Artemisia_2.jpg
Credit: Peter Symcox

The artemisias are a group of shrubs, or sub-shrubs, grown mainly for their fern-like, silvery foliage, which, in some cases, is pleasantly aromatic - particularly A. vulgaris or mugwort, whose leaves, it is rumoured, were used to flavour certain herbal remedies. I believe that in happier days, a distillation from the plant was used in certain monasteries as a secret ingredient in their famous liqueurs - Chartreuse and Benedictine, for example. Pinch the leaves of A. vulgaris and you will be reminded of the taste of these beverages. All artemisias grow best in light, sandy, well-drained soils and require little or no water - they can rely on the heavens for their supply of moisture. If you want quick growth, then plant A. 'Powis Castle,' with its finely dissected silvery leaves. From past experience I can safely say that, given the correct growing conditions, a plant from a four-litre pot will spread in its first season to a width of 90 to 120 centimetres. It will benefit from being cut back in the spring, nothing seems to harm it, and it will reward you with lush, vigorous growth every season. Others to be recommended are: A. schmidtiana (silvermound), which, as its name implies, is a tufted perennial (as indeed are all artemisias) with, oddly, white flowers - all the rest have yellow flowerheads. The variety 'Nana' grows to a height of only 15 centimetres, and is very suitable for a tiny space in your rock garden; A. ludoviciana has lance-shaped leaves (different from all the other varieties) and grows to a height of 1.2 metres. I grew it in a gravel border alongside the garage, and very dramatic it looked indeed; most popular perhaps is A. stelleriana 'Dusty Miller' with its wide, felt-like leaves. It appears frequently in containers, as well as borders. I have always thought that a grey garden composed of nothing but a selection of artemisias would be a wondrous thing to behold. And, as I say, it would require no watering at all during the summer months. Something to ponder, don't you think? The following plants are hardy to the zone number indicated: Artemisia ludoviciana - zone 4 • A. 'Powis Castle' - zone 7 • A. schmidtiana 'Nana' - zone 4 • A. stelleriana 'Dusty Miller' - zone 3 • A. vulgaris - zone 4