I particularly notice silvery foliage in the garden at this time of year. It shines out in the pale wintery light, lifting the garden. The shimmery grey tones provide an elegant accent colour, contrasting with dark, evergreen shrubs as well as rusty browns of dead seed heads and grasses. When there is more colour in the garden, silver goes beautifully with blues, purples, pinks and whites, but even splashes of hot oranges and yellows can look great against silvery grey. The other plus of most silver leaved plants is that they’re drought tolerant, so they tick the eco box too! Here are my favourite evergreen varieties for winter interest.
Small shrubs and sub shrubs
A pretty little subshrub, with woolly pale green to grey leaves – the sunnier the position, the paler the leaves go. Hard prune in June and it’ll regrow within weeks and have a neat framework throughout winter. Prefers sun and well-drained soil. Looks great with spires of dark blue salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna.’
A really useful and stylish evergreen shrub with shiny silvery foliage and white funnel shaped flowers from late spring to summer. Happiest in warm sunny conditions, in a border or container on a patio. Pretty with Erigeron karvinskianus.
As well as those heavenly scented summer flowers, the winter structure provided by well-pruned lavender is a huge strength. This variety with its steely-grey woolly leaves is particularly good for winter foliage. Lovely for lining a path and giving definition. Best in full sun with well-drained soil.
An excellent neat rounded subshrub with grey/white foliage and yellow button-like flowers in summer. Clip in spring to keep it neat. Best in a well-drained sunny site.
Salvia officinalis (Sage)
Handsome rounded grey/green leaves – pick these regularly for cooking, before the lilac blue flowers appear in summer and gently prune after flowering. Full sun or part shade. Lovely with other herbs such as rosemary, where its larger leaves provide a nice contrast.
Larger shrubs and subshrubs
Brachyglottis ‘Sunshine’ (Dunedin Group)
An easy to grow shrub with attractive silver/grey felty leaves and stems. It also has yellow daisy-like flowers in the summer. It’s tough, unfussy and drought tolerant, and looks good with other Mediterranean plants and herbs.
Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Silver Queen’
This useful shrub has glossy grey-green leaves with white margins creating a pale shining effect. This is not as silvery as many of plants listed here but it’s useful if you’re looking for something bigger and it can tolerate partial shade.
Grasses and spikes
Astelia chathamica ‘Silver Shadow’
I love this striking silver plant with lovely pale green/silver spear shaped leaves. It creates an architectural focal point and whilst happy in sun it prefers partial shade as it doesn’t like to dry out. So it’s great for brightening up a shady area or balancing silvers on a south-facing border. It looks great with purple foliage plants, blues such as perovskia, bright pinks and grasses like Stipa tenuissima. Astelia nervosa is a slightly smaller variety with narrower leaves.
Festuca glauca ‘Casblue’
A compact, mound-forming evergreen grass with steely blue foliage. This makes an effective edging plant en mass or is useful in containers. Happiest in full sun and pretty with silver, pink or purple plants and grasses such as the pinkish Pennisetum x advena ‘Rubrum’.
Barbara Samitier is a garden designer who lives in Peckham Rye.
This article first appeared in the February 2017 issue of SE22 magazine.