Silver-leaved Plants: Foils for your garden.

In fiction, a foil is a character that enhances the distinctive characteristics of another character. In the garden, as in fiction, a foil is a plant that contrasts with another plant in order to highlight particular qualities of the other. ’I am resolved my husband shall not be a rival, but a foil to me’ (Charlotte Brontë).

Think of the foil wrappings around Easter flowers and then use Artemisia, Eryngium planum (Sea Holly) and Stachys (Lamb’s Ears) to accent yellows and blues in your garden. Flowering grey leaved perennials and shrubs give the garden a two for one shot of color. Nepetas (Catmints) flower early then provide a soft grey-green mound around the feet of taller, later flowering plants like Aster Purple Mound and Sedum Autumn Joy. Caryopteris ‘Longwood Blue’ spices up the garden with its silvery and pungent leaves all summer, then bursts into flower just when needed, in late summer.

Not only do silver and grey leaved plants set off the colors and textures of other plants but they are tough, often drought and deer resistant plants that will not be foiled by varmint or weather. Lavender, not a perennial, but rather a semi evergreen shrub, can be set along a walk to flower in summer then sheared to a fragrant hedge. Like lavender, most grey leaved plants resent poorly drained soils and excessive irrigation. They are perfect for sunny, dry, less than perfect locations. Deer find the often fuzzy or waxy foliage repulsive.

Here are some of my favorite deer resistant, drought tolerant foils:

Annuals for gardens and containers

Centaurea cineraria (Dusty Miller)

Lotus berthelotti (great in pots)

Helichrysum petiolare (Licorice Plant)

Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage)


Achillea millefolium (Yarrow)

Artemisia sp.

Dianthus 'Pomegranate Kiss', Neon Star, and Fire Star 'Fire Witch' to name a few

Eryngium planum (Sea Holly) - requires staking but worth it

Euphorbia myrsinites (can take light shade)

Lychnis coronaria (Rose Campion)

Nepeta sp. (Catmint)

Perovskia sp. (Russian Sage)

Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s Ears)


Buddleia davidii 'Silver Frost', ‘Lochinch’ and all of the ‘Nanho’ series (Butterfly Bush)

Caryopteris x clandonensis (Bluebeard)

Lavandula (Lavender) Grosso, Hidcote, Provence to name a few

Shade tolerant, need a bit more moisture

Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’ (Japanese Painted Fern)

Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’

Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy’, ‘Beacon Silver’, Orchid Frost’, ‘Purple Dragon’

Pulmonaria longifolia var. cevennensis and ‘Bertram Anderson’






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