We often think of the colour grey as more mature or even at best dignified and restrained. That is, when it is on the head or perhaps as a beard.
Put it in the garden and the results can be striking. I actually feel quite sorry for those that come into the nursery and state from the start ‘I don’t want anything grey’. Various shades of gray adds another dimension to almost any garden and can be designed to look old or very ‘modern’ or minimalistic. As a back drop for bright colours nothing works better. Individual plants with silver gray leaves and really bright flowers are highly sort after.
Groups of gray plants will emphasise the effect even more. Drifts of like plants can look natural and flowers are almost an unnecessary addition.
Atriplex nummularia old man salt bush as a back drop in any large garden will act as a blank canvas to anything in front of it. It is also a good plant in fire risk areas as it is slow to burn. Acacia iteaphylla also makes a great soft gray green back drop with the bonus of bright yellow autumn winter wattle flowers.
Smaller plants include many Eremophila species that are gray and range from the bright silver gray of Eremophila nivea with its eye catching soft lilac coloured flowers to quite the mute grey greens of our local Eremophila glabra ‘orange’. Grevillea lavandulacea forms are mostly grey and all have vivid red to pink spider flowers in winter spring.
A few stand outs would have to be Grevillea ‘Seaspray’. A massed display of red flowers like little lanterns over a long period in winter and spring on a back drop of soft grey foliage on a plant that is rarely much more than 50cm high and 1.5m across.
For a grassy effect Lomandra Seascape with a very narrow blade and Dianella Cassa Blue with a broad blade both have blue grey leaves and look great as borders or massed.
For steeply sloping sites Rhagodia spinesens with plain grey leaves has few rivals at keeping soil together as this ground cover will self layer (or roots) as it grows. It can get out of hand in smaller areas but what it does, it does well. As a mature plant it even tolerates being ‘romped on’ by children!
The small Eucalyptus gillii Arkaroola mallee and Eucalyptus kruseana book leaf mallee with their interestingly shaped blue grey foliage looks good in the garden or in a vase as a cut as backing material. Of course we have our own Murray Valley mallee Eucalyptus cyanophylla with typical gum leaves but in blue grey that reflect light brilliantly on a damp night.
The holy grail of silver leaved Australian plants in my mind would have to be Eremophila macdonnellii ‘Simpson Desert Form’. This plant grows to 50cm high and spreads to about 1m forming a low dome and against its quite grey leaves it has the most exquisite velvety purple tubular flowers.
So get with it and get grey!
This article first published in the Riverland Weekly © July 21, 2011.