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The Use of Silver-Grey Plants

Harmonizing Planting in Italian Gardens

The effect of light and shade is a major component of Italian garden

design and is known as the ‘Chiaro-scuro’ effect. As one passes under

a dense tree canopy or under a pergola, smothered in wisteria, one experiences

differing concentrations of light. This light to dark effect can be

underlined and enhanced in the Italian garden by using intelligent planting


Dark evergreens, like cypress trees and box (xus sempervirens) provide

great structure in the Italianate garden and they also provide a very

dark green backdrop. This dark green, however elegant can also rob valuable

light from the garden and should therefore be compensated with lighter

touches that will illuminate dark corners and pick up on that essential

‘chiaro-scuro’ theme.

Plants with silver-grey foliage provide the garden designer with

the ideal colour tone to lighten the darker areas of the garden and

create an alternating tonal effect that will harmonise and pull the

whole garden design together- creating harmony.

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The light greys of Teucrium fruticans, Salvia officinalis (sage),

Santolina chamaecyparissus and Stachs lanata possess the lightest, most

metallic of garden colours and their shimmering foliage colour adds

a nuance of the Mediterranean, where this colour foliage is very common.

Silver-grey is a colour that enables the plant to resist the blazing

Mediterranean sun and is therefore a fundamental element in Mediterranean

garden design.

Silver-grey foliage suggests heat and it’s very presence will subconsciously

make one feel warmer and closer to the Mediterranean as a result! Silver-grey

plants also possess some important qualities that can have several different

effects upon a planting scheme within the Italian garden design. Firstly,

they possess a rare harmonising quality that will bind a flower border

with a predominantly pastel colour scheme.

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Blues become dreamy against a backdrop of silver-grey and soft pinks

are granted the sophistication they deserve, when combined with silver

greys. However, silver-greys can also act as a sort of launch pad for

hot colours, like oranges or deep yellows and a flower border using

the this combination can become electric indeed. therefore this colour

combination should be used with discretion – to say the least!

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There are many differing tones within the silver grey range and when

these are combined intelligently within a design they can become a striking,

yet relaxing feature in their own right, even without any other colours.

An area of greys will create the perfect pause in a colour scheme and

can allow one to change a colour theme from hot to cool, without disturbing

the overall harmony of the garden.

As a garden designer, I would be hard pushed to design an Italian

garden, without using grey-leaved plants, so essential are they in creating

a classical, Italian garden feel.

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By Jonathan Radford

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