Silver and grey foliage is very adaptable in the garden and it has a charming character – see our plantsman's selection of award winning silvery perennials
Silvers and greys make other colours shine, and they bring all manner of colour combinations to life. These perennials are all also attractive plants in their own right, representing an interesting range of shades of foliage colours from white, into silver and grey and to steely grey-blue.
All of the plants below have been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM). Numbers at the end of each entry refer to RHS hardiness ratings.
Artemisia ludoviciana ‘Valerie Finnis’ is one of the brightest in silver of all perennials thanks to its foliage. This sun-lover enjoys well-drained soil and has upright stems with silver leaves, veined in white. Cut back by half as the flower buds develop – this keeps the leaf colour at its peak and prevents flopping. Selection 'Valerie Finnis' soon regrows. 60cm (2ft). H7.
Athyrium niponicum var. pictum ‘Silver Falls’ is a relatively new variety of the Japanese painted fern. Lovely for lighting up shade, the red-veined fronds have a rare, bright silver colour which intensifies as the fronds mature. Its arching, cascading habit led it to be named in homage to a famous Oregon waterfall. 30cm (1ft). H6.
Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ is a real breakthrough in the development of hardy perennials. The bold, heart -shaped leaves, instead of being the usual green with a few silver spots, are brilliantly silvered with the network of green veins only highlighting the effect. Making a bright, clump-forming specimen or ground cover for shady beds or containers, there are also clouds of small blue forget-me-not flowers in spring. 38cm (15in). H6.
Centaurea cineraria subsp. cineraria (dusty miller) is a classy alternative to Senecio ‘Silver Dust’ with foliage that is brighter silver, more finely dissected and makes a more attractive mound of overlapping arching leaves. It also has purple summer flowers, but these are best removed. It's hardy in mild winters and enjoys well-drained soil, but is best treated as an annual and planted afresh each year. 45cm (18in). H3.
Cynara cardunculus (cardoon) is one of the most dramatic of all silver-leafed perennials. First, its foliage erupts in a mass of arching, jaggedly divided, spiny leaves up to 50cm long which are woolly with white hairs. These make an eye-catching early presence, combining well with spring bulbs such as tulips. Then strong vertical stems emerge, topped with huge purple thistle-like flowers in July and August. 1.8m (6ft) in flower. H6.
Astelia chathamica is an unusual, steely-grey plant from New Zealand. Makes an attractive clump of arching, sword-shaped leaves – growing well in shade and enjoying life in pots too. Not completely hardy so will need protection in cold winters but well worth the effort. Up to 120cm (4ft) in time. H3.
Eryngium giganteum ‘Silver Ghost’ is the rather special form of an old favourite. It is shorter than the species E. giganteum (known as 'Miss Willmott's Ghost'); it flowers a little later, and it has broader bracts in a brighter silver colour, which last for longer. It usually performs as a biennial. 60cm (2ft). H7.
Helichrysum petiolare ‘Goring Silver’ is less vigorous and smaller than familiar helichrysum in all its parts so 'Goring Silver' is actually far more useful in far more situations. The white trailing stems are lined with neat, rounded silver leaves which meld well with so many other container plants. 35cm (14in). H3.
Argyranthemum gracile ‘Chelsea Girl’ is larger and more upright plant than most marguerites, with a mass of grey blue leaves and yellow-eyed flowers through the summer. The distinctive, finely-textured foliage combines brilliantly with many bedding plants. Ideal in a large summer container. 60cm (2ft). H2.
Heuchera ‘Can-can’ is a more clump-forming traditional selection of heuchera compared to its more showy relatives from recent breeding. It has slightly waved, green-veined silver foliage along with reddish undersides. 'Can-can' thrives in sunny or partially shaded beds and containers. 30cm (1ft). H6.