Following on from last month´s sultry read, let´s look specifically at some 50 plants that fall into the grey, silver, blue category and that you will be able to find here and use if your heat and drought resistant gardens:

Starting big, some of the best trees would be:
Olea Europea, our beloved olive has to be, of course, top of our list. You´ve only to look at them marching across hot dry plains to understand their resistance. An absolute classic and try tea made from the leaves too. Cupressus Arizonica, the Arizona cypress has lovely silvery grey needles and is, probably, the toughest conifer you can buy even happy in salt-laden coastal positions. It will reach some 15m high with a 5m spread. Eucalyptus species are often much maligned but they have their place and a multitude of uses. Throw a few leaves in a bowl of boiling water and breathe in the relaxing and clearing vapour. And, of course, many of the acacia or mimosa family have greyish foliage, especially the lovely acacia baileyana.

Palms are having a downturn in popularity because of the dreaded palm weevil but there are some stunning blue-grey ones and, if you only have one, it is feasible to protect it. Try the Mexican blue palm, brahea armata, smallish at 12m and slow growing but beautiful with its striking silver grey fan leaves. Butia capitata, the jelly palm, is another candidate though not so grey. It´s strongly arching leaves have a grey-blue backing and the fruits (jellies) are edible with an apricot flavour.

There are lots of grey/blue shrubs, so I´ll give you some of those that I consider to be the best. Eleagnus ebbingei Silver Leaved is commonly known as oleaster or silverberry. Its leaves are heavily felted in silver and tan and it has strongly perfumed creamy flowers in springtime. To around 3m high but happy to be pruned. Buddleja Davidii is the commonly known butterfly bush. If you need something big and extremely tough then this is the one for you. With silver-backed leaves and flower spikes beloved by butterflies, it can reach 3m high but should be hard pruned at least yearly. Acca sellowiana or feijoa has a perfectly descriptive common name, the pineapple guava bush from the exotic flavour of its fruits. Often toughness is always associated with extreme prettiness but this shrub wins on all counts. It´s sage green, silvery-backed leaves perfectly set off the coral- coloured flowers which are also edible and look stunning on a salad. But if you want fruits, don´t eat too many of those flowers! Juniperus communis is that shrub/small tree adored by gin lovers and game eaters – those pungent juniper berries add such a distinctive flavour, there is nothing to match it. It has the largest growing range of any woody plant, found in the extremes of the Artic and through the Americas, Europe and Asia. With such a wide range of growing habitat, as you might expect its form, too, is often very variable. It can spread and sprawl or grow up to 10m tall.

The world of herbs is full of greys, especially those Mediterranean types. Lavender and sage spring straight to mind but there are many others. Catmint or the nepeta species are softly rounded and grey-green – it´s the one that most cats love to curl up in! The artemisias, more colourfully known as wormwood, are great in our gardens too. As well as traditionally dispelling worms, they are now better known for flavouring drinks such as vermouth and absinthe. Sticking on vices, the opium poppy, papaver somniferum, has lovely glaucous leaves and seedpods and the seeds, of course, are used in baking – without getting stoned! Helichrysum italicum is commonly called the curry plant because of the strong smell of its fine grey leaves and santolina chamaecyparissus or cotton lavender is another small silvery ornamental. Many sages are great drought resistant plants but the so-called Russian sage, perovskia atriplicifolia is not a true sage and, indeed, looks more like lavender but – whatever – it´s great with its fine silvery foliage and purple-blue flower spikes. If you like something spiky and architectural there´s nothing to beat the globe artichoke, cynara cardunculus that perennial vegetable with stunning looks!

Moving to perennials, I like crambe or sea kale with its unusual grey-green leaves and mounds of small white flowers. It was once popular as a vegetable and it´s a great plant for a seaside position. Softer and much more tactile is stachys byzantina, silky like lambs lugs, the spreading helichrysum petiolare known as the licquorice plant and tradescantia sillamontana, known as white velvet for obvious reasons. All of these make great ground cover in impossibly hot spots as will snow-in-summer, cerastium tomentosum. And, at the opposite end of the scale, for pure impact the towering mulleins, or verbascums, are hard to beat. We have in stock verbascum chaixii with yellow flowers and green leaves but there is also verbascum chaixii album with greyer foliage and white flowers. And we have the lovely verbascum Caribbean Crush with triangular silver-grey felted leaves and tall spikes of flowers in a great blend of mango, mellow yellow, soft peachy apricot and muted plum – a combo that will really get your mouth watering on a hot August day!

Enjoy your summer and we´ll be back with you on 2nd September.
p.s. Because I´ve been so struck by the devastation caused by the fire we´ve decided at the Garden Centre to help you all we can. So, for those of you who suffered with the recent Cómpeta/ Torrox fire, we are offering through September, October and November 2014, a 20% reduction on all trees, shrubs and plants to help you re-stock your gardens.
Just on planting time and just when you need it most!

Please remember that as of 3rd June we are on summer hours, 9 until 2 only, so that we can all enjoy our siesta!

Lorraine Cavanagh owns the specialist garden centre Viveros Florena, Competa, Malaga (garden centre, designers & landscapers) and is author of the best-selling Mediterranean Garden Plants and Citrus, The Zest of Life. Keep checking our web page for latest news and exciting new stock arriving at the garden centre. Join our mailing list to keep in constant touch.
NEW: Shop on-line with us for unusual plants, plug plants, rare tomato seeds, organic products and my books.

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