Many gardeners struggle to find plants that will meet or exceed their expectations. Plant selections frequently frustrate us when our choices miss their mark, and, either die, or visually just don’t work. Do we give in to the prospect that the ultimate is not attainable and lower our expectations or ‘trudge on’ continuing our search? Please ‘trudge on,’ it’s well worth the effort. Searching for the best plant in the best spot is the heart of ornamental gardening. Just for fun add another dimension. The plant must provide at least three seasons of beauty. Also give attention to the interrelationship of each plant’s size and color in its seasonal progression. This will give your garden its unique signature.
Silver and grays can be especially beautiful and temper the crimsons of fall. I like garden designs with contrasting foliage and textures. For instance, the placement of a yellow or lavender mum hanging over the deep purple leaves of ajuga or the pinstriped white blades of ribbon grass (Phalaris) next to the fuzzy lamb’s ears of Stachys byzantina. The Phalaris turns golden in winter and adds motion to the garden, as the slightest breeze will rustle its leaves. All winter the lamb’s ears stays fuzzy silver and looks great with a morning frost covering. Another silver that has become one of my favorites is an Artemsia, ‘Powis Castle’. It can be propagated quite easily, too—whenever a branch outgrows its boundary, simply clip it, then take that clipping and poke it down at least 4″ into soft soil and it will usually survive unless the ground’s bone dry. This plant has a fresh scent and delicate silvery gray foliage. It prefers well-drained soil and can withstand drought and neglect. Wet winters will cause some stems to dieback but not usually kill the whole plant. Also in the bluish-gray family is culinary sage, Salvia officinalis. It remains respectable all winter in my garden and contrasts nicely with an purple-burgundy Ajuga and a red twig dogwood, Cornus alba ‘elegantissma’ add a few crocus and this spring combination is pretty showy. The silver grays next to a black mondo grass are also beautiful through fall and all winter. Black mondo looks a lot like liriope but goes by the name, Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’.
Look now for an exceptional mum with smashing creamy flowers, ‘French Vanilla.” It has tough gray-green foliage and dense flat petal clusters that just keep on unfolding—they start out a pinkish cream color and peak at an almost white. The best part is that they keep coming back yearly and I rarely clip or fertilize them in any special way even though I know I should. Just imagine how spectacular they might be with foliar feeding and pinching back till July, maybe you’ll have time! Another mum that has returned quite well year after year is a purple quill called, ‘Carousel.’
When contemplating adding or moving around what you have, consider that each new plant increases the spirit of the others—a synergetic effect. Some grays and silvers will balance and give your eyes a resting place. Remember to mass several plants together rather than just one here and there. A massed area of color has a nice affect from a distance. So think of your garden as a whole, each plant complementing another as the season progresses. A good rule is to always have at least one plant blooming within a 10-15 foot bed this helps keep the area interesting all year. During winter the focus can be just as dazzling with bark, shrubs and groundcovers that have interesting textures and a variety of colors, (i.e., cedars, ajuga, grasses, red-twigged dogwoods, vinca). If you look for and plant some of these beauties now you’ll enjoy them each fall for years to come.