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African daisy has a bold, graphic look that's hard to find in more common daisies. Flowers are big, up to 4 inches across, often with interesting, eyelike markings around the flower's center.
This cool-season plant hails from South Africa. In areas where summers aren't hot, such as the Northern regions of the U.S. and the Pacific Northwest, it will bloom constantly until frost. In warm-summer areas, it often takes a break during the peak of summer, but reblooms in fall. Many types have silvery-green leaves that remain attractive when the plant isn't in bloom. It's usually grown as an annual but is a perennial in frost-free climates.
Angelonia is also called summer snapdragon, and once you get a good look at it, you'll know why. It has salvia-like flower spires that reach a foot or 2 high, but they're studded with fascinating snapdragon-like flowers with beautiful colorations in purple, white, or pink. It's the perfect plant for adding bright color to hot, sunny spaces. This tough plant blooms all summer long with spirelike spikes of blooms. While all varieties are beautiful, keep an eye out for the sweetly scented selections.
While most gardeners treat angelonia as an annual, it is a tough perennial in Zones 9-10. Or, if you have a bright, sunny spot indoors, you can even keep it flowering all winter.
Grow artemisias for the magnificent silver foliage that complements nearly all other perennials and ties together diverse colors within the garden. They're nothing short of stunning next to white or blue flowers.
They thrive in hot, dry, sunny conditions such as a south-facing slope. A number spread rapidly to the point of being aggressive, so consider limiting yourself to varieties listed below that are well-behaved.
Refined and elegant, blue oatgrass adapts easily and fits equally well in formal or informal gardens. Its mound of grassy gray-blue leaves arches gracefully throughout the season. In fall, panicles of brownish spikelets reach for the sky well above the foliage.
Drenching the air with a fruity scent, butterfly bush's flower spikes are an irresistible lure to butterflies and hummingbirds all summer long. The plants have an arching habit that's appealing especially as a background in informal flower borders. In warmer climates, butterfly bushes soon grow into trees and develop rugged trunks that peel.
To nurture butterfly bush through cold Northern winters, spread mulch up to 6 inches deep around the trunk. Plants will die down, but resprout in late spring. Prune to the ground to encourage new growth and a more fountainlike shape. Avoid fertilizing butterfly bush; extra-fertile soil fosters leafy growth rather than flower spikes. Remove spent flower spikes to encourage new shoots and flower buds.
Note: Butterfly bush can be an invasive pest in some areas; check local restrictions before planting it.
Campion is a study in contrasts. Its flowers are neon-brilliant, in magentas, bright yellows, oranges, reds, and white. And then the foliage is often silvery gray, which sets off the flowers strikingly. The showy flowers are borne singly, in pairs or clusters. The most popular campions have silvery foliage, but the lance-shape leaves can also be dark green.
Campion tends to be short-lived but seeds itself freely, which may be a blessing or a curse. The plant does best in areas with cooler summers.
Few annuals are bolder or make more of a statement than cardoon. It's the essence of exotic. This stately plant can reach 5 feet tall and bears toothed, thistlelike silvery leaves. The blooms, which look like silvery-violet artichokes, take a backseat to the plant's impressive foliage display.
Start indoors from seed or start from seed directly in the ground after all danger of frost is passed. Keep amply watered but do not overwater. Though it's perennial in Zones 7-9, it's usually grown as an annual. Cardoon reseeds freely.
Catmint is one of the toughest perennials you can grow. It's a proven performer during hot, dry weather, and the silvery foliage and blue flowers look great most of the season. Deadhead or cut back hard after first flush of bloom to encourage more flowers. Average, well-drained soil is usually sufficient. Tall types may need gentle staking; it sometimes seeds freely.
As you might guess from the common name, catmint is a favorite of cats. They'll often roll around in the plants in delight.
Chinese evergreen is an excellent foliage plant for low to medium light. Its lance-shape leaves are usually variegated with silver, gray, or shades of green. Keep the soil evenly moist and the air temperature above 60 degrees F to avoid chilling injury. The plant's sap contains an irritant, so keep the plants out of reach of children and pets.
Exciting new selections with incredible foliage patterns have put coralbells on the map. Previously enjoyed mainly for their spires of dainty reddish flowers, coralbells are now grown as much for the unusual mottling and veining of different-color leaves. The low clumps of long-stemmed evergreen or semi-evergreen lobed foliage make coralbells fine groundcover plants. They enjoy humus-rich, moisture-retaining soil. Beware of heaving in areas with very cold winters.
Cotoneasters are some of the most versatile shrubs in the garden -- you can choose from compact, upright shrubs to groundcovers to big plants ideal for hedges. Most deliver bountiful red berries in autumn that persist into the winter. These fruits deliver cheer in a winter-drab landscape and attract birds for more winter interest.
Most cotoneasters do best in full sun and moist, well-drained soil. Some tolerate drought well; others do fine even in shade.
Free-blooming deadnettles enliven difficult places in sun or shade. From spring on, whorls of brightly colored two-lip flowers bloom abundantly on square stems. The triangular green leaves are splashed with silver, or they are silver-rimmed or veined with emerald. Deadnettles have unfairly gotten a bad name for being invasive and somewhat weedy, but they are easy to corral and should be cut back and deadheaded regularly. They're fine in partly shaded and shaded places where soil is well-drained but retains moisture.
This striking new trailing annual gives you a fresh, new way to work in elegant silver foliage into your container and other plantings. Perfect in a hanging basket, window box, or other container, this plant can trail up to 6 feet with showy, soft foliage like no other. Native to areas of the Southwest, it's also very heat- and drought-tolerant so you can count on it to look good all season long, even if it wilts a few times.
It's a perennial in the very warmest parts of the U.S. but is treated like an annual elsewhere. It needs well-drained soil (another reason it's great for containers), so be careful to avoid wet spots if you're planting it directly in the ground.
Germander is a semishrubby plant grown for its attractive, fragrant foliage and flowers, which might be pink, white, lavender, or blue depending on species. Most cultivated germanders are Mediterranean natives, so they prefer dry soil conditions and full sun, although they tolerate part sun. Plants might be sheared to make a low hedge or shaped for use in knot gardens.
Blooming in winter and early spring when many other plants are taking a much-deserved break from the bloom scene, heathers are a welcome addition to beds and borders. Many varieties bloom in summer and autumn. Also commonly called heath, hundreds of different varieties of this evergreen shrub exist. Some sport dark green needlelike leaves, while others are cloaked with tiny silver, chartreuse, or blue-green leaves. Many popular cultivars are low-growing, standing 8-12 inches tall. They form a matlike carpet of fine-needle foliage that is decorated with white or pink bell-shape flowers for months at a time. Plant heather among medium to large shrubs, and it will serve as a pretty and effective groundcover by suppressing weeds. It also thrives in rock gardens.
Heather grows best in full sun or part shade and quick-draining soil. It will not tolerate clay or slow-draining soil.
Horehound is a hardy member of the mint family. It has fuzzy gray-green foliage and small white flowers. Like mint, this plant can become invasive. Horehound is not fussy about growing conditions but prefers full sun and good drainage. Neither deer nor rabbits eat horehound unless they are extremely hungry. Plant the herb to deter these pests if they are a problem in your neighborhood. Horehound has traditionally been used as a cough suppressant or to make candy.
One of the most elegant ferns available for your garden, Japanese painted ferns are washed with gorgeous silver and burgundy markings. Lady fern is equally elegant though not quite as showy. Either will add interest and texture to your shady spots. Closely related to each other, Japanese painted fern and lady fern are sometimes crossed with each other to create attractive hybrids.
Unlike most ferns, these toughies will tolerate dry soil. And they will tolerate some sun if they have ample water.
Lamb's-ears is a top pick for a groundcover in a hot, baked spot. Its silver felted foliage quickly forms a dense, delightful mat. It also contrasts nicely with other foliage and most flowers. enhances almost everything. Depending on the type and your growing conditions, it may self-sow freely to the point of becoming a bother. In hot humid climates, lamb's ears may "melt down" in summer, becoming brown and limp.
A quite different but related plant, big betony is worth growing for its shade tolerance, dark green crumpled leaves, and bright purple spikes of whorled 1-inch flowers in late spring. Wood betony is similar but not as shade-tolerant.
Lavender fills the early-summer garden with sensory delights: beautiful purple-tone blooms atop foliage that oozes fragrance on a sunny afternoon. Every part of the plant is infused with aromatic oil, making this a choice herb to place along pathways or near outdoor seating areas so you can savor the fragrance. Lavender varieties abound: The darker the flower, the more intense the aroma -- and the flavor in cooking.
Drought-, heat-, and wind-tolerant, lavender doesn't like poor drainage, waterlogged soil, or high humidity. Raised beds can enhance drainage; surrounding plants with a gravel mulch can help increase heat around roots. After flowering, shear plants to induce bushiness and subsequent bloom. Avoid cutting plants back to the ground. Dried blooms retain fragrance for a long time; crush dried flowers to release aromatic oils anew.
The hero of any hot, dry garden, lavender cotton is grown mainly for its wonderful aromatic green or silver foliage with its little yellow flowers almost an afterthought. It's also widely used in knot gardens for a contrasting foliage. That's because these low shrubby perennials accept regular shearing with aplomb and have been used as low hedge plants for centuries. The distinctive foliage blends well in beds and borders, and in herb gardens. Scarcely decorative, the yellow blob-like flowerheads can be removed to retain the neatness of the plants. They are best in warm regions where humidity is low. High humidity causes lavender cotton to "melt down."