7 Sensational Silver Plants

Designed by nature to withstand climate extremes, silver plants light up the garden and enliven color schemes wherever they grow.

| April/May 2011

  • Most of the beautiful, silvery artemisias (named for the goddess Artemis) benefit from being cut back just before or after flowering to prevent the plant from sprawling.
    Photo by Saxon Holt
  • These old-fashioned shrubs are favored for their long, fragrant flower trusses so attractive to butterflies.
    Photo by Susan A. Roth
  • In heather's natural range it grows as a spreading cover over miles of otherwise barren ground.
  • Lavender is a classic in every sense, cultivated since ancient times to the present day.
    Photo by Saxon Holt
  • Agaves are striking plants found in every possible climatic niche.
    Photo by Jerry Pavia
  • Russian sage, artemisia, agave, butterfly bush and sage are deer-resistant—these plants aren't their first choice, but deer may eat them if they are hungry enoug
    Photo by Saxon Holt
  • Salvias belong to a large genus of about 900 species distributed around the world.
    Photo by David Cavagnaro
  • The silvers we admire today for their beauty were once regarded solely as useful plants, praised for their ability to cure or alleviate a wide variety of human complaints, from toothache to the pangs of childbirth.
    (c) 2005 by Karen Bussolini

Taken from Elegant Silvers: Striking Plants for Every Garden©2005 by Jo Ann Gardner and Karen Bussolini. All photos in the book ©2005 by Karen Bussolini. Published by Timber Press, Portland, OR. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved. 

7 Sensational Silvers:
Agave (Agave spp.)
Artemisia (Artemisia spp.)
Butterfly Bush (Buddleja spp.)
Heather (Calluna vulgaris)
Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
Sage (Salvia spp.)
Russian Sage (Perovskia spp.) 

Whether designing a landscape from scratch or reworking a section of a perennial garden, most gardeners can’t wait to start acquiring new plants. Walking through the gardens, snipping and digging, touching, smelling, noticing the surprises and delights of our plants is the joyful heart of gardening. Plants with similar characteristics tend to harmonize with each other, creating a sense of tranquility. The contrast of plants that are very different from each other adds zing. Paying attention to the characteristics of our favorite plants—color, shape, sheen, habit, texture and other qualities—helps us predict how they will work in combination with plants that have similar or different characteristics.

We started not with a theory of color and design but with muddling around in our own gardens, combining plants until they “felt right.” We learned that compiling a bouquet while strolling through the garden with snippers or walking a plant around the nursery to see how it looks with other plants inspires unanticipated combinations. Serendipitous self-sowers instructed us by making felicitous combinations on their own.

The Art of Combining Silver Plants

Copying directly from other gardens is certainly fair game, but often it’s the ideas, not the plants themselves, that take root in our own gardens. Liking the lovely tension between cool, bright Artemisia ludoviciana ‘Silver King’ and the chartreuse zinnias and nicotiana we saw flowering in the sun at the Berkshire Botanical Garden, for instance, inspired us to pair chartreuse-flowering Alchemilla mollis with the gleaming silver blades of Pulmonaria ‘Excalibur’ in a shady spot. Wiry, nodding native delphiniums weaving their way up through bold, spiny-tipped Zone 8 yuccas in a Texas garden suggested contrasts with our own hardy Yucca filamentosa. Once we realize that we like a certain kind of combination—warm with cool or bold with delicate—we can extrapolate to other kinds of plants that will grow happily in our own gardens.


Color is often what we notice first. It sets the emotional tone of a garden. We are excited by flamboyant color combinations or soothed by subtle ones. Yet color is the most personal of choices. One person’s subtle seems dull to another, vibrant crosses the line to tacky for some and classic may seem tired.

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