Going for gold is certainly the aim of athletes competing at the 2016 Rio Olympics but in the garden silver is what wins big. Especially during periods when the weather is dry.
Truthfully, who thinks about leaf colour in relation to how a plant handles weather conditions? Most of us usually focus on flower colour, leaf structure, height, and spread. Those who have metered water may be more concerned whether the plant likes frequent watering, or if it will survive on a weekly ration of a mere cup or two.
So, when the weather is dry for weeks on end, performance really does come through with silver-coloured leaves. The metallic tone is excellent for reflecting the sun’s rays which helps the plant retain moisture. And the more silver a plant has in its leaves, the better it can withstand the heat.
Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ is a good example of pure silver leaves. Dusty miller is another fine one. And both are at the top of the podium for their performances on the merest amount of moisture.
But there are other plants with added features which can come from behind and overtake those top performers. Plants such as lamb’s ears, Stachys byzantina, with their furry texture on silvery leaves. The soft fur is a magnet for collecting dew and rain, hanging onto it, allowing the plant an extended spurt of moisture.
The biennial, Salvia argentea, is another good podium candidate with its furry, silvery leaves. But watch this one – it may lose marks to slug predation.
Bottom line, the more silver the leaves, the more reflection. However, too much of one colour can be a little overpowering. Enter the underdogs. Plants with grey-green leaves, another good colour for reflecting the sun’s rays. The almighty artichoke is a good example in this category.
Other candidates are purple-leaved heucheras with silver overtones, like ‘Silver Scrolls’ and ‘Pewter Veil.’
These would add a delightful presence in the garden line-up, mixed in with the pure silver species. And do not discount green leaves with silver, such as some of the brunneras.
It does take all manner of special characteristics to make the podium. But remember, silver can still be a top performer over gold in the garden.