Diarmuid Gavin: The family silver
A cool contrast with colourful blooms, silvery foliage is the perfect accent plant. Try these superstar picks...
Avery important aspect of garden planning is colour choice, so this week let's look at a cooling late- summer colour - silver.
Generally, silver-leaved plants have a much better chance of survival in poor soil conditions and in times of drought. Their surfaces are most often covered in fine hairs that enable them to withstand extreme heat by slowing down moisture loss, and the silver deflects the sun's rays. So they are a very good choice for a dry or gravel garden.
Silver foliage shimmers on hot, sunny days and brings flashes of light to even the most shady areas. It can set off pastel- coloured yellows, pinks, blues and greens, and is fantastic contrasted with hot red and orange flowers, making them look even more intense.
Silver plants can also look different at different times of the day, depending on what the light does to them and what plants surround them.
You can achieve fantastic effects by inserting combinations of silver foliage within your existing planting using grasses, flowering shrubs and perennials that are shot through with silver. The shimmering accents will help to unify the space, as the silver forms a connecting thread throughout. A garden design is much more powerful if the eye is guided around the site - and silver highlights will do just that.
Create a garden in rich layers using contrasting silver foliage shapes and textures such as the heavy rosette clumps of furry leaves that are characteristic of Verbascum olympicum; lush mounds of Perovskia 'Blue Spire' that have fine silver grey stems with the most fantastic violet-to-blue flower spikes; and the finely cut, almost white, foliage of Santolina chamaecyparissus (pictured main) that adds a beautiful rounded shape to the border. Take care not to overwhelm the space with too much of one thing by adding deep-green foliage plants with contrasting shapes and species with large and brightly coloured flowers such as paeonies, hydrangeas and euphorbias.
Silver sparklers to plant
Astelia chathamica: This architectural perennial has long sword-shaped leaves that are covered with a fine silver film; they set the scene beautifully and stand out strongly among other plants. Plant astelias in large clumps if you have a large garden, or use them as focal points to punctuate your space and lead the eye around the garden.
Eryngium planum 'Tetra Petra': This eryngium has the most wonderful spiky silver leaves that sparkle in the sun. Even spikier blue flowers are borne on silver stems in midsummer - a fantastic plant for texture and to introduce something a bit different amongst softer perennials.
Artemisia 'Powis Castle': An elegant, classy foliage plant that has a mass of very fine, deeply cut silver leaves that are wonderfully aromatic. Soft sprays of yellow flowers add to the effect, but this is generally grown for foliage. Grow them in large swathes that flow into contrasting foliages and deeply coloured flowers.
Stachys byzantina: The classic silver woolly 'bunny ears' that you just can't resist rubbing between your fingers. A real favourite for children and a fantastic plant for evergreen clumping foliage that fills the border. It complements deep-green foliage plants like anemones, hellebores and agapanthus beautifully, adding depth to planting.
Salvia officinalis 'Purpurascens' (above): Another dense foliage plant, but these silvery green leaves are flushed with purple when young and are deeply aromatic. Plant this sage in large clumps closer to the house to allow for easy access when you need a sprig in the cooking.
Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue' (below): A superb silvery blue grass that is ideal for the front of the border as it grows to a maximum of 10cm. Wonderful grassy tufts contrast well with neighbouring plants. Plant with astrantias, penstemons and other grasses for great effect.
Lavandula angustifolia: The wonderful swaying lavender that sits beautifully in contemporary garden designs as well as in traditional English country gardens. Shapely, fragrant and useful: its fine, silvery green leaves are adorned with deep-purple flowers in summer. Lavender looks good next to anything but is also a fantastic standalone plant. Choose the more compact Lavandula angustifolia 'Hidcote' if you want a neater lavender hedge.