How to Create A Dramatic Border of Silver-Tone Plants
Ohio designer Nick McCullough's jaw dropped as he entered the Silver Garden at the conservatory of the legendary Longwood Gardens near Philadelphia. Sculptural silver agaves and blankets of gray succulents set his design wheels in motion. He turned to his wife Allison and asked "Couldn't we translate this silver garden outdoors?"
While Allison is typically all in for Nick's garden change-ups at their modern farmhouse, she hesitated this time as he wanted to take over her beloved hydrangea border outside the back door. Graciously, she agreed to relocating them, and Nick converted the showcase space into a stunning silver border that even Allison loves.
"It's a great backdrop to show off the texture of these silver plants in big masses!" says Nick.
"Throughout the day, we pass by and stop to take in the details," he adds. "In the morning, the dew glistens on the fuzzy senicio leaves. And in the evening, the dusty miller really lights up under a full moon. Plus, our kids can't stop touching the bunny-soft spurflower leaves."
Related: An Ohio Landscape Designer Transformed His Yard into an English Garden with a Midwest Twist
To create the border, Nick first assembled an all-silver palette of plants in varying shapes, sizes and textures. He explains silver plants have many adaptations to handle harsh environments like drying winds, searing temperatures and intense light.
"The space gets lots of morning sun and plenty of reflective heat from the black wall," says Nick.
Fortunately, the plants' silver coloring reflects heat. Others have adapted fuzzy leaves with tiny hairs that collect moisture from the air. And, several succulents are covered in a waxy coating to conserve water.
Nick started with flats of Midwestern throwbacks like lacey dusty miller and billowy 'Silver Mound' Artemesia.
"Some of these annuals have been around forever," says McCullough. "I even remember my grandmother growing dusty miller."
He also added silvery succulents that thrive in Ohio's hot summers. Try the rosette-like 'Topsy Turvy' Echeveria runyonii with a blue-gray waxy coating.
At the back of the border, he planted shrub-like silver spurflower (Plectranthus argentatus) with its fuzzy gray-green foliage. For vertical accents, he added the popular houseplant Sanseveria with its striking silvery patterns. Blue chalksticks (Senicio serpens) in powdery blue were used as another, smaller vertical accent.
'Angel Wings' Senecio candicans offers plenty of drama with its velvety soft texture, especially planted alongside leatherpetal (Graptopetalum paraguayense; front right) with its contrasting smaller, pale-green foliage. And licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare; far right) adds another subtle dimension in blue green. For a sculpturesque focal point, Nick added century plant (Agave americana) in a metal urn.
Nick advises to start in May with small plants and arrange them in triangular patterns. Through the summer, watch these fast-growing plants take off and fill in the space. Avoid fertilizer, or the plants will flop. And remember to water twice a week with a hose. For more details, see Nick's Summer Silver Garden blog post.
Besides a border, Nick says the silver plant palette can easily translate to containers.
"Color isn't everything and often the absence of color draws us in to notice the details," says Nick. He says the border makes him smile daily as he passes coming and going from work.
"Isn't that what gardening should be?" he says.