If I had a prize to offer for Best New Annual of 2016, it would have to go to stachys Bello Grigio® (Stachys Bello Grigio), also sold in some markets as Stachys Mighty Velvet™. Now, it might not be totally new to you, as it was in limited release in 2015, especially on the West Coast, but it will distributed coast to coast this spring and thus will be new to many gardeners this year.
This new introduction from the Netherlands is not at all your typical annual. After all, it isn’t grown for its flowers but rather for its silvery foliage, joining a select group of silver-leaved annuals like the Dusty Miller (Senecio cineraria and Centaurea cineraria). Its long narrow leaves are fully covered with soft white hairs, giving it a silvery-white effect, with no green showing at all! The new leaves are upright at first, then arch outward, creating a silvery white fountain effect that illuminates the landscape. It’s a color you’ll find easy to use in the landscape, as it seems to go with everything else, from plain green foliage to every flower color possible. And imagine the beauty of the soft silvery foliage when it’s dotted with shiny dewdrops in the early morning!
Of course, this is one plant you’ll want to not just look at, but stroke. Bello Grigio is incredibly soft to the touch, like silk!
Bello Grigio grows to about 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm) tall and 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 cm in diameter, dividing at the base as the summer goes on, thus creating a thicker effect over time. It prefers full sun and a well-drained soil, even a little on the dry side. Don’t even think of trying it under moist conditions: it will simply rot away. It can survive in partial shade, but there its leaves tend to sag and its growth will be reduced or even nil. This is an excellent choice for both flowerbeds and container gardens.
As for flowers, you won’t be seeing any if you live in northern regions, as it won’t bloom under long days. It may bloom in the South, normally in October or November. If so, expect large yellow flowers on a 4-foot (120 cm) stem.
Stachys Bello Grigio is being sold as an annual, but can be treated as perennial in zones 7 to 9, especially in a Mediterranean climate. It is a close relative of the much hardier (zone 3) lamb’s ears, S. byzantina, a popular groundcover with leaves that are more oval and not quite as silvery.
I’ve been assured that this new plant will be widely available in local nurseries around North America this spring, so just be a bit patient: it ought to pop up in a garden center near you very soon!