Perennial plants add colour and seasonal interest to the garden from April to November, often attracting bees and butterflies to their blooms, and making great cut flowers too. They are incredibly versatile and can be used as fillers between shrubs, planted as groundcover beneath trees, grown in containers or planted on their own to create a classic herbaceous border. Herbaceous perennial plants are an easy alternative to annual flowers, returning each year and growing larger as they mature.
There are plenty of perennial plants to choose from but if you need some inspiration take a look at our pick of top ten perennial plants for an easy and reliable display.
Although technically a shrub, we just had to mention Lavender as one of our top perennial plants! Well-loved for its fragrant summer flowers and scented silver-green foliage this hardy, evergreen shrub is so versatile; from edging to hedging and borders to patio containers. The purple, lilac or pink flowers are highly attractive to bees and butterflies and thanks to their Mediterranean origins, lavender plants have good drought tolerance, coping well with light, sandy soils. Grow lavender near the front of borders, as a low evergreen hedge, or in patio containers for a stylish addition to your garden. They also make superb cut flowers or use them to flavour and decorate cakes!
Sedums, also known as Stonecrop, are superb for their late summer and autumn colour, often flowering into November! With fantastic tolerance to drought, salty coastal conditions, and poor soil, Sedums are one of the easiest plants to grow in the garden. For a perennial border, choose Sedum spectabile (Ice Plant) which has a neat, upright growth habit and succulent, grey-green leaves. Tiny star-shaped, normally pink flowers are borne in dense, flat, cymes from August through to late autumn and are a superb source of late nectar for bees and butterflies. Grow Sedum plants at the front of herbaceous borders and leave the faded flower heads intact for winter interest.
Rudbeckia plants are reliable and popular perennials, valued for their long-lasting, bright daisy-like flowers which inject a splash of colour in late summer and early autumn. Sunny yellow petals (sometimes red, orange or bronze) surround prominent conical centres of green, brown or black which are attractive to bees and other pollinating insects. The neat, bushy upright growth of Rudbeckia fulgida fits in nicely among other perennial plants or for something a bit taller try cultivars of Rudbeckia laciniata. Rudbeckia hirta are short-lived perennials and are often treated as biennials. Fantastic for heavy clay soils, plant Rudbeckia as part of a mixed border, herbaceous border or grow them alongside ornamental grasses for a prairie-style look. Rudbeckia flowers last well as a cut flower too.
Hardy Geraniums, also known as Cranesbill, are a diverse group of plants and are some of the most tolerant and long-lived perennials you could grow. Happy in any position, Geranium plants are great for filling tricky areas of the garden such as dry shade or deep shade. These low-maintenance perennials provide colour over a long period in the summer and are beloved by bees. Flowers are generally white, pink, purple or blue and growth habits range from trailing or spreading, to taller, clump-forming varieties. Grow Geraniums as ground cover, edging or to fill gaps in herbaceous and shrub borders.
A hardy perennial, Salvia nemorosa is a prolific flowering plant producing purple flower spikes in abundance from summer to autumn, giving a long season of interest. These bright purple flowers are highly attractive to bees and as with most sage plants the grey-green foliage is strongly aromatic when rubbed or brushed against. Originating from hot, dry areas Salvia plants are superb for hot and sunny borders, and have good drought tolerance once established. A wonderful upright accent, Salvia works well as part of a mixed border or grown with grasses.
Phlox is a diverse genus of plants, the perennial species of which are popular for their bright, showy, and often highly fragrant flowers which are produced from late spring through to autumn. Phlox paniculata, one of the best known Phlox plants for herbaceous borders, is an upright perennial bearing dense clusters of fragrant flowers atop tall stems, which are excellent for cutting. Phlox flowers are mainly pink, purple or white and some plants have variegated foliage which adds further interest to the garden. For ground cover or rockeries try growing Phlox subulata (Moss Phlox), a dense, evergreen perennial producing a mass of flowers from late spring to early summer. There are even phlox that love a shadier position such as Phlox divaricata (Blue Phlox) and Phlox stolonifera (Creeping Phlox) so you’re sure to find one to suit your garden!
Also known as Helen’s Flower, Heleniums are long-flowering, reliable perennial plants that thrive in moist soil and a sunny spot. With a range of hot colours available, from red to burnt orange and bright yellow these fiery plants work well as part of a late summer border, contrasting with rich purples and deep pinks. Helenium flowers are borne in abundance from midsummer to early autumn on bushy, upright growth. The elegant flowers have protruding central florets surrounded by a 'skirt' of petals, and are very attractive to bees and butterflies. Grow Heleniums as a lively addition to herbaceous borders or try planting them with ornamental grasses for a prairie-style look. Heleniums make a great cut flower too.
From large border carnations to dainty pinks, Dianthus plants are a versatile addition to the garden, best known for their silver-grey foliage, frilly double blooms and deliciously sweet clove fragrance. Easy to grow in a sunny spot, Dianthus plants are an essential addition to cottage gardens. Grow alpine pinks such as Dianthus deltoides in a rock garden, raised bed, in patio containers or as ground cover. These tough little perennials cope well with windy and salty coastal conditions. Grow the larger pinks and carnations in beds, borders and patio containers. Dianthus flowers are brilliant for cutting, often lasting 3 weeks in a vase!
Japanese Anemones (Anemone x hybrida) are stunning performers in late summer and autumn when many other plants have fizzled out. Masses of large, bright, simple blooms, which are attractive to bees, are produced on elegant branching stems high above mounds of green, palmate foliage. Growing up to 1.5m tall they are superb for adding height to the back of borders, although more compact varieties are available to suit any planting scheme. Grow Japanese Anemones in fertile, sunny or semi-shaded borders. They work well as part of a cottage garden theme or grown in woodland gardens.
A valuable addition to summer borders, Penstemons flower continuously from June right up until the first frosts. Elegant stems are smothered in tubular-bell-shaped flowers, similar in appearance to foxgloves, and come in a range of bright colours and patterns. These easy-to-grow perennials are attractive to bees and look fabulous planted in groups where they knit together to form sheets of colour. Tall Penstemon plants work well in the middle of mixed or herbaceous borders, lending an informal cottage-garden feel to the planting; or grow the dwarf varieties at the front of borders or in patio containers.
Plants and gardens have always been a big part of my life. I can remember helping my Dad to prick out seedlings, even before I could see over the top of the potting bench. As an adult, I trained at Writtle College where I received my degree, BSc. (Hons) Horticulture. After working in a specialist plantsman's nursery, and later, as a consulting arboriculturalist, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2008. Initially looking after the grounds and coordinating the plant trials, I now support the web team offering horticultural advice online.