A winter view

5 of the best… perennials for low maintenance and high impact!

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A winter view

A winter view from my window


Narcissus ‘Snowbaby’ brings cheer & scent to the home in winter

Winter is beginning to take hold

After the warmest New Year’s Day since records began, winter is finally beginning to take hold and my view across the garden sparkles with frost crystals in the early morning sun. It will still be some weeks before there are flowers to pick in the garden but I always buy a few pots of bulbs to plunge into containers with moss around the rim to cheer up the house until we can start cutting again. My favourites are the bright yellow Tête-à-Tête or pure white ‘Snow Baby’ and ‘Surfside’. Once they have finished flowering, I pop them into the garden and they will come back year after year.

And with that my mind turns to the perennial garden and I find myself browsing catalogues and scanning plant lists to find plants that will give me value for money. My other criteria for a worthy perennial are:

 ·      must be able to cope with periods of neglect when we are very busy or away at flower shows

·      must be tolerant of most soil conditions

·      must make an impact

·      must give me a long season of flowers.

It is very difficult to choose from the many perennials I love but here is a selection that I hope will give you the impact you need for the low maintenance I promise! I have chosen not to complicate my choice with the many excellent grasses that will give form and structure to the border; these are flowering plants I would not be without.

Eurybia herveyi

Eurybia herveyi ‘Twilight’

Aster divaricata

Aster divaricata, the white wood aster

Asters (now renamed Eurybia): are part of a large family that used to be known collectively as asters but has now been divided into two groups. These daisy-like perennials with star-shaped flower heads that range in colour from white to blue to purple bring delight to the garden in late summer and autumn, when many other summer blooms are fading. I have two particular favourites: one for sun and one for shade.

·      Eurybia herveyi ‘Twilight’ is a robust plant, tolerant of dappled shade and attractive to pollinators. Producing a profusion of lavender-blue daisy flowers with yellow centres, it is similar to Aster frikartii ‘Monch’ but I find it does better in my garden

·      Eurybia divaricata, the white wood aster, holds its small daisy-like flowers above wiry black stems. It grows beautifully alongside ferns in my woodland garden, is a good cut flower and gives me a long season of pleasure.

Both of these asters tend to flop, so a one-ring support early in the season keeps them from falling sideways.


Geranium ’Rozanne’


Geranium ‘Patricia’

Kashmir White

Geranium clarkeii ‘Kashmir White’

Hardy geraniums: these geraniums are border perennials and not the same as the half-hardy pelargoniums that we might keep in a greenhouse or plant in summer containers. They make bold, loose clumps and flower throughout the summer at the front of the border. 

·      Geranium ‘Rozanne’ is my personal favourite with its lavender blue flowers, white eyes and bold stamens

·      Geranium ‘Patricia’ is a zingy pink

·      Geranium clarkeii ‘Kashmir White’ is a beautiful white form

I find that geraniums tend to sprawl over other plants and smother them but I pop a large 2-ring herbaceous support with a grid over the plant early in the year to contain some of its exuberance.


Penstemon ‘Raven’

Penstemons: a plant for a sunny mid-border, penstemons are a perennial favourite – my mother loved them! Their foxglove-like flowers grow in tall spires, give a long season of flower and they cut well. There are many colours to choose from (I am very fond of the relatively low-growing and early-flowering Penstemon heterophyllus 'Heavenly Blue'):

·      If I had to pick just one it would be Penstemon ‘Raven’. The deep, rich purple flowers of these easy-to-grow plants anchor a border and they work as well with pinks as with acid greens, oranges and reds. Over the years they form good clumps and just need deadheading to keep on flowering (the flower spikes snap off very satisfactorily). Leave most of the top growth on over winter and, in spring, when the plant begins to shoot from the base, cut back the old growth. 

Although penstemons are pretty much self-supporting, a medium one-ring herbaceous will keep the clump from splaying.

White Admiral

Phlox paniculata ‘White Admiral’

Blue Paradise’

Phlox paniculata ‘Blue Paradise’

Phlox: there are so many varieties of this easy mid-border perennial to choose from that it is difficult to pick out just one or two:

·      Phlox paniculata ‘Blue Paradise’ is probably my favourite, its colour changes from dark blue to lilac as the sun moves round and its cerise eye draws the gaze inwards

·      ‘White Admiral is another very good plant that combines happily with brighter coloured perennials and lifts the mood of the border

·      For real zing chose ‘Prince of Orange’ with its intense scarlet-orange hue and cerise eye

All of these phloxes will make generous clumps that can be divided over the years; they offer a long flowering season and are not fussy about whether they are planted in full sun or part shade. Although they have strong stems, I put a large one-ring herbaceous support over mine as they begin to grow just to give them a bit of support against the prevailing wind.




Salvia nemorosa ‘Ostfriesland’


Salvia jamensis ‘Nachtvlinder’

Salvias: I am sure no-one has missed the explosion into our lives over recent years of salvias. Once they were confined to those little scarlet annuals that appeared in public parks. They are a member of the sage family and there are endless cultivars to choose from – not all are hardy but many of the newer bred varieties will come through winter in well-drained soil in a sheltered, sunny position. The great range of colours and forms makes them indispensable border plants, while the nectar-rich flowers are magnets for bumblebees and butterflies. At RHS Chelsea in September 2021, I was struck by the beauty and variety of salvias on show. Although many gardeners love the bold ‘Armistad’ with its imperial purple flowers and long flowering season, I was particularly attracted to the more delicate mid-height salvias that can weave their way through the border giving it an airy lightness and drawing the scheme together. ‘Gardeners’ World’ has an excellent article on ’20 Spectacular Salvias to grow’. To name just a few that I particularly like:

·      Salvia Nemorosa ‘Ostfriesland’ carries dense spikes of violet flowers for many weeks, from July to September. It will repeat flower if deadheaded and is fully hardy – I use it in containers and transfer the plants to the border in the autumn

·      A tender plant that will overwinter in a sheltered place is the lovely Salvia jamensis ‘Nachtvlinder’ whose velvety deep purple, almost black, heads weave their way through the sunny border all season .

·      ‘Love and Wishes’ with its burgundy stems and rich red/purple flowers is a beautiful plant.

Salvias do tend to splay out as the summer goes on so a pair of semi-circular supports round the clump will hold them upright – the medium size is better for the larger species.

And so there we are – 5 of the best perennials for low maintenance and high impact. I know that my choices have leaned firmly towards the lavender/purple range of tones that I use extensively in my own garden, but these are all plants that will give good base notes for the addition of a wide range of colours, including the oranges that I am going to add to my own beds this summer. I hope you’ve found it helpful!

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