I want a dog. I really, really do. But my husband is not quite at that point yet. Ever the pragmatist, he soberly thinks of it as yet another project. To some extent, I can see where he is coming from. It is true – dogs are a lot more work than cats. And we already have a cat – a big, friendly, beautiful, male, orange tabby with a decidedly doggish demeanor. He greets me when I come home, follows me around, and tells me when he wants either food or to go out, so there is no need to pity me for being pet-less. I most definitely am not. But he is still a cat, and if you try to teach him tricks, he will look at you in a superiorly scornful way. Which is something a dog will not do, of course.
Oh well, until that love of mine comes around, I’ll have to think of something else to lavish love upon. I can’t say I consciously spent time looking for what exactly this might be, but one day it simply was just there – the softest, fuzziest dog substitute a girl could possibly want – Salvia argentea, or Silver Salvia. It was so irresistibly cute I giggled! When I brought one home, my boys buried their faces in its large, furry leaves, and I did the same. It reportedly sends up stalks of white flowers in the summers, but no matter – it is all about the leaves for me. I LOVE THEM!
Another silky, soft sensation I can’t resist caressing is the new growth of Callistemon viridiflora – a bottle brush plant. This one is new to my garden as well. I’m hard pressed to find a good sunny spot for it, so shamefully it is still in its nursery pot. I’m at the point where the consequences of my gardening choices are starting to make themselves noticed. I have a lot of shade in my yard, which I have consciously built up over the years we’ve lived here. I don’t regret doing so – with one skin cancer surgery behind me, a cool shady yard is definitely the most desirable option for me. And, as the world heats up, I know the rest of the family will appreciate it too. But yeah, it is frustrating when all those sun-loving plants have such cool textures and fabulous shapes… I want them all!
So why are plants hairy? It’s essentially the plant world’s version of dressing in layers. The hairs protects the inside humidity of the plant, which is at a 100%. When the surrounding air is at a lesser humidity, leaves evaporate water through microscopic openings in their leaves, which are called stomata. The greater the difference between the internal environment (the plant) and the external (the air), the more rapid the evaporation. The hairs create a protective boundary that traps some of that lost moisture, and slows the evaporation down – a crucial plant survival skill when things heat up! Pretty cool, huh? So, when you see a plant covered in hairs, it is fairly safe to assume that they are constructed to be able to withstand a lot of sun and heat.
Another endearing bundle of softness are the Lamb’s Ears. For some reason, my kids always called them ‘Camel Ears’, so I guess that is the going name around here. I love their soft leaves, but am not so fond of the tall, lanky flowers. So, imagine my delight when I happened upon a new (to me, at least) version of them called Bella Grigio. It is a tidy, ghostly silver white Lamb’s Ear with tightly cropped fuzzies. I imagine it’s dog equivalent might be something akin to a dachshund, while its ordinary cousin might be more of a Yorkshire terrier. I haven’t been able to find any photos with it flowering, so I think it might be sterile. Naturally, I couldn’t resist!
Lastly – to round out my selection of dog plants is another pettable wonder with lovely, gray scalloped leaves and tiered clumps of purple flowers. A quite stunning plant with great texture. I want to find a spot for it where its fabulous foliage will shine against a background that enhances it. I’m thinking some grasses might work. Such a cool plant… It’s common name? Well, wouldn’t you know it… Horehound! Which, of course places it firmly in the I-don’t-need-a-dog plant category. What’s your favorite dog substitute?