When you depart very far from plain, basic green, you bring drama into the garden. That’s never truer than with the many gray-leafed plants that we grow. They provide great contrast with other colors in our landscapes, and it’s easy to make a strong case for their use.
Plant them against the bright greens of shrubs and ground covers or alongside purples of ornamental sweet potatoes, purple fountain grass and Burgundy Sun coleus.
Here are six of the best.
Ceniza, or Texas sage
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This is the premier gray-leafed shrub for most of Texas. It’s native south and west of San Antonio, where entire hillsides are covered by the 6- to 7-foot plants. It does grow well for us in North Central Texas, although extreme winters can damage it — as you may have noticed in recent years. It does best in full sun and with perfect drainage.
The most noteworthy thing about Texas sage is that it blooms two or three days after late spring and summertime rains. The poor things have been cycling into bloom, then into more blooms these past several weeks. When they burst forth in the middle of a hot July, and a hotter August, that’s when you’ll remember what great summer performers they are.
Powis castle artemisia
When I think of gray-leafed perennials, this one is at the top of my list. There are other beautiful artemisias, to be sure, and almost all of them are shockingly gray. But Powis Castle has staying power that most of the others lack. They may last a couple of seasons, and possibly, not even that.
But if you prune Powis Castle rather significantly late every winter, it will come back with strong, fresh and beautiful new growth for the entire growing season.
Powis Castle grows best in full sun and rich, but well-draining soils. Its mature height is 16 to 18 inches, and its texture is soft and graceful.
This is the stuffed animal of the gardening world — you just want to reach out and feel it. Kids recognize its soft texture as soon as they see it, stroking its leaves in their hands and against their faces.
Lamb’s ear requires good drainage. It grows well in morning sun, but it holds up best if it’s not in an intensely sunny spot, baking in the summer months. The most critical factor in keeping it handsome is to remove the floral spikes as soon as they start to develop. Don’t let the buds open. If you do, the plants will lose their compact, attractive form.
Some parts of your plantings may even die out if you let them bloom through their entire flowering cycle.
Lamb’s ear grows to 8 or 10 inches tall, so it’s a great plant for the front of a perennial border.
How many plants do you know with “sage” in their names? This one is not used in cooking and it’s not at all related to ceniza, autumn sage or most of the others. Russian sage grows to 18 inches tall while it’s blooming. It does best in full or nearly full sun. Place it where you can also enjoy its lovely lavender-blue flowers late every spring. Bees love this plant.
Silver Falls dichondra
You may be familiar with the weedy, green-leafed dichondra that competes vigorously with Texas lawn grasses. Other than its silver-gray colors, this one looks about the same. It is native to the arid parts of the warm Southwest and, for most of us, it’s best treated as an annual.
Silver Falls dichondra is especially useful tumbling out of patio pots, particularly when it’s planted with purple fountain grass, ornamental sweet potatoes like the variety Blackie, purple pentas or other plants with deep and rich colors. It is being used more frequently now in North Texas landscapes, especially in the summer.
Many new selections of sedums have arrived on the scene in the Texas marketplace, and they’re fine landscaping additions. Some are green, others are gray. All are xeriphytic, which means they’ll endure the dry weather ahead.
Ask your nursery professional to suggest the best type for your needs. Odds are good that you’ll find a perfect match.
Neil Sperry publishes Gardens magazine and hosts “Texas Gardening” from 8 to 10 a.m. Sunday on WBAP/820 AM. Reach him during those hours at 800-288-9227. Online: http://neilsperry.com.