pink flowers. Frost hardy!

18. Cotyledon orbiculata ‘Blue Waves’

Stunning succulent with silvery-white foliage with a twist…… and apricot-pink flowers.

19 Helichrysum italicum ssp. italicum – curry plant

This dwarf shrub has fine silver foliage which has a mouthwatering aroma of curry. It also produces attractive bright yellow flowers.

20. Helichrysum petiolare – liquorice plant

Sprawling low shrub with silver leaves covered in soft down and tiny heads of everlasting flowers.

21. Lavender dentata – French Lavender

My favourite of all lavenders, it flowers from autumn to spring, with soft grey foliage and heavenly lavender-coloured flowers.

22. Lavandula ‘Sidonie’

Handsome silver ferny foliage with slender spikes of vibrant violet blue flowers however it needs protection from harsh frosts. Mine burns but recovers.

23. Rhagodia spinescens – creeping saltbush

Hardy native with small silver foliage and a sprawling habit, though it can be trimmed to form a low hedge.

24. Veronica perfoliata (syn. Derwentia perfoliata) – Diggers speedwell

Grey foliage resembling juvenile gum tipped by spikes of delicate blue-mauve flowers in spring and summer.

Perennials (plant which have a period when they die back or need to be pruned hard)

25. Artemesia frigida – fringed sagebrush

One of many wormwoods we grow, with soft downy silvery white foliage.

26. Artemesia absinthum ‘Lambrook Silver’

This perennial wormwood has fine ferny silvery foliage and is lower growing than the parent, reaching 40-50cm.

27. Artemesia ludoviciana ‘Valerie Finnis’

This hardy plant is one of the best silver foliaged perennials, spreading by underground rhizomes to form a dense thicket of large, jagged silver foliage to 30cm high. Like most Artemesias, its flowers are insignificant and are often removed so that they do not detract from its beautiful foliage.

28. Ballotta pseudodictamnus ‘Nanus’

This is a dense sub-shrub makes a rounded evergreen plant with dense silver-grey foliage, heavily felted with hairs. Although it does produce mauve flowers in spring, they are rather insignificant, and the plant is grown primarily for its foliage. 50cm.

29. Cynara scolymus – globe artichoke

This vegetable is a star performer at Sophie’s Patch and I never even get around to eating it!? Its striking, large dissected foliage is a brilliant silver and it produces thick upright stems to support the flower buds, which if harvested at the right time can be prepared into mouth-watering taste sensations. It’s on my ‘to do’ list for when I have more time, but for the moment I just enjoy the look of their foliage and seeing the buds open into massive purple thistle-like flowers.

30. Euphorbia rigida – spurge

This spurge has rigid architectural stems to 45cm clothed in blue-grey leaves, and they tend to arch with the weight of lime coloured flower bracts as they age. This variety should be pruned in early autumn to encourage new growth and spring flowers.

31. Euphorbia ‘Hedgehog’ – spurge

This fine foliaged spurge has silver blue foliage and attractive lime-green flowers in spring. 20-30cm

32. Euphorbia wulfenii – Wulfen spurge

This spurge grows 1-1.2m high and is shrubby in habit. Its foliage has blue-green along its upright stems which are topped by large heads of lime green or yellow flowers in winter and spring.

33. Nepeta faasennii ‘Walker’s Blue’ – catmint

Catmint is the classic species for underplanting roses and it makes a first-class edging plant in sunny gardens. This is my favourite form which flowers from spring to autumn, longer than other varieties. Its dark lavender-blue flowers are also more striking than other varieties of catmint, and they look great against its silver-green foliage. Growing to 45cm high, when used as a continuous edging, ‘Walker’s Blue’ prevents birds from scratching mulch onto paths. A mid season haircut will tidy up the plants and an annual hard prune to just above ground level is required.

34. Romneya coulteri – Californian tree poppy

This giant perennial to 2m high produces stunning large, white poppy-like flowers above grey-blue foliage in late spring and summer. Although not easy to establish, they are worthwhile persevering with. They need perfect drainage and resent transplanting.

35. Salvia canariensis var. candidissima – Canary Island sage

This tall sage to at least 1.5 metres high has very hairy, silver-grey foliage and a mass of large purple and pink flowers for many months in spring and summer.

36. Salvia officinalis – common sage

This edible culinary sage is quite ornamental in its own right, with silver-grey foliage and blue, white or pale pink flowers in spring.

37. Senecio vira-vira

This plant forms a rounded evergreen mound of silver-white dissected foliage to 80cm topped by soft lemon flowers which are loved by bees and butterflies.

38. Senecio cineraria ‘Silver Dust’

This plant is primarily grown for its striking silvery-white foliage, even though it does produce small yellow, daisy-like flowers.

Groundcovers

39. Stachys byzantina ‘Big Ears’ – lamb’s ears

Lamb’s ears is a mat forming perennial with soft furry leaves, just like lambs ears, and it make a beautiful silver carpet. The heads of mauve-pink flowers held above the foliage are an added bonus in summer. There are several newer forms of this old-fashioned plant including ‘Big Ears’ which has larger leaves, each up to 20cm long, making a bolder effect, and also a miniature form called S. thirkei, only grows 10cm x 30cm, requiring less ongoing maintenance than the common form.

40. Anthemis tinctoria ‘Suzannah Mitchell’ – Dyer’s Chamomile

Dense matting ground cover with aromatic silver-green foliage and lemon daisy flowers over a long period in spring and summer.

41. Arctotis x hybrida – Veldt daisy

Flowering from autumn to spring, the new compact forms of these hardy groundcovers are brilliant. They produce large daisy like flowers in shades or red, orange, yellow, pink and cream and flower for many months from autumn to spring.

42. Artemesia schmidtiana ‘Nana’ – Satin wormwood

This wormwood forms a dense carpeting, weed suppressing mat of soft silver white foliage that just calls to be touched.

43. Artemesia canescens – wormwood, mugwort

The fine silver foliage of this wormwood appears like scrunched up chicken wire.

44. Carpobrotus rossii – native pig face

This native ground cover has blue-grey succulent foliage and stunning cerise pink flowers in spring.

45. Eumorphia prostrata ‘Silver Cloud’

This plant forms a low mound of fine silver foliage with delicate daisy-like flowers in spring and summer.

46. Echeveria x imbricate – ‘Hen & Chicks’

This old fashioned succulent produces large rosettes of grey-blue foliage, with older leaves tinged pink, and it smothers itself in pinky-red flowers in spring and summer.

47. Senecio serpens – chalk sticks

This striking succulent has blue-grey foliage however it doesn’t like my frost so I grow it in containers in protected positions.

48. Kalanchoe ‘Quicksilver’

This succulent has silver grey foliage and heads of pretty mid pink flowers in spring.

Annuals

49. Cerinthe major – Honeywort

This stunning annual has grey-blue foliage and striking purple-blue flowers, making a great contrast. I let it self-seed around Sophie’s Patch.

50. Escholtzia – Californian poppy

I have drifts of this delightful annual with greyish foliage and orange flowers up my driveway and I let it self-seed where it wants in this area. It is also available in other colours however orange seems to naturally work best here.

How To Use Silver & Gray In The Garden

  • Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’ (Powis Castle Silver Sage) – is a true non-blooming silver plant. It grows in most any climate, even humid heat. This is a very underused ornamental sage. With dissected silver-gray foliage, it is the perfect companion plant to use with other flowering perennials and ornamental grasses to bring out interesting contrasts of leaf color and texture. It almost never flowers, thus maintaining its neat appearance with no extra effort. Not at all fussy as to soil type, “Powis Castle” is also quite drought tolerant.
  • Agastache rupestris (Licorice Mint Hyssop) – one of the all-time great perennials with fine textured, highly aromatic gray leaves. This is one of the best, most durable species in the Agastache family. With smoky orange flowers held by lavender calyxes, the entire plant is scented like licorice and mint and attracts hummingbirds. A High Country Gardens introduction.
  • Oenothera fremonti ‘Shimmer’ (Shimmer Primrose) is a low-growing perennial with unique foliage that goes from green to pewter-gray by mid-summer. The extremely narrow gray-green, almost silver leaves have such incredible texture that it is invaluable when contrasting with other colors and types of foliage. I recommend pinching the stem tips several times in spring to create more branching and “thicken up” the plant with more foliage. Profuse yellow flowers too.

In fiction, a foil is a character that enhances the distinctive characteristics of another character. In the garden, as in fiction, a foil is a plant that contrasts with another plant in order to highlight particular qualities of the other. ’I am resolved my husband shall not be a rival, but a foil to me’ (Charlotte Brontë).

Think of the foil wrappings around Easter flowers and then use Artemisia, Eryngium planum (Sea Holly) and Stachys (Lamb’s Ears) to accent yellows and blues in your garden. Flowering grey leaved perennials and shrubs give the garden a two for one shot of color. Nepetas (Catmints) flower early then provide a soft grey-green mound around the feet of taller, later flowering plants like Aster Purple Mound and Sedum Autumn Joy. Caryopteris ‘Longwood Blue’ spices up the garden with its silvery and pungent leaves all summer, then bursts into flower just when needed, in late summer.

Not only do silver and grey leaved plants set off the colors and textures of other plants but they are tough, often drought and deer resistant plants that will not be foiled by varmint or weather. Lavender, not a perennial, but rather a semi evergreen shrub, can be set along a walk to flower in summer then sheared to a fragrant hedge. Like lavender, most grey leaved plants resent poorly drained soils and excessive irrigation. They are perfect for sunny, dry, less than perfect locations. Deer find the often fuzzy or waxy foliage repulsive.

Here are some of my favorite deer resistant, drought tolerant foils:

Annuals for gardens and containers

Centaurea cineraria (Dusty Miller)

Lotus berthelotti (great in pots)

Helichrysum petiolare (Licorice Plant)

Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage)

Perennials

Achillea millefolium (Yarrow)

Artemisia sp.

Dianthus ‘Pomegranate Kiss’, Neon Star, and Fire Star ‘Fire Witch’ to name a few

Eryngium planum (Sea Holly) – requires staking but worth it

Euphorbia myrsinites (can take light shade)

Lychnis coronaria (Rose Campion)

Nepeta sp. (Catmint)

Perovskia sp. (Russian Sage)

Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s Ears)

Shrubs

Buddleia davidii ‘Silver Frost’, ‘Lochinch’ and all of the ‘Nanho’ series (Butterfly Bush)

Caryopteris x clandonensis (Bluebeard)

Lavandula (Lavender) Grosso, Hidcote, Provence to name a few

Shade tolerant, need a bit more moisture

Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’ (Japanese Painted Fern)

Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’

Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy’, ‘Beacon Silver’, Orchid Frost’, ‘Purple Dragon’

Pulmonaria longifolia var. cevennensis and ‘Bertram Anderson’

Jacobaea maritima

The trouble with dusty miller is finding something not to like about it.

It has a lovely hue, likes full sun, and doesn’t care to be watered too often. You can throw it in the garden or in a container, and it will sing its thanks with reliable silvery foliage.

It’s an old favorite for a reason, and you’ll see why below. Here’s what’s ahead in this article:

Let’s dig in!

A Classic Garden Annual

About fifty percent of my favorite plants are the ones that I grew and grew up with as a child. Marigolds, pansies, and black-eyed susans are near the top, but good ol’ dusty miller takes the cake as my favorite.

I mean, look at that name – Dusty Miller? It’s impossible not to picture a wizened old man with a silvery beard and a squat build chuckling away in the garden. It’s a work of genius and art all by itself!

Photo by Matt Suwak.

It doesn’t hurt that it was my uncle’s favorite too. He passed away when I was young, and my aunt planted flowers at his grave every year. When she was too old to do it, I took on the responsibility.

Imagine the incredible, sappy-happy joy that I felt when I discovered that the dusty miller I planted in the spring survived a hot and humid summer, interrupted by a cold and bitter winter, to push out new growth the following spring like it was nothing.

Photo by Matt Suwak.

This might be common for those in USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10, where it is often grown as an herbaceous perennial. But in my neck of the woods, it’s practically taken for granted that this plant is an ornamental annual!

Since then, I often see dusty miller everywhere I go. But it’s usually relegated to the gardens of the older generations. And that’s a shame. It’s a beautiful foliage plant that is on the verge of a major resurgence in popularity, so you better keep on reading to learn everything you need to know about placing dusty miller in your garden.

Where Does Dusty Miller Shine?

As long as you plant dusty miller in environs where it will be happy, you’ll be happy with its display.

The silvery sheen is from many white hairs on the surface of the leaves. Photo by Matt Suwak.

Formerly known botanically as Senecio cineraria, it has more recently been recategorized in the Jacobaea genus, part of the Asteraceae family. Native to areas of the Mediterranean, it’s also known as silver ragwort, and is not to be confused with other plants that go by the common name “dusty miller,” including Centaurea cineraria and Lychnis coronaria.

Like I described above, it is typically perennial in zones 8 to 10, but I’ve had luck in zone 5 keeping ol’ J. maritima alive through the winter.

Silvery green J. maritima make a stunning addition to this garden bed, with purple heuchera, pink and white wax begonia, and other plants. It’s hard to find a place where it doesn’t work!

J. maritima thrives in sunny locations that have well-draining soil. It doesn’t require much water and is a great option for xeriscaping; in fact, too much water will spur a bout of root rot. And you don’t want that!

Luckily, J. maritima can thrive at most soil pH levels, and it can even tolerate some partial shade. If you grow yours in a less-than-sunny location, you will find that its iconic silvery sheen dissipates and is replaced by a gray-green color instead.

I’ve had great luck placing dusty miller in beds of wildflowers that thrive in similarly hot and dry conditions. The plant does very well in containers, and is one of my go-to options for adding some contrast with otherwise bright colors. It pairs especially well with ornamental grasses.

Even if it’s primarily a matter of personal taste, dusty miller pairs very well with white flowers too (especially Proven Winners’ ‘Diamond Dust’ euphorbia variety) by softening the complementary white shades. I admit that I try to squeeze dusty miller into every garden and container I can, but there’s a reason for that!

It Works Almost Anywhere

The silver sheen is subtle and not distracting, hardly an eye-catching piece of foliage, but that’s kind of the point. When you are designing your containerized plants, adding a more subtle plant to the mix works wonders.

Paired with dianthus, the silver-toned green color of the flowers’ stems is enhanced.

There is no shortage of plants you’ll encounter that are flashy and screaming for attention, and all the while humble dusty miller is happy to provide some contrast and textural variation.

A border of J. maritima adds a soft-hued contrast to other foliage, and helps to make colorful perennials and annuals really pop.

Photo by Matt Suwak.

The beaches of Cape Cod are strewn with J. maritima, and it presents the perfect conditions for the plant – hot and sunny, mostly dry, with well-drained soil. If you’ve got sandy soil where nothing grows, J. maritima is for you!

Just yesterday, I was walking the dog and noticed a very interesting container design. It incorporated cactus, ferns, and dusty miller all in one. I loved this unique grouping right away, partially because it demonstrates the variability of J. maritima.

Photo by Matt Suwak.

Keep in mind that in order to make this mix work, hidden inner containers were likely used to accommodate the greater hydration needs of the ferns than that of the desert plants.

Pests and Problems

Will you struggle to battle these if you add this plant to your outdoor space? Hardly!

Dusty miller is resistant to almost every bug, disease, and trouble you’ll find in the garden. This is at least in part because it thrives in hot and dry conditions where most troublemakers don’t reach.

I’ve got no problem with the leggy look, it pairs well with my heuchera. Photo by Matt Suwak.

It can suffer from rust infections, but it makes up for for this possibility by being largely deer resistant. The biggest issue you can encounter is typically root rot, but by planting J. maritima in the right location, this won’t be an issue.

If you grow this plant in shadier conditions, it tends to become leggy and stretched out, in an attempt to reach for more sunlight. I’m growing a few plants in a part-shade container in my backyard, and they are a little stretched and funny looking… but with the right plant pairings, that leggy growth is more of a positive than a detriment.

Some may not consider them to be showstopping, but I think this plant has great flowers, reminiscent of achillea!

Although dusty miller produces a lovely yellow flower, most gardeners tend to find it insignificant and less than worthwhile. You can cut the flower stalks down when they form, or you can let the plant do what it wants to do and enjoy a bit of yellow playing off those silvery hues!

Besides Planting Plugs, How Can I Grow Silver Ragwort?

Many times, you’ll find silver ragwort sold in 6-packs at the garden center. This is my preferred method for growing it. I love to start plants from seed, but J. maritima is one of the few where I prefer instant gratification.

If you’re inclined to try starting seeds, you should start them indoors about six weeks before the last frost date, or you can sow them directly to your garden about two weeks before the last freeze date. They’ll stand up to a bit of overcrowding, so you don’t need to thin them out too diligently.

Are you a fan of cuttings? Even if you’re not, I encourage you to give it a shot!

Your silver ragwort plants are great for starting cuttings. Find a piece that has become a bit woody and snip it from the parent plant.

Start cuttings in good-quality potting mix, and keep them watered. A rooting hormone can speed up the process and produce more reliable results.

Garden Safe TakeRoot Rooting Hormone, available on Amazon

Remember to snip those flowers if they have grown from your cuttings, to stimulate root and leaf development. This isn’t critical when the plants are already established in the garden, but it can be an important factor when considering J. maritima’s energy expenditure if you are attempting to start new plants from cuttings with strong roots.

Which Types of Silver Ragwort are Worth Trying? (And Where to Buy Them)

Well, if you ask me, they all are! Your best bet is to find plants at your local nursery or garden center. Growing from seed, as I mentioned above, can produce unexpected results since this species not true to seed, so growing from starts that already have the qualities that you’re looking for is the surest path to victory.

‘Silverdust’ Seeds, available from True Leaf Market

But, if you’re willing to give it a shot and want to start from seed, I recommend the ‘Silverdust’ cultivar. Some types of silver ragwort are marketed for their stronger or more intense foliage, but ‘Silverdust’ is ideal for a strong grower that doesn’t sing with too loud of a voice in the garden.

‘Silverdust’ Live Starter Plant

‘Silverdust’ is also available on Amazon as a live plant that you might like to try.

‘Cirrus’ Seeds, available from True Leaf Market

On the other hand, the ‘Cirrus’ cultivar is intentionally grown for a stronger, bolder silver foliage. This is quite attractive to add to a garden with other silver hues (some thyme varieties and eucalyptus come to mind), and offers a more pronounced appearance.

Goodbye, Mister Miller

The best way to see if J. maritima works in your garden is to add it in there! I promise that if you have the right conditions for it to thrive, you’ll be delighted that you introduced it to the menagerie you have growing already.

For more information on other plants that love hot and dry conditions, read our guide on black-eyed susans and another favorite, yarrow.

Thanks so much for reading, and happy gardening! Please drop us a comment below, and don’t hesitate to let us know if you have any questions.

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Photos by Matt Suwak © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Garden Safe, Orsana, and True Leaf Market. Uncredited photos: . With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.

About Matt Suwak

Matt Suwak was reared by the bear and the bobcat and the coyote of rural Pennsylvania. This upbringing keeps him permanently affixed to the outdoors where most of his personal time is invested in gardening, bird watching, and hiking. He presently resides in Philadelphia and works under the sun as a landscaper and gardener, and by moonlight as a writer. An incessant questioning of “Why?” affords him countless opportunities to ponder the (in)significance of the great and the small. He considers folksy adages priceless treasures and is fueled almost entirely by beer and hot sauce.

Silver Dust Dusty Miller foliage

Silver Dust Dusty Miller foliage

(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)

Silver Dust Dusty Miller flowers

Silver Dust Dusty Miller flowers

(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)

Height: 14 inches

Spacing: 8 inches

Sunlight:

Hardiness Zone: (annual)

Other Names: Silver Ragwort, syn. Jacobaea

Description:

An interesting and beautiful variety producing silver-gray, deeply lobed, fuzzy foliage; grown primarily for foliage, trim flower stems to promote new basal growth; excellent for edging, containers, or massed as groundcover

Ornamental Features

Silver Dust Dusty Miller’s attractive tomentose lobed leaves remain silver in color throughout the season. It features dainty clusters of yellow daisy flowers with gold eyes held atop the stems in mid summer. The fruit is not ornamentally significant.

Landscape Attributes

Silver Dust Dusty Miller is an herbaceous annual with an upright spreading habit of growth. Its relatively fine texture sets it apart from other garden plants with less refined foliage.

This is a relatively low maintenance plant, and usually looks its best without pruning, although it will tolerate pruning. It has no significant negative characteristics.

Silver Dust Dusty Miller is recommended for the following landscape applications;

  • Mass Planting
  • Border Edging
  • General Garden Use
  • Container Planting
  • Hanging Baskets

Planting & Growing

Silver Dust Dusty Miller will grow to be about 12 inches tall at maturity, with a spread of 12 inches. When grown in masses or used as a bedding plant, individual plants should be spaced approximately 8 inches apart. Although it’s not a true annual, this plant can be expected to behave as an annual in our climate if left outdoors over the winter, usually needing replacement the following year. As such, gardeners should take into consideration that it will perform differently than it would in its native habitat.

This plant does best in full sun to partial shade. It prefers dry to average moisture levels with very well-drained soil, and will often die in standing water. It is considered to be drought-tolerant, and thus makes an ideal choice for a low-water garden or xeriscape application. It is not particular as to soil type or pH. It is somewhat tolerant of urban pollution. This is a selected variety of a species not originally from North America.

Silver Dust Dusty Miller is a fine choice for the garden, but it is also a good selection for planting in outdoor containers and hanging baskets. It is often used as a ‘filler’ in the ‘spiller-thriller-filler’ container combination, providing a mass of flowers and foliage against which the larger thriller plants stand out. Note that when growing plants in outdoor containers and baskets, they may require more frequent waterings than they would in the yard or garden.

Plant of the Week: Silver Spike

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not promote, support or recommend plants featured in “Plant of the Week.” Please consult your local Extension office for plants suitable for your region.

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Silver spike
Latin: Helichrysum thianschanicum

ON ICE – For beautiful foliage during the hottest, driest weather Silver Spike or Icicle Plant is hard to beat. (Photo courtesy Gerald Klingaman)

I’ve always had the wanderlust but much of this desire was satiated by reading about the travels of others. One of the reasons I enjoy gardening is growing plants from far off lands and absorbing vicariously the feel of the place. Silver spike or Icicle plant (Helichrysum thianschanicum) is one such plant that hails from a mountain range I’ve always wanted to visit.

Silver spike is a perennial subshrub belonging to the daisy family that grows 2 feet tall and wide. In its native range on gravelly slopes and in the sand dunes of western China and adjacent Kazakhstan, it develops a finger-sized rhizome, a characteristic seldom seen in cultivation. It has the general shape and form of a lavender plant with basal branching and erect growing stems covered in 2-inch long linear leaves that are covered in white pubescence.

The yellow clusters of flowers are produced at the ends of stems over an extended period during the summer. Up to 30 yellow petal-less heads to about a third of an inch across are produced in the cluster and, while not spectacularly beautiful, do nicely punctuate the gray-white foliage during the summer.

Silver spike belongs to the overly large genus Helichrysum that contains as many as 600 species from the Old World (and Australia) that is in the process of being broken up into smaller, more cohesive genera. The genus is described as the “everlasting” plants because several of its species serve well as dried cut flowers if harvested before the blooms fully open, but silver spike is not grown for its flowers but its fine foliage effect.

The species epitaph, using an old spelling for a place name, tells us that this plant comes from the Tian Shan Mountains of Central Asia. Ever since I first read of Frank Meyer’s plant hunting exploits in the Tian Shan range that startles the border between China’s western most province of Xinjiang and Kazakhstan, I’ve wanted to visit that far-off region. Though I’ll likely never visit that lonely and isolated range, I can grow a plant that prospers on its rocky shoulders in hot dry locations up to 9,000 feet. The region is not just hot and dry, but come winter it is cold, often with temperatures dropping to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Though silver spike was described in 1879 by Eduard August von Regal (1815 – 1892), a German botanist who served as the director of the Russian Imperial Botanical Garden in St. Petersburg, it seems to have been little used in gardens until the 1990s when it was rediscovered during the new plant craze. ‘Icicle’, a selection grown by the Proven Winner group of plant propagators, has become the standard in the United States.

Though silver spike hails from a mountain range with hot dry summers and cold dry winters it is mostly grown as an annual plant in gardens. When hardiness listings are given, it is usually considered hardy in zones 9 and south. Like many plants from high desert regions it seems to be susceptible to the scourge of “winter wet,” a condition that results when the still active base of the plant freezes.

Silver spike makes an attractive addition to the annual or perennial border or it can be used as an addition to container plantings. Its flowers should pinched off as soon as they begin to fade to best display the silvery foliage. It seems resistant to most insect problems.

By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Retired Extension Horticulturist – Ornamentals
Extension News – August 17, 2012

The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.

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