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(MCT)—In a gardening world dominated by a sea of green, well-placed pockets of plants with silver and gray foliage can be striking. Whether you are looking for perennials, herbs or even shrubs there is a choice gray-leafed plant that will show out if you give it a chance.

While most of us grow these plants for their contrasting foliage, some do give showy blooms. In my area of the country the first that comes to mind is the Cenizo or purple sage. Known botanically as Leucophyllum frutescens, it finds itself in the same family as snapdragons of all things. But instead of spiky flowers it’s a large gray leafed shrub that blooms after rains hence another common name, Texas barometer bush.

There is nothing that quite compares to an 8-foot shrub loaded with hundreds of violet flowers. They are more cold-hardy than many realize able to tolerate temperatures down to 5 degrees. As with almost all gray leafed plants they must have good soil drainage.

Though the gray foliage stands out in dramatic fashion next to green leafed plants you can also create some incredible displays with their violet blossoms. One extraordinary combination I saw this summer played the violet against the boldly yellow colored blossoms of the esperanza. This is a partnership more need to try.

In the perennial garden the most popular group of gray plants are artemesias. Though herbs, they are definitely at home in the perennial garden. If you are trying artemesia in the perennial garden, choose plants that can tolerate the dryness that artemesia prefer. The trailing purple lantana montivedensis is a good choice. In the herb garden, santolina, thyme, oregano and rosemary are nice companions.

I have seen some very nice beds where tall artemesia are grown with pink-flowered shrub roses like The Fairy, a polyantha, and as a lower level plant in front of Pink Simplicity.

For the best success at growing artemesia, choose a site in full sun to partial shade. They are tolerant of poor soils but good drainage is an absolute must. If drainage is less than perfect, incorporate 3 to 4 inches of organic matter to help loosen the soil and provide aeration. While you are preparing the bed, apply one pound of a slow release 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed space. Set nursery grown transplants out at the same depth they were growing in the container.

Artemesia fertilizer requirements are low. Prune to shape and watch for unwanted spreading. They may need to be dug and divided every three or four years. The aromatic foliage can be harvested in early morning and used in a number of ways from repelling moths in the closet to making potpourris, sachets and wreathes.

For the landscape, the hybrid Powis Castle is known for its endurance in heat and humidity. Silver King has striking lacy foliage making it ideal for arrangements. Another variety of the same species, Silver Queen, is not as large but has finer cut foliage and is breathtakingly beautiful.

Catmints are another group of gray to gray-green much-overlooked plants. The catmints much loved by neighborhood felines produce flowers as pretty as salvias along with their delightful foliage. If you’ve got more gray on your head than in the garden, you are definitely a candidate for some of these terrific plants.

© 2011, Norman Winter.

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