Easy to grow, fully hardy, easy to look after and providing splashes of gorgeous colour which bring our gardens to life throughout the seasons and year after year, it’s no surprise that recent years have seen perennials become true garden stalwarts.
You’ll find that there’s a perennial for every garden position and situation from sunny to deep shade, and that the group as a whole offer flowers in every colour imaginable. They can be used to add fresh flowering interest to complement the structural planting of trees and shrubs, as the stars in their own dedicated beds and in pots and containers too – versatile indeed!
We’ve put together our general guide to perennials below, including tips on care and maintenance, suggestions for specific situations and gardens styles, and much more…
Whatever garden style you want to achieve, we guarantee that there are perennials available which will enable you to fill them with floral delight. We’ve focused on a small selection of styles to give you an idea, suggesting our favourite plants that will help you ‘get the look’!
Cottage garden – keep your design informal, plant densely and you’ll achieve a cottage garden style that’s relaxed, colourful and fun. There’s no right or wrong way to create a cottage garden, so we’d suggest using perennials that are happy to jostle each other for position and, most importantly, that you love!
Our suggestions include…
Echinacea purpurea – large, richly-coloured daisy-like flowers appear from June to September on stiff stems – these are tough plants which don’t need staking.
Hemerocallis – it’s possible to have hemerocallis in flower throughout June and July in shades of red, yellow, orange and white.
Geranium – a quintessential cottage garden plant, geraniums offer wonderful white, pink and blue flowering varieties from June to September.
Coastal – if your garden is actually in a coastal location then wind, salt spray, tendency for drought and sandy soil are the major factors you’ll need to consider – and it will be necessary to construct a windbreak (a low hedge or willow hurdles so that you don’t spoil your view) in order to protect your plants from the worst of the prevailing wind.
Even if you’re not in a coastal location, it’s still possible to have a beautiful coastal style garden by mimicking the planting which is most successful in that situation, our perennial suggestions include…
Crocosmia – available in shades of yellow, through orange to rich reds, flowers appear above the strappy foliage in profusion over several months from mid-Summer.
Sedum – available in white and a range of pinks, large, flat heads of flowers sit a-top succulent, grey-green leaves from August through to November.
Kniphofia – tall, torch-like, imposing flowers on selected varieties last several weeks and add height and vibrant colour above architectural foliage.
Contemporary courtyards – courtyards are often seen as a limitation to the types of plants which can be grown but this simply isn’t the case. In fact we’d go so far as to suggest that a courtyard garden offers all the potential of a much larger garden, but on a truly manageable scale – great for those with less garden experience or less time on their hands! To achieve a contemporary look using perennials, choose a limited colour palette and choose a limited number of varieties of plants that have long-lasting interest, whether it be floral or foliage, throughout the Summer which you can repeat throughout the space to ‘hold’ the garden together.
Our perennial suggestions include…
Verbena bonariensis – forms a wonderful haze of purple from June through to September which will hover above other plants.
Heuchera ‘Autumn Leaves’ – forms open mounds of pinkish red leaves which, as the name suggests, develop into rich red colour by Autumn, providing a bold splash of colour at the front of the border.
Agastache – great for adding height with whorls of long-lasting tiny flowers above pointed, aromatic, fresh green leaves.
Planting Tips & Ideas, Care & Maintenance
Perennials are key garden plants, not only to include when you’re creating your design, but they are also great for filling gaps in an existing garden, or quickly filling new spaces if you have a new bed – so you can use them…
As part of a mixed border – to provide colour and interest in the spaces between your framework of shrubs and trees this is, by far, the most common way in which perennials are used.
As the stars of their own show in an island bed – standing out in the open with nothing behind them enables you to fully appreciate a bed consisting entirely of perennials – just choose a good range which will give you a display from early Spring until late Autumn.
In pots and containers – if you have a small garden, a patio, or a balcony which needs brightening then perennials in pots and containers are a great solution. They add colour height, flower shapes and foliage to any space – plus many of them are very attractive to bees and butterflies too!
Whatever perennials you choose and wherever you’re planting, follow these tips:
- To get the very best from your perennials stick to the well-known garden mantra of ‘right plant, right place’ – it’s easy because there are such a wide range suitable for all situations.
- Before planting, prepare your soil with lots of organic matter and be sure to remove all weeds.
- Plant in odd-number groups of plants – we suggest groups of three, five or seven – and in rough triangles. This will give a bolder effect than dotting individual plants around and give your planting a relaxed and natural look.
- Perennials often grow strongly and quickly in beds and borders (well, they do a whole lot in a year!) and this can make them susceptible to wind and rain damage if they are not supported. Stake or provide supports early in Spring (don’t worry if you can see your support, the foliage will soon cover it) and continue tying in stems or raising the supports used as your plants grow.
- Perennials are by no means demanding, but trimming after flowering finishes will generally restore order, and improve their appearance and flowering. We’d recommend not cutting perennials back until early Spring, as plants such as rudbeckia and eryngium can provide height and structure for great Winter interest and habitats and food for wildlife too. If you do cut back in Spring, do so with care to make sure you don’t damage new shoots and then mulch. Evergreen perennials, such as kniphofia, do not need cutting back – keep them happy with a tidy in Spring and Summer to remove dead foliage. Early-flowering perennials, such as geraniums and delphiniums, can be cut after initial blooms have faded as this will encourage fresh foliage and a welcome second flush of late Summer flowering.
- Dividing perennials regularly will ensure healthy, vigorous plants – and of course it’s a great opportunity to ‘make’ more plants for free! Most will benefit by being divided every two to three years and this is most successful when plants are not in active growth. As a guide, Summer-flowering plants should be divided in Spring or Autumn, and Spring-flowering plants are best divided after flowering has finished in Summer.
Finally, be aware that perennials come in all shapes and sizes – from the very smallest of alpine plants such as alpine campanulas and saxifraga, to the very biggest such as gunnera and angelica – so it’s possible to create the perfect display whatever space you have available.
As we mentioned earlier, there are perennials available to suit all positions and situations – here are just a few of our suggestions for inspiration in the following conditions:
For damp shade – hellebore, hosta, pulmonaria, astillbe and thalictrum.
For dry shade – alchemilla mollis, bergenia, epimedium, euphorbia and selected geraniums.
In dry soil, in full sun – helenium, sedum, salvia, eryngium and achillea.
For damp, sunny conditions – varieties of iris, zantedeschia, astillbe.
It’s not all flowers…
The majority of our perennial information has been based on flowering plants, but don’t forget that grasses and ferns are also perennials and play a significant part in achieving a particular garden ‘look’, creating interesting shape and movement and also providing wonderful Winter interest.
Our top perennial grasses and ferns include:
Panicum – a great choice of taller perennial grass offering varieties with blue-green and green leaves which turn beautiful shades of yellow, orange and red in Autumn.
Hakonechloa – a wonderful small, ornamental grass which is slow-spreading and semi-evergreen – great for under-planting light shrubs or as soft edging to paths and steps.
Calamagrotis – provides outstanding vertical interest with varieties which include striped leaves, feathery plumes and great Winter interest.
Asplenium scolopendrium– an evergreen fern with arching, strap-shaped rich green fronds,good for full or partial shade.
Dryopteris – offering evergreen or semi-evergreen varieties with wonderful arching fronds – great for a fern collection, or mixed with other perennials.
Polypodium – great for full sun or dappled shade, this native evergreen has long, leathery dark green fronds and an attractive, lacy appearance. It’s also one of the most versatile as it is happy in most soils as long as it has some shade.
So that’s our guide – and our suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg! Use them as your inspirational starting point and then visit us in-store and go perennial potty – you won’t regret it!