‘Filifera Aurea’ false cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifiera ‘Filifera Aurea’)
USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 8
Size: 4 to 5 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; average to moist soil
‘Filifera Aurea’ false cypress has often been the beginning of many of my most winning combinations. The unusual moplike foliage draws interest, while the threadlike, bright chartreuse foliage creates a clear focal point for the companion plants I choose to partner it with. Although this cultivar will eventually reach 4 to 5 feet tall in our region, I find that a light pruning of new growth in June allows me to keep it smaller. Prevent winter injury by making sure that the plant is well watered until the ground freezes and by applying an antitranspirant to the foliage on a warm October day.
Silver sage (Salvia argentea)
Zones: 5 to 8
Size: 1 foot tall and 15 to 18 inches wide
Conditions: Full sun; average to moist soil
This biennial with touch-me foliage is always part of my garden’s lineup. I grow it for the fabulous rosette of fuzzy silvery foliage that develops quickly during its first season. I am, quite frankly, little impressed with the flower stalk and seed heads that are produced the second year. I plant new first-year transplants every season. The new plants take off quickly during the heat of our Midwest summers. Silver sage is also quite cold tolerant, making it look impressive well past the first frosts of fall.
‘Sapphire’ blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens ‘Sapphire’)
Zones: 4 to 9
Size: 15 to 18 inches tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun; average, well-drained soil
Some plants look good with a lot of different partners. One of these perfect matches is ‘Sapphire’ blue oat grass, with its perfect and consistent, blue-gray mounds of foliage. I like using this grass for its color, form, texture, and height. Its size bridges the gap between lower ground covers and border plants and taller perennials and small to medium-size shrubs. This grass is easy to grow but requires at least five hours a day of direct sun and well-drained soil to thrive.
Gold-variegated sweet iris (Iris pallida ‘Aurea Variegata’)
Zones: 4 to 9
Size: 15 to 18 inches tall and 12 to 15 inches wide
Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil
I am a big fan of foliage, but a garden just doesn’t seem right without flowers. And who wouldn’t love large, powder blue flowers that bloom reliably each late spring to early summer? When paired with silver or gold companion plants, the blue flowers appear somehow bluer—a trick I learned years ago. The two-toned foliage of gold-variegated sweet iris acts as a perfect foil for a variety of dark, chartreuse, and silver plants in my garden.
Photos: Michelle Gervais; Stephanie Fagan; www.millettephotomedia.com; Brandi Spade. Illustration: Elara Tanguy