The Best Gray and White Foliage Plants
What makes an outstanding perennial border is a vast array of plants of differing textures, bloom times sizes and colors. The addition of a few gray and white foliage plants will accomplish this.
Why gray and white foliage plants? Several reasons come quickly to mind. Gray and white foliage makes a garden come alive merely because they are unexpected. They are muted and pale compared to the bright greens of other perennials and annuals and they often lack bright colored flowers, having instead smaller more delicate blossoms, if they have any at all. All these things combined make for great contrast within the garden. The greens are brighter, the flowers showier and the total effect is stunning.
Here is compiled a list of some of the very best gray and white foliage plants for maximum impact in the garden.
Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina)
The leaves of this plant look exactly as they are named, like the ears of a lamb and they feel as soft and cuddly. Many a Botanical garden will have Lamb’s Ear in their Children’s gardens with the expressed order for it to be touched. It is a rather rough and tumble sort of perennial, used as a groundcover. Leaves form low growing rosettes from which grow 1-2 foot high stalks with insignificant pale lavender flowers. Most gardeners simply cut these off entirely preferring the grayish white/whitish gray foliage. It likes well-drained soil and full sun.
Fancy Leaf Caladium
For a true ghostly touch to the flower bed Candidum Jr. is the very best of the Fancy Leaf Caladiums. The foliage is a striking white and the veins are very subtle and a bright, unmistakable green. They pop in the semi-shady garden, but do quite well in full sun, too, just as long as they get ample water and are planted in a well-draining, rich, loam soil. Aaron is a bright white with a half-inch wide, solid green margin. Garden White is a cream color with a pencil thin green margin on the edge of each large heart shaped leaf.
Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia)
A small, multi-stemmed tree or shrub bearing red berries songbirds love to nibble, Russian Olive is a drought tolerant, blustering-wind withstanding and perfectly lovely plant. It has silvery white, greyish green leaves and in spring gets tiny pale yellow flowers with a perfume to knock you silly. Good for the back of a border, a corner of the yard devoted to wildlife, as a hedge or a freestanding specimen.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
At once a wildflower, a medicinal herb and a staple of the cutting garden, Yarrow has greyish- green, fernlike foliage which butterflies love. Flowers are usually white or yellow, but there are pretty pastels, too. Wonderful addition to the wildflower patch and perfect for dried flower arrangements.
Wormwood Artemsia was named for the wormlike root system which spreads at a dramatic pace through the garden if not held strictly in check. Newer cultivars are much easier to maintain in bushy mounds of silvery foliage. It makes a great perennial groundcover on dry, sloping areas and rock or alpine gardens. Silvery gray leaves are delicately divided and have a strong, yet pleasant scent. It is wonderful as filler in fresh or dried flower arrangements.
Hens and chicks (Echeveria elegans)
Ghost Hen and Chicks is a fleshy succulent with tightly packed, gray-white rosettes. Perfect for the dry, rock garden or as a house plant. Not very hardy, only in USDA zones 8-11, but it can burn in hot sun. Yellow flowers are born on 8 inch long stems. The plant looks good as edging, groundcover and cascading over garden walls.
Snow-In-Summer (Cerastium Tomentosum)
The foliage of this low-growing, short lived perennial is a silvery gray and has abundant tiny, half inch wide, white flowers. Works well anywhere as a groundcover, edging, alpine gardens, tucked into crevices in rock walls and even between stepping stones. Full sun and well-drained soil are a must.
Russian Sage (Perovskia)
This shrubby perennial has grayish white, upright growing stems and green gray leaves. The flowers are tiny, lavender blue and bloom in late spring. The total effect is a faint, gray-blue mist in the summer heat. 3-4 feet high at maturity, this plant loves full sun, well-draining soil of any type and is particularly drought and heat tolerant. Great at the back of a perennial border.
There are several Hosta with white stripes or white margins, but the best is Dancing Queen, a ghostly Hosta, perfect to light up the shady garden. This grows about 18 inch tall with a 28 inch spread. Like most Hosta, this will do fine in rich, loam, well-draining soil and full or part shade.
Lavender Cotton (Santolina incana)
A shrubby perennial, Lavender Cotton is little known, but is valuable as a low hedge or edging plant. Grows to 2 feet high with bright yellow flowers, but looks better trimmed to one foot when used for edging flower beds. Leaves are rough textured, yet delicately divided, gray white in color and a bit aromatic when bruised. Drought resistant and cold hardy even in coldest regions where it may die down to the ground but re-emerge come spring.
They may not seem like much on their own, but place these gray-white foliage plants next to brightly colored flowers with lush green leaves and that’s when you can truly appreciate the impact they have in the garden. Any of these silvery-green, gray/white foliage plants once tucked in and around your perennials will give a new spark to your landscape. Give a few of these a try and see what happens.