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Gray and Silver Foliage Lights Up the Landscape Day and Night

First posted on Sep 23, 2014

Gray and Silver Foliage Lights Up the Landscape Day and Night

It isn't easy describing green in the garden. Foliage can span greens so pale they are almost white to blue-greens so deep that they murmur the forest primeval.

Amid this range, you'll find shimmering silver- and gray-leaf species. To locate these types of Salvias and companion plants in the Flowers by the Sea catalog, please visit our Gray and Silver Leaf Plants category in the FBTS online catalog menu.

Gray- and silver-leaf plants are especially prevalent in xeriscapic gardens, which are ones reliant on drought-resistant plants, such as Salvias. Xeric plants are either native to semi-arid settings or adaptable to major downturns in rainfall.

Garden writer Angie Hanna, whose High Plains Gardening website covers the dry Edwards Plateau of Northwest Texas, likes to refer to these species as being "green color-challenged plants."

Leaves with Shimmering Fur Coats
Actually, gray or silver coloring is often due to furry foliage. Many Salvias and companion plants are covered with fine hairs that may be clear or vary in color from one species to another.

As Hanna notes, when viewing the foliage of gray and silver plants up close it's easier to see the green of the leaves. It's the length, density and color of the hairs that create the silver or gray look.

Also, the thicker the hairs, the more velvety the foliage feels. Whereas people wear fur coats to stay warm, many silver and gray plants rely on furry foliage to stay cool and hydrated. Plant hairs reflect solar radiation. This slows evaporation, conserves moisture, decreases the surface temperature of foliage and sometimes makes plants appear to shine.

Moon Gardens at Midnight
Ellyn Pelikan of Northern California's Sonoma County Master Gardener Program describes silver and gray plants as "twinkling lights" whether viewed in contrast to other greens during the day -- such as in a shade garden -- or reflecting moonlight and brightening the nighttime landscape.

When designing a reflective "moon garden" meant to be viewed from dusk until dawn, Pelikan didn't solely rely on plants with white or light-colored flowers. She chose ones with gray and silver foliage, including sages and lavenders.

Diversity and Origins
The shapes and sizes of silver and gray leaves vary from the inch-long ellipses of Cedros Island Sage ( Salvia cedrosensis) to the 4-foot-long, saber-like blades of Salvia apiana, which has leaves so pale that it is commonly called White Sage.

Geographical diversity is characteristic of Salvias. Our gray and silver choices come from islands and inland deserts, from lowlands and high altitudes, and from many regions around the world, such as:

  • Africa's Canary Islands
  • The American Southwest, including parts of Texas
  • California's coastal chaparral
  • The Mediterranean
  • Northern Mexico and
  • The dry steppe and mountain lands of Central Asia.

Gray and Silver Sampler
Here are some of the Salvias included in our Gray and Silver Leaf Plants category.

Vicki Romo White Sage (Salvia apiana 'Vicki Romo') Zones 8 to 11

  • Lavender flowers bloom spring and summer
  • 60 inches tall and wide in bloom
  • White-green, blade-like leaves
  • Full sun
  • Drought and heat tolerant
  • Attracts honeybees and hummingbirds
  • Deer resistant

Caucasus Sage (Salvia canescens var. daghestanica) Zones 5 to 9

  • Royal purple flowers bloom
  • 12 inches tall and wide in bloom
  • Silvery mint-green foliage
  • Full sun
  • Drought and cold tolerant
  • Deer resistant

Cedros Island Sage (Salvia cedrocensis) Zones 9 to 11

  • Blue flowers bloom summer and fall
  • 36 inches tall and wide in bloom
  • Silvery, small, elliptical leaves
  • Full sun
  • Drought tolerant
  • Deer resistant

Marine Blue Sage (Salvia chamaedryoides x 'Marine Blue') Zones 7 to 11

  • Violet-blue flowers bloom summer and fall
  • 24 inches tall in bloom, 36 inches wide
  • Fragrant, wooly leaves with silver tops and pale green undersides
  • Full sun
  • Drought and heat tolerant
  • Deer resistant

Questions Always Welcome
Whether you have questions about adding gray and silver highlights to your flowerbeds or creating an elaborate moon garden, we are glad to share advice. Please call or email us. We'll help you make your landscape shine.

Edited Dec 14, 2020 04:00 PM


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