Silver Leaves

silver foliage (12)Cynara cardunculus, or cardoon, is also known as an artichoke thistle. It is a member of the sunflower family, and is native to Mediterranean climes. The giant coarse toothed leaves are architectural in form, and incredibly dramatic. A lot of that drama comes from the fact that those leaves are a very bright silvery gray. These silver leaves, in the right light, have a decidedly metallic cast. This amazing photograph of a cardoon is from  Great Plant Picks is an educational program of the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden which debuted in 2001 with the first recommendations for a comprehensive palette of outstanding plants for the maritime Pacific Northwest.  No wonder this cardoon has such a fascinating and an exotic look to me.  I do not garden in the Mediterranean, or in the Pacific northwest.

silver foliage (13)Silver leaved plants are not coated with some natural form of metallic silver. Many of them have leaves which are covered with very fine hairs that reflect light.  That reflective quality makes the leaves appear silvery.  According to the Plant Delights website, “The silver color is not a pigment, but rather some type of mechanism that scatters and reflects light. Some plants with silver foliage have a thick coat of foliar wax. Others are covered with fine hairs. A few silver perennials get their luster from blisters that separate the outer and inner cell layers of the leaf.” Silver leaved plants by and large hail from regions that are very hot and dry. That silvery surface is an adaptation – a means by which the plants can survive high heat and drought. Though I garden in a zone which gets regular rain, and infrequently has temperatures over 90 degrees, I love the look of silver leaved plants. This year’s window boxes at the shop-a celebration of silver leaves.

silver foliage (14)In the window boxes this year, I have planted artemesia “Valerie Finnis”, a blue/silver eucalyptus whose name I do not know, Cirrus dusty miller, a lavender with silver leaves, kalanchoe “Flapjacks”, the trailing artemesia “Silver Brocade”, an unknown silvery white succulent, and artemesia absinthium-or wormwood. I think I have identified these accurately, but maybe not. My knowledge of the names of exotic plants is sketchy. I was not shopping names for these window boxes.  I was shopping color.

silver foliage (15)Some of these plants might be hardy in my garden, provided they were planted in poor, gravelly, and fast draining soil.  Others are strictly seasonal for me, as they would only survive the winter in a very mild climate. Some would thrive and return the following year,  only given the absence of a winter.

silver foliage (17)I am not generally drawn to succulent plants, only because they seem so out of place in a Michigan garden. But my container plantings can be comprised of any collection of plants that interest me. The best part of a seasonal/summer container planting is that I am not restricted by what would survive my winter. Most of the annual plants I use in containers come from tropical regions. I do use perennials hardy in Michigan in containers, provided their habit, texture, form and mass is such that they will look interesting all summer long. A columbine, or lupine in a pot has a very short season of interest. The coming of the hot weather – especially the hot nights – takes a toll on them. The tropical plants can handle the heat, should it come.

silver foliage (16)As long as I have been gardening, much has been said about the hardiness of lavender.  Early on, I planted no end of so called hardy lavender, without much success. My longest relationship with a lavender plant-4 years, and 3 winters. Hardiness is not exclusively dependent on winter temperatures.  My area is known for its heavy clay soil.  Lavender likes perfect drainage – light soil. Drainage is a surprisingly big part of winter hardiness. A new lavender from Peace Tree Farm shows a great deal of promise.  From their website:  “One of the hardiest lavenders seen throughout Europe and the United States, ‘Phenomenal’ has exceptional winter survival, as it does not have the winter die back that other varieties like Munstead and Hidcote commonly demonstrate. Lavender ‘Phenomenal’ has also shown tolerance to extreme heat and humidity, and is resistant to common root and foliar diseases. Most commonly popular for its silvery foliage and consistent growth with uniform, mounding habit, ‘Phenomenal’ has an elegant flower presentation and fragrance, perfect for fresh and dried arrangements and oil uses.”  Hmm.  I will have to buy some plants.  What summer garden seems like a summer garden without lavender?

silver foliage (1)For the moment, I plant lavender in containers, never expecting I could plant them in the ground in the fall, and winter them over. This silver leaved plant is just as Mediterranean in its roots as the cardoons. I am happy to have them, one season. Lavender seems very happy, planted with other plants of like persuasion. The range of silvery colors from bright silvery gray to silvery blue gray in this iron cistern all seem visually compatible. I suspect all the plants enjoy the heat absorbed by the cistern.

silver foliage (2)Proper watering will be key to their success. At Detroit Garden Works, we group all of the silvery leaved and succulent plants together on a table that is a do not water zone.  Euphorbia “Diamond Frost” will deteriorate quickly from too much water.  The leaves of helicrysum-licorice-will pucker and decline from too much water. Water the silver leaved plants as infrequently as possible, and then some. Your restraint will reward you.

silver foliage (3)Some of our echeverias only get water from the sky, when it comes.  Otherwise, nothing, and certainly nothing from the hose. It may not have been the best year to decide to plant a collection of silver leaved plants.  We have has lots of rain, dating back to early spring.  Today, it rained all day, and it looks like it will continue to rain all night. My magnolias and parrotias have that lush green tropical look about them. The high temperature today-59 degrees. Not exactly Mediterranean.

silver foliage (11)Silver, blue, and gray leaved plants are beautiful in containers. The teucrium fructicans, or silver bush germander, in the center of this container, was lovely all summer long.  I wintered it over indoors successfully for 3 years.

silver foliage (8)Plectranthus “Silver Shield” makes a beautiful seasonal groundcover.  This small bed on a pool terrace is hot and dry in the extreme.  I have never been able to get a perennial groundcover to winter over in this spot. The silvery gray is so beautiful with the pale pink roses, and white washed wall.

silver foliage (9)Though the miscanthus grass in the center of this container is white, all of the silver leaves surrounding it makes those white leaves glow.

DGW 2006_09_05 (1)My most successful cardoon planting ever was in a tall container the top of which measured 14″ by 14″.  Once it was established, it was happy to be hot and dry.

silver foliage (4)Some silver leaved plants do well in the shade.  This silvery green begonia with silver blotches is underplanted with Shadow King gray begonia, and Pilea “Silver Tree”.  Pilea “Silver Cloud” is equally as lovely. Silver leaved plants-I am happy to have access to them.

silver foliage (10)silver leaves

silver foliage (5)silver thread leaves

silver foliage (7)dusty miller

silver foliage (6)These are the silver gray leaves from a partridge feather plant.  Have you ever?





  1. Ruth Wolery says

    I just found another variety of dusty miller last year and like the larger leaves. I gave some to my niece and she made a nice Christmas Wreath with them.

  2. I never realized there were so many beautiful silver leaved plants! (That Partridge Feather plant is so unique.) Deborah, your pictures and descriptions make me want to run out and buy some.

  3. I have always admired your container plantings. I have been seeing more of the artichoke and used quite creatively. Silver is a great cool color for the HOT south. Thanks for the link and a new place to explore color combinations.

  4. Anne Riordan says

    Deborah, I live in Memphis and we too have clay soil. Perhaps you are not familiar with Hydrangea involucrata Blue Bunny. It has grey silvery furry leaves. The buds rise above the leaves and look like peony buds. It’s flower buds are formed on new wood so it is a reliable performer. Blue flowers are not affected by soil Ph. Great shade plant.

  5. This post is a master class in achieving a range of effects with variations of a silvery hue and multiple textures. Beautiful images — every one! I’ve worked with dusty miller the last few years and although I don’t count it as my favorite plant on its own, it really makes colorful annuals pop.

  6. Very nice Deborah, I love your silver window boxes this year! And all the other great photos of silver combinations: lots of good ideas to think about and use.
    Thank you for the inspiration.

  7. Beautiful combinations! Your last post on spikes and this one mentioning cardoon have made me feel almost tasteful. Next you’ll be championing dahlias!
    Thanks for such a well written post, I never gave much consideration to why the gray color appears in the first place but it’s obvious now.

  8. Silver is one of those garden design ‘rules’, every garden must have silver. Of course I resisted too long.

    Once silver went into my garden, all the greens POPPED !

    And, in the gloaming, on an overcast day silver is ELECTRIC.

    Aside from all the above, your pots with silver are the best I’ve seen anywhere, any continent.

    Garden & Be Well, XO T

  9. This year is really all about the silver and I have you to thank for inspiration! My deck boxes are a moon garden – silvers, lime greens and whites with a touch of purple. I think you did something similar a few years ago and I always remembered how beautiful it was:) My thrillers are white cleomes, which, when they finally really start blooming I will send you a picture. (Rainy Chicago) You deserve to see the beauty you inspire far and wide with this amazing blog! When oh when are we going to see a coffee table book of your work?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Trish, we have had rain and cool temps too-I hope my sliver plants get the hot weather they like. best, Deborah

  10. Bravissima! I found this to be absolutely spectacular! With your name being ‘Silver’, I would think that you love to express yourself through these beautiful combinations of silver plants … Not only did I very much enjoy the pictures and your expert descriptions, I really learned a lot about plants I didn’t know. Thank you for posting this. Truly an inspiration.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Thanks, Antoine. The diversity in leaf shapes and colors is staggering-it would take a hundred life times to look in to them all. best, Deborah

  11. Nancy Edwards says

    So beautiful, like a refreshing cool breeze – most welcome here on the coast of FL. Pretty sure the trailer next to Silver Brocade in the window box is Dichondra silver falls. I’ve used it a lot in containers & to cascade over pool walls – very reliable, unusual & healthy. Your blog is so inspirational!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Nancy, silver falls is utterly reliable and showy-much more so than the green. Nothing ever seems to bother it, or impede its growth. best, Deborah

  12. Although I find all your posts beautiful I adorned this one as I’ve recently been hooked on silver and grays also. When I find something on Pinterest I enjoy, it’s frequently one of yours Deborah!
    As usual you’ve provided inspiration and information of value.

  13. Erin Bailey says

    I want lavender in my summer garden, too! One plant on top of a gravel filled stone retaining wall on the east side of a yew tree lived at my last garden for many years–with enough dieback that it was just not ever what comes to mind as ‘lavender.’ Now I have a variety known to survive hard winters on a Canadian Lavender Farm the best of all their many varieties. In a pot. Your pots as usual are stunningly beautiful. thanks!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Erin, In my next life, I hope to be able to grow lavender in the ground. Lavender hedges! best, Deborah

  14. Wow, once again you amaze with your containers! The cascading dusty miller is my new favorite plant this year too, (where has it been!). These are just gorgeous.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Sue, that cascading dusty miller is bright silver, and so willing. It is already cascading down my boxes on the roof. Barring too much water, it grows its heart out. best, Deborah

  15. Angie Marie says

    Where can I find the partridge feather plant? Do you have it in stock?

  16. Dear Deborah
    I’m your new biggest fan.
    What’s this plant with the silver thread leaves? IS it an artemisia? thanks for sharing your knowledge. Its so inspiring. And I love your writing style too!
    xx from the UK

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Patti, it is an annual artemesia known as “Icicles”. Thanks for reading. best Deborah

Leave a Comment