Yesterday, May …
Yesterday, May 22, 2012 was the 25th anniversary of the Smithsonian’s Enid A. Haupt Garden–the Silver Anniversary. Fittingly, many silver plants grace this garden. One of the most striking is Senecio cineraria ‘Cirrus.’ You may recognize it by its common name – Dusty Miller. But this isn’t any old common plant; the cultivar ‘Cirrus’ is big, bold and beautiful!
Senecio cineraria ‘Cirrus’ is an evergreen, usually grown as an annual, with toothed, silver-gray, felted leaves. The plant is actually a short-lived perennial and will act as such if grown in mild climates or in protected areas of the garden. It usually grows in a clump measuring approximately one foot by one foot. A small, button-shaped, yellow flower appears in the second year of growth.
The color silver acts as a great garden blender. An area filled with multiple, sometimes unrelated, colors can be made harmonious with the addition of silver. A mistake made by many gardeners is the belief that white is a color to use for blending multiple, uncomplimentary colors. White screams, it doesn’t blend. Silver saves many exuberant, multi-chromatic plantings from being garish.
Many silver plants have textures that add an interesting element to garden plantings; imagine the gravelly appearance of sedums and echeverias. Some add a strong, flinty look, while others have a powdery-blue appearance and of course there are the fuzzy gray leaves so common among herbs.
Silver plants reflect the light. When the sun is setting, silver foliage reflects the rosy sunsets and glow. And if the silver plant has a fuzzy texture, dew collects on the leaves in the morning. Not only are the individual hairs magnified, but the whole plant tends to sparkle in the early morning sunshine.
Many silver plants are sculptural; their strong, clean lines would be right at home in a museum of modern art.
Environmental concerns: The silver-grays enjoy really well-drained soil. Gardeners working with clay soils have to be careful where they site them. These plants also hate humidity. Sage always falters in mid-Atlantic summers – big sections die, making the plants look raggedy. Try planting herbs, such as sage, in soil amended with pea gravel or chicken grit. Consider planting lavender on a sharp slope and then mulch with gravel or chicken grit to prevent the crown of the plant from rotting. Be careful not to crowd silver plants since they need good air circulation to prevent die-back. You can hear all the silver foliaged plants breathe a collective sigh of relief when the humidity drops in the fall.
Design concerns: Take care not to overplant silver-foliaged plants. You really can have too much of a good thing. How many silver pillows do you really need in one garden? And if we have a really wet summer you have a collection of slimy, droopy, silver pillows in your garden.