Grey is in fashion outside, as well as indoors. Gillian Vine reports.
Fences, paths, paving and outdoor furniture — grey is marking its mark in the garden, with an Australian survey ranking it number seven in a top-10 list.
Now it has gone further than simply buying grey outdoor chairs, sloshing pearly paint around, laying slates or bringing in a load of silvery gravel. Grey plants are now being added to the mix.
Generally, a layer of fine white hairs on leaves gives a grey or silver appearance. This is nature’s cunning device to protect the plant by reflecting the rays of the sun and holding moisture close to the leaf to keep it cool. Often drought-tolerant, such plants tend to be recommended for coastal gardens.
Like my ash-coloured hair, which could do with a pink or blue stripe to add interest, an all-grey garden could be rather dreary. One approach is to consider using a mix of perennials with different textured leaves, such as furry lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina), rabbit-proof sea holly (Eryngium planum), fine cotton lavender (Santolina chamaecyparissus), an assortment of fleshy sedums and silver thyme.
Of course, no-one could ignore lavender. As well as the usual blue and pink-flowered varieties, there are a handful of whites available. Look for English Lavandula angustifolia Blue Mountain White, or French L. pedunculata Sensation White, which has white ears on top of the greenish flower heads. A newer variety, Castilliano White, is a Spanish lavender (L. stoechas), which has white flower heads and purple wings. This smaller cultivar is easy to grow from seed, slower than buying plants but much more cost-effective for budget-conscious gardeners.
Most silver or grey-leafed plants have purple, blue or white flowers. Lychnis coronaria is an exception, as the most common has bright magenta blooms, although there are white and pink forms. Usually considered a biennial, in my Dunedin it has proved a short-lived perennial, lasting three or four years. Lychnis self-seeds freely, so can be a pest but its ability to thrive in dry, infertile ground offsets that.
Dianthus is a group of grey-leafed perennials with the option of stronger-coloured flowers, ranging from white to crimson and all shades in between, with bicoloured forms as well.
Tops among blues is Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), which stands out because it soldiers on, sending up lavender-blue flower stems for about three months from late summer. A perennial, it grows to about 1.5m and is happiest in fairly arid ground. Don’t make the mistake of over feeding, as Russian sage does better on a starvation diet.
For a grey garden, the silvery leaves of native celmisia daisies appeal. Celmisias can be tricky to grow but are well worth the effort not only for the foliage but also for their white flowers with yellow centres.
For background hedging, tree germander (Teucrium fruticans) and New Zealand corokias and Brachyglottis greyi Crustii would work well, although the latter’s larger leaves make it less attractive after clipping than silver Teucrium or Corokia Silver Prince and Silver Ghost.
A grey/silver garden appears to be the height of fashion across the world, not just in Australia, and using some New Zealand natives would give a Kiwi twist on how to get the best out of a gardening trend.