Brightening up a shady spot may seem a difficult task. Perennials and shrubs bearing white flowers, such as hydrangeas, azaleas, rhododendrons and pieris, stand out for a few weeks, but leave you in the dark the rest of the time.
Foliage, however, sticks around. And though silver, gray or white foliage or green foliage marked with those colors is more subtle than the blooms of a hydrangea or rhododendron, they serve the purpose longer.
Some good choices are out there and easy to grow well in flower beds or as edging in front of shrubs. The key is to have this goal in mind as you contemplate planting in late summer and autumn. Three I like for their reliability and good-looking foliage are:
Japanese painted fern. The foliage is mostly silvery-gray with a purplish-red midrib. Use it as a single specimen planted between darker, solid green hardy ferns or hostas. Or use this fern, which grows 8 to 12 inches tall, as a groundcover. Like most ferns, it requires regular watering in dry weather.
Lamb’s ears. This is hardy in the Piedmont, and best used as an edging plant in part shade. There its soft, slightly fuzzy foliage is easy to reach, especially by children, for whom it always seems to be a favorite.
The silver foliage takes a rosette shape with layers arranged in a sort of circular or oval pattern. The appearance of the mounds, 1 to 1 1/2 feet tall, is OK in the winter, but new foliage in spring is lovely and very long-lasting through the year. Extremely wet summer weather can cause foliage to deteriorate rapidly because moisture collects in the fuzzy leaves. Cut it off and await Avoid siting where plants are reached by automatic irrigation systems.
Dusty miller. One of the best choices for an evening garden in part shade or even full sun, dusty miller and its named varieties, such as Silver Dust, Silver Queen and White Diamond, bring very light and bright silver or white foliage to the landscape. The shorter varieties look best as an edger arranged in zigzag fashion rather than lined up straight like soldiers on parade. The named varieties tend to reach about 12 inches. But some are taller, so check labels before you buy. Like lamb’s ears, the foliage is useful in arrangements of summer flowers where the light, bright color enhances reds, yellows and purples typically found in flower gardens. Dusty miller also benefits from a drier location away from automatic irrigation.