What makes a perennial border stand out among other kinds of flower beds is its ever-changing aspect. When planted with a vast array of plants of differing textures, bloom times and colors the perennial border never becomes boring and stagnant. If, however, your perennial bed seems to lack in these important qualities, if it seems just a drab, uniform green with not much diversity, it may be necessary for you to add a few interesting variegated foliage plants. Perhaps what you need is to get a few gray and white foliage plants.
Why gray and white? Several reasons come quickly to mind. In a vast stretch of green a plant with gray or white leaves brightens up the bed. Other “normal” greens get a shot of visual adrenalin when next to a plant of varying colors, especially the muted grays and bright whites. Gray and white foliage plants, many of them anyway, have excitingly touchable leaves, soft and fuzzy, sleek and shiny or perhaps wooly, giving the perennial garden more texture. Gray and white foliage makes a garden come alive merely because they are unexpected.
With all this in mind let us take a good look at the very best gray and white foliage plants.
Lamb’s Ear (Stachys Byzantina).
The leaves of this plant look exactly as they are named, like the ears of a lamb and they feel as soft and cuddly. Many a Botanical garden will have Lamb’s Ear in their Children’s gardens with the expressed order for it to be touched and often. It is a rather rough and tumble sort of perennial, used as a groundcover. Leaves form low growing rosettes from which grow 1-2 foot high stalks with insignificant pale lavender flowers. Most gardeners simply cut these off entirely preferring the grayish white or whitish gray foliage. Likes well drained soil and full sun.
Fancy Leaf Caladium.
For a true ghostly touch to the flower bed “Candidum” is the very best of the Fancy Leaf Caladiums. The foliage is a striking white and the veins are very subtle and a bright unmistakable green. They pop in the semi-shady garden but do quite well in full sun, too, just as long as they get ample water and are planted in a well draining, rich, loam soil. “Aaron” is a creamy white with a solid green margin and “White Christmas” is much like “Candidum” but has more vibrant and visible veining. “White Queen” has a dramatic hot pink veining running down the center of white leaves with faint green veins throughout. For a great array of Fancy Leaf Caladiums, not just white in color, go to: www.happinessfarms.com.
Russian Olive (Elaeagnus Angustifolia).
A small, multi-stemmed tree or shrub bearing red berries songbirds love to nibble, Russian Olive is a drought tolerant, blustering-wind withstanding and perfectly lovely plant. It has silvery white, greyish green leaves and in spring gets tiny pale yellow flowers with a perfume to knock you silly. Good for the back of a border or as a freestanding specimen.
Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium).
Once a wildflower, a medicinal herb and now a staple of the cutting garden Yarrow has fernlike foliage in a grey green. Flowers are usually white or yellow but there now are many hybrids in pretty pastels. Perfect for dried flower arrangements.
Named thus for the wormlike root system which runs at a dramatic pace through the garden if not held strictly in check. Makes a great perennial groundcover on dry, sloping areas and rock or alpine gardens. Silvery gray leaves are delicately divided and have a strong, pleasant scent. Wonderful as filler in fresh or dried flower arrangements.
“Ghost Hen and Chicks” some call this sedum because of its tightly packed, gray-white rosettes. Perfect for the dry, rock garden or as a house plant. Not very hardy, only to zones 8-11 but it can burn in hot sun. Yellow flowers are born on 8 inch long stems. The plant look good as edging, groundcover and cascading over garden walls.
Snow-In-Summer (Cerastium Tomentosum).
The foliage of this low-growing, short lived perennial is a silvery gray and has abundant tiny, half inch wide, white flowers. Works well anywhere as a groundcover, edging, alpine gardens, tucked into crevices in rock walls and even between stepping stones. Full sun and well drained soil a must.
Russian sage (Perovskia).
This shrubby perennial has grayish white, upright growing stems and green gray leaves. The flowers, tiny and lavender blue bloom in late spring and appear as a faint, gray-blue mist in the summer heat. 3-4 feet high at maturity. Loves full sun, well draining soil of any type and is rather drought and heat tolerant.
“Dancing In The Rain” Hosta.
This 32 inch tall, 40 inch spreading Hosta with pale lavender flowers and sky-pointing, huge, pure white foliage edged in bright green will light up any shady corner. Will do fine in rich, loam, well draining soil and part shade too. Go to: Www.gilberthwild.com for a great selection.
Lavender Cotton (Santolina Incana).
A somewhat shrubby perennial little known but valuable as a low hedge or edging plant. Grows to 2 feet high with bright yellow flowers but looks better trimmed to one foot when used for edging flower beds. Leaves are rough textured yet delicately divided, gray white in color and a bit aromatic when bruised. Drought resistant and cold hardy even in coldest regions where it may die down to the ground but re-emerge come spring. The “Lemon Queen” cultivar has lemony yellow flowers and grows to 2 feet high and wide.
They may not seem like much, these gray-white foliage plants. After all, their flowers aren’t at all as dramatic as the Iris, Rose or Lily. They may not seem to have much appeal but when mixed with other plants the entire garden will be much more visually appealing. Any and all of these silvery, gray and white foliage plants once tucked in and around your perennials will give a new spark to your landscape. So, give a few of these a try. Your garden will thank you, your neighbors will gape at your beautiful yard and you’ll be a garden legend. Not bad for just a few seemingly lackluster white and gray foliage plants.