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Moonshine yarrow.

Drough-tolerant herbs

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Penny Woodward loves drought-tolerant, grey-leafed herbs. Here are a two of her favourites that you can plant in early Autumn.

Grey-leafed herbs are tough, drought-tolerant plants that like well-drained soils and full sun. Part of the heat tolerance is because the grey in the leaves reflects heat rather than absorbing heat as darker leaves do, but many also have slightly hairy leaves that will trap moisture when it’s around, meaning they will cope better when it’s hot and dry. Plants like these also work as wonderful contrast plants for darker foliage, and if grouped together can be made into a small moon garden, because they glow in the light of the full moon.

Moonshine yarrow (pictured above)

Achillea ‘Moonshine’   

  • Height 60cm
  • Width 1m
  • Sun/Shade Full sun
  • Flowers Summer to Autumn

CLIMATE ZONE: Subtropical  Arid/semi-arid  Warm temperate  Cold temperate

Moonshine yarrow has lovely soft, feathery, silver-grey foliage. It is clumping and spreading, producing dense flat-topped umbels of lemon-coloured flowers. Grow new plants by dividing clumps and replanting in autumn. Happy in poor soils, as long as they don’t stay damp, this yarrow grows to 60cm. Cut back flower heads after the flowers have finished in autumn. The leaves of the original white-flowered yarrow are used medicinally and in compost, but this yarrow is mostly grown for its flowers. Loved by both bees and butterflies this plant works well in a border, a pot or a dry garden. Unlike some other yarrows, this cultivar won’t self-sow or spread too far, too quickly!

Italian lavender 

Lavandula stoechas  

  • Height 60-100cm
  • Width 50cm
  • Sun/Shade Full sun
  • Flowers Spring to Early Autumn

CLIMATE ZONE: Arid/semi-arid  Warm temperate  Cold temperate

Italian lavender by Penny Woodward

Italian lavender and Spanish lavender (L. pedunculata) grow as small-to-medium shrubs with narrow, pointed blue-grey leaves. Flower heads have tiny flowers and striking coloured bracts at the top of the head. Flowers and bracts range in colour from white through pink to deep purple. These lavenders are not as cold tolerant as some others, and are intolerant of cold wet soil, but are very heat and drought tolerant. Look for cultivars such as ‘Avonview’ or ‘Ploughman’s Purple’ or the whole ‘Ruffles’ series, as well as other new crosses. All have scented leaves and flowers, although not the ‘true’ lavender scent of English lavender, but look fabulous in the garden, make wonderful cut flowers and dry well for pot pourri and scented sachets.

Penny’s article about grey-leaved herbs was first published in our Early Autumn 2022 issue (OG 131). There’s a selection of back issues available here — you can also subscribe and get the most recent issues delivered to your door!

OG 131 cover