Six on Saturday: Silver Highlights

Japanese painted fern A. ‘Metallicum’ grows with silvery Rex Begonias.

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Silvery leaves bring a cool sparkle and shine to summer pots, baskets and borders.  Gazing at them makes me feel a little cooler and more relaxed on sultry summer days.

Whether you prefer silver highlights, or shimmery silvery leaves, there are many interesting plants from which to choose which perform well in our climate.

Some silver leaved plants are herbs, with fragrant foliage rich in essential oils.  Grow Artemesia to repel pests, curry and sage for cooking, lavender for its delicious scent.  Some cultivars of thyme also have silvery leaves.

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Siberian Iris bloom here with Artemesia and Comphrey, both perennial herbs.

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Silver and grey leaved plants have an advantage because many of them prove extremely drought tolerant and most are perennials.  Perovskia atriplicifolia, Russian sage, isn’t a Salvia, but is a closely related member of the mint family.  An Asian native, it blooms in late summer and fall with light blue flowers.

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Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ grows as both a ground cover and a beautiful ‘spiller’ in pots and baskets.  Drought tolerant, it grows in full to part sun.

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Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’ may be grown as a ground cover or as an elegant vine draping a pot or hanging basket.  Winter hardy only to Zone 10 and south, we grow it as an annual here in Virginia.  It continues growing, like a living beaded curtain, until killed off by frost.

When I first saw it growing from hanging baskets in Gloucester Courthouse, some years ago, my first impression was of Spanish moss.  A closer inspection revealed a well grown planting of Dichondra.

Dichondra proves drought tolerant and I’ve never seen any difficulties with insect nibbling or disease.  Buy a nursery pot in spring, and then divide the clump to spread it around.  Dichondra also roots easily at each leaf node.

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Another perennial usually grown as an annual in our area, dusty miller, Senecio cineraria, works wonderfully as a ‘filler’ in potted arrangements.  It sometimes returns after a mild winter, but with much less vigor.  Several different cultivars of different sizes and leaf shapes fill our garden centers each spring.  Another drought tolerant plant, depend on dusty miller to make it through an entire season without any damage from deer, rabbits, or hungry insects.  Drought tolerant, many cultivars have textured leaves.

Similar in appearance, but hardy in Zones 4-8, Stachys byzantina, lamb’s ears, is another elegant perennial for bedding.  The fuzzy, textured leaves makes this Middle Eastern native perfect for children’s or sensory gardens.  Stachys shimmers in the moonlight and looks coolly elegant in full sun.  Drought tolerant, it sometimes collapses in a mushy mess when the weather grows too wet and humid.  I am beginning to wonder if our summers have grown too hot for it to thrive here.  It does return from its roots, eventually, if the plant dies back in summer

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Lamb’s Ears, Stachys Byzantium is grown more for its velvety gray leaves than for its flowers. In fact, many gardeners remove the flower stalks before they can bloom. Bees love it, so I leave them.

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There are several attractive silvery cultivars of Japanese painted ferns, including A. ‘Ghost’ and A. ‘ Metallicum.’  I like these in pots and borders.  Deciduous, they die back in autumn but return stronger and larger each spring.

And finally, many varieties of Begonias have silver leaves, or silver markings on their leaves.   Find silver spotted leaves on many cane Begonias and shiny silver leaves on some Rex Begonias.  The variations seem endless.  I use these primarily in pots or baskets, where they can be enjoyed up close.

I particularly enjoy silver foliage mixed with white, blue or purple flowers.  Others may prefer silver foliage with pink flowers.  Mix in a few white leaved Caladiums as a dependable combo for a moon garden or to perk one up on a hot and humid summer day.

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Silver foliage is drought tolerant and is often fragrant with essential oils. In the Iris border at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden, Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’ and Artemesia ‘Silver Mound’ grow with lavender, Salvias and Iris.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator.

 

 

 

 

A Cool Fern for Shady Spots: Athyrium niponicum var. pictum ‘Metallicum’

Anthyrium niponicum var. pictum ‘Metallicum’

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There’s a new Japanese painted fern available to light up a dark corner in your garden.  I read about it this spring, and was very pleased to find it at a local nursery.

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Metallicum’ in a mixed planting with Caladiums. This photo was taken just after planting.  I expect everything will fill in for a lush effect by later in the season.

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Athyrium niponicum var. pictum ‘Metallicum’ sports a pale green frond with silver highlights.  It is bi-pinnate, with the center of each pinnule light and silvery, fading to a more medium green along its edges.  Like many related cultivars, ‘Metallicum’ has a beautiful red rib down the middle of each deeply divided frond.  New fronds emerge in a rosette, and several of these small clumps may fill a pot.

Each clump will eventually grow to around 18″ tall, growing a bit wider and fuller each year.   Expect this fern to die back after frost, to return larger and stronger in mid-spring.

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‘Metallicum’ with Caladium.  Both are very small divisions yet, nowhere near their mature size.

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Hardy in zones 4-9, this very hardy fern may be left in a pot through the winter in our Zone 7 garden, with high confidence that it will return in spring.  It will benefit from shade and shelter on our sweltering summer afternoons.

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Athyrium niponicum var. pictum in a mixed planting

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Japanese painted ferns, Athyrium niponicum var. pictum,  are very hardy, deciduous perennials that clump and spread.   They can be grown in rich moist soil in a garden bed, below shrubs, or in pots and baskets.

They make a nice ground cover under small trees, and I especially like them under a Japanese Maple.  Grow them in deep shade if you need to, but they will take partial sun.  Native to Asia, they will hybridize with other lady fern species.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea shares a pot with Japanese painted fern. Vinca and Mayapples carpet the ground under Camellia shrubs and deciduous trees.

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In fact, a very similar fern is the hybrid Athyrium ‘Ghost,’ which is a cross between our North American native  Athyrium felix-femina and Athyrium niponicum var. pictumA. ‘Ghost‘ can grow to 30″ after it is established and is hardy in Zones 4-8b.  Lady ferns tend to spread over time, and so this will form an expanding clump in moist soil in partial shade.  Easy to grow, the main rule is to never let the roots dry out completely.

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This is ‘Ghost’ in its second year in this bed, growing with Ajuga, Lamium and an autumn fern.

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I like the pale silvery glow of A. ‘Ghost,’ and have planted several of them over the years.  I always look for this particular fern at end of season clearance sales, and was very happy to find two in a flat of mixed potted ferns at our friends’ Homestead Garden Center a few weeks ago.  They sat in my holding area for the better part of two weeks, which accounts for the slight browning on some of the fronds.  Nursery pots generally need daily watering, especially with ferns.

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Here I am dividing a new acquisition of ‘Ghost’ into two parts before planting the smaller division into this hypertufa pot.  Notice the stems of each frond are a lovely burgundy, which contrasts so well with the fronds.

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Now that I’m able to plant them out, I am dividing the clumps growing in each nursery pot and spreading them about in larger pots with mixed plantings.  As each clump grows, I’ll eventually re-pot it or plant it out in the garden.

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This newly divided little Athyrium ‘Ghost’ is ready to grow in an old, hypertufa pot with a division of Dichondra ‘Silver Falls.’

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The entire collection of Japanese painted fern cultivars, native to Asia, perform extremely well in our garden.  I have collected a variety of them over the years.  They differ a little in color and size.  They vary from perhaps 12″ tall to about 36″ tall.  Some have more burgundy coloration; there is one I’ve not grown, A. ‘Lemon Cream,’ that is almost a creamy yellow.  The color of each frond shifts and changes as it ages, but all have a slightly silvery sheen.

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Athyrium niponicum ‘Branford Beauty’

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I was very excited to find Athyrium naponicum var. pictum ‘Godzilla’ at a shop last summer.  As you might guess from its name, this is a large cultivar that  introduced by Plant Delights Nursery about 10 years ago.  Their catalog claims it spread into a clump 36″ tall and nearly 7′ wide.  I can only wonder how long growth of this vigor takes; it hasn’t yet happened in our garden.

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The difference in coloration and form between ‘Ghost’ on the right and ‘Metallicum’ on the left is subtle, but noticeable.  “Ghost’ will grow a bit taller (2′) than will ‘Metallicum’ (12″-18”).

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The most interesting differences among the various Japanese pained ferns come in how their fronds are shaped and further divided.  Some have forked tips to their fronds, and the axis of each frond may twist and curl.  Some cultivars spread a little more aggressively than others, but all of them send up new clumps from their rhizomes and will continue to multiply and renew themselves as the years go by.

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Athyrium niponicum “Apple Court”

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Not only do the painted ferns grow well for us, but they can grow and prosper without getting grazed by rabbits and deer.  Ferns are generally safe from grazing, though I miss a frond of other varieties from time to time when deer have gotten into our garden.  But not from our Japanese painted fern cultivars.  They just keep growing and getting better throughout the season and better from year to year.  It may take a year or two for them to begin to bulk up and establish, but once they do, they are very persistent.

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I am looking forward to growing ‘Metallicum’ and seeing how it performs compared to our other varieties.  I am in a bit of a gardening lull at the moment as I wait for a recently discovered case of Lyme’s disease to clear up.  It took a few weeks from bite to rash before I realized that the slow to heal bite was causing my health concerns, and slowing down my progress on the usual early summer gardening tasks.  Our early and intense summer heat played their part too.

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I appreciate the doc who prescribed aggressively for me and expect to be back up to speed sometime soon.   But until then, I find myself giving plants away, or simply planting them into larger pots, until I can return to normal gardening.  I’m sure these hardy ferns will soon be growing in glowing good health and give a long season of enjoyment.

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Japanese painted ferns are a good choice for gardeners who want to enjoy their plants year after year without having to fuss with them.  Mulch them, water them, and let them grow…. 

I am sure that this newest cultivar in the collection, ‘Metallicum,’ will prove a beautiful highlight in our forest garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Here is another division of ‘Metallicum,’ ready to grow on in the shade of the larger autumn fern.

 

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