If you’re looking for graceful, easy-care plants to light up a sunny, dry area, look no further than Artemisia. The genus includes the ancient herbs Wormwood and Mugwort, the culinary herb Tarragon, and the plants known all over the desert West, sagebrush, are Artemisia tridentata.
Although definitely sun-loving plants, Artemisias are perfectly at home in a moon garden, where the silvery leaves catch the pale evening light. Wendy Johnson, in her book Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate, evokes their subtle magic:
“All the Artemisia plants in the garden are under the dominion of Artemis, Greek goddess of the moon and of the hunt, and guardian of the sovereign chastity of those who choose to travel in her band of solitaries. The plants of Artemis all carry her unmistakable signature: finely cut silver foliage, acrid scent, and abidingly bitter taste. All light a path through the midnight copse, welcoming night hunters home to the garden.”
Like their namesake, the solitary huntress of mythology, Artemisias prefer to be more or less left alone. As long as they are planted in a sunny spot with very well-draining soil, they require little from the gardener. A trim here and there in the summer to clean up rangy foliage and encourage a denser habit will keep them looking nice. Regular fertilizer is not necessary, but a drink of compost tea or fish emulsion once in the spring may be beneficial.
The notable fragrance of Artemisia leaves range from delightfully sweet to pungent, to a camphor-like, medicinal odor. This is due to the presence of oils and compounds which have been used for centuries in various medicinal and herbal applications. Wormwood, for instance, was known as a vermifuge, flea repellant, and bittering agent, but also as a women’s tonic and cure for sea-dragon bite (very important if you live in a maritime climate, as we do in the Pacific Northwest. Be wary of those sea dragons!).
Artemisias blend well with many different kinds of sun-loving perennials or shrubs, but especially those with similar drought tolerance, such as coneflowers, rock rose, heathers, etc. They blend especially well with blue and white tones. Try adding a Silver mound or a White Mugwort to an area planted with bright blue Lithodora and pure white Dianthus or Baby’s Breath for a lovely effect, especially at twilight.
Often referred to as sages or sagebrush, Artemisias are not to be confused with true or herbal sages in the genus Salvia.
Silvery, fragrant perennial herb in zones 4-9.
Grows 4+ feet tall and wide in full sun
Has been used for various medicinal purposes, and commonly used to flavor absinthe and vermouth.
Wonderfully fragrant annual herb used for dried arrangements, to repel moths and contains an anti-malarial compound.
Grows 5’ tall 2-3’ wide
It may reseed.
A tender perennial reaching 1-2' tall and wide
Requires very well drained soil
Propagated only by cuttings
Popular culinary herb with a slight licorice flavor
Architectural purple stems contrast with dark green leaves and white flowers
Grows 5' tall 3' widein full sun
Perennial in zones 4-10
Striking lance-shaped, silvery-white leaves
Grows 2’ tall and can spread wider by runners.
Varieties include ‘Silver King’ and ‘Valerie Finnis’
Low-growing to 12" tall and 12-18" wide
Fabulous soft & fuzzy silver leaves
Great as a groundcover or in containers
Low, spreading perennial with pretty, velvety silver-white, scalloped leaves
Perennial in zones 5-10, but does not like wet winter soils
‘Silver Brocade’ is the most popular cultivar. 12” tall and wider
Great in containers and rock gardens
A tall perennial with lacy foliage, growing to 5’ tall or more and 3’ wide.
It spreads prolifically by seed and can be quite aggressive in zones 3-10.
An old herb, once used to treat many ailments.
‘Oriental Limelight’ is a pretty variegated cultivar, with splashy green and pale yellow leaves, and is said to be more compact.
Forms a bushy mound of soft, silvery foliage.
A woody perennial growing 2-3' tall and wide in zones 6-10
Shear back lightly in summer to keep it looking fuller.
We have a wonderful selection of perennials year round, but if you are looking for a specific perennial we will have the best selection when it is in bloom around town. Note: Native plant pages will take you into the Native Plant section.