Silver plants worth their weight in gold

Departments - Hort Truths

Highlight silver foliage on the marketing front to take advantage of exciting new plant offerings.

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February 5, 2018
Leslie F. Halleck
Calocephalus 'Bed Head'
Photo courtesy of Benary

2017 was a good year for gold, but in 2018 I’m betting on silver. Silver plants, that is. Every year as I peruse the new plant offerings at industry shows, there’s usually one strong plant characteristic that jumps out at me as an oncoming trend. Silver foliage turned my head at every show I attended this past year. We have an opportunity to highlight silver foliage on the marketing front to take advantage of some exciting new plant offerings for 2018.

Senecio candicans Angel Wings was of course the darling of many a trade show in 2017. Personally, I got a serious case of the vapors when I first encountered it and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. I like the height and body on this beauty, and the soft oversized leaves are just what you need for adding foliage contrast in the garden and in containers.

Senecio candicans Crushed Velvet also provides a lush silver mound of foliage, growing a bit wider at the top than Angel Wings, creating a vase-shaped plant. So soft and fuzzy you just want to hug it.

Now, these Senecios will most certainly perform very differently in different parts of the country. Down here in Texas, otherwise known as the sixth circle of plant hell, they may struggle a bit with our heavy soils, heat, flooding and humidity, but can probably handle the dry spells, intense sun and reflected heat; so there’s good potential. Both dusty miller and silver centaurea can be successfully grown in my area as sometimes short-lived perennials, seasonal annuals, and container plants, with the occasional crash and burn. Both varieties, however, look to make for a good bright-light house and balcony plant, so I think they should also be targeted to indoor gardeners and marketed as houseplants (easy on the watering).

Calocephalus was another head-turner for me at last year’s shows. Calocephalus Bed Head has wild and wiry silver foliage that looks like barbed wire but is soft to the touch. Plants appear well-suited to containers and landscape planting and will certainly catch your customer’s eye.

With rock gardening — we’ll update our lingo and call it crevasse gardening — making a modern comeback, I feel like Edelweiss is another silver plant that can see a boost in sales. The 2017 introduction of Leontopodium alpinum Edelweiss Blossom of Snow (Berghman) in North America grabbed my interest. Even though I can’t grow this alpine species in my area of Texas, my German upbringing makes me wish I could (OK, another houseplant?). Blossom of Snow sports large white and silver star-shaped flowers atop its silver-green foliage. This cliff-hugger is perfect for your new rock or crevasse garden or tufa rock garden containers. The blooms are extra tall, so go ahead and try them as a cut flower as well.

With all the buzz about these new silver selections, you should take a moment to highlight other silver-foliage plants in your product assortment that you can also offer your retailers and promote to consumers. Here are a few striking silver varieties I’d love to see in heavier circulation:

Senecio candicans Angel Wings
Photo courtesy of Emerald Coast Growers

Centaurea Silver Feather is a tough silver-foliage mounded perennial-for-some, short-lived perennial or annual for others, that’s really stunning in the landscape. I get a good three years on my plants, then they crash and burn. Then, I plant more because I need the silver foliage in the size and shape provided by Centaurea, without the aggressive spread of larger artemisia. Centaurea is also a great annual accent or container plant. A perennial that spurs repeat purchases is a good thing.

Dusty miller Silver Lace sports feathery, bright silver leaves that provide an upgrade from the standard dusty miller look. The fine lacey foliage creates intense contrast with dark-foliage plants. Excellent for the landscape and containers.

Cardoons never fail to generate “ooohs” and “ahhs” from just about everyone who encounters one in a landscape. Their silver foliage is architectural, and their size dominates. The downside? They present as puny specimens in pots. Make sure you have photo tags on these plants, so customers are inspired by the real end result.

If you haven’t already heard, Pantone’s color of the year for 2018 is Ultra Violet — a lush violet purple. This is a color that happens to pair perfectly with silver, so I see some on-trend color-matching combo opportunities here. There are many lavender varieties, of course, that already combine these two on-trend colors in one plants. Lavender Imperial Gem comes to mind as one with intense silver foliage and perfectly ultra-violet colored blooms.

2017 was an intense year for most of us. I like the soothing visual vibe of these silver selections offer, and I predict they’ll resonate in 2018 with retail customers and landscape designers as much as they have with me.