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SOCAL STYLE / Gardens

Silver Leaf

Brightening the View With Plants of Another Color

May 09, 1999|SUSAN HEEGER

Your eye moves right to it--the glimmer of silver in an otherwise green garden. A secret weapon against dullness, silver leaves send ripples through a plant border. They may be sword-shaped or finely cut, their textures rough, smooth or even furry, their tones ranging from frosty white to almost blue. If paired carefully with greens, they can add more panache than flowers and keep their drama throughout the year. They can also be a foil for blooms: Picture purple irises amid a dazzling wash of helichrysum.

Botanically, silver leaves are often an adaptation to dry, hot conditions. Study them closely and you're apt to see a green surface coated with wax, scales or fine hairs, which, as they lock in moisture, ward off sun and wind and, in some cases, repel insects or animals, and make the plant appear silver from a distance. Equipped with such sensible armor, most silver plants thrive in arid, exposed spots. In fact, if they don't get enough sun, they will sometimes lose their silvery cast and revert to green. Otherwise undemanding, they favor well-drained alkaline soil and need only periodic pruning. Popular succulent silvers include echeverias and agaves, which tend to pair nicely with more feathery types such as centaureas and artemisias. Equally striking are the large, bold accents of strappy astelias, furry verbascums and spiky artichokes.

One cautionary note: While weaving silver threads among greens can be inspired, too much silver can fall flat. As with most artful compositions, the mix is everything.

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