Perennials are the flowers and plants with pretty leaves, that die down in the winter but grow back the following year and the year after that – forever. Once established they are really low maintenance plants and need the very basic, minimal attention. Sometimes they keep their lowest leaves over the winter, sometimes there’s almost nothing to see at all.
Perennials come in every size and for every garden situation. But although most of them do well without too much special care, some are particularly forgiving. As long as they’re planted in the right site in the first place, are not overwhelmed by weeds and are watered when it’s really, really dry you can enjoy them year after year after year.
Just one thing to do: you may need to dig them up every few years, split them into smaller pieces then replant them. That’s not too much to ask, is it? Won’t take long.
Five easy plant-and-forget perennials
These are bit like lilies. But, instead of having big fat bulbs, they have tough clump-forming roots. Each individual flower lasts only one day but they make up for that by opening new ones over a long period in summer. Plants range from 25cm to over 1m; the long narrow bright green leaves are sometimes evergreen and set the flowers off nicely.
But it’s the colours… Everything except blue and sometimes in amazing colour combinations and in some unusual shapes too. Plant in the sun and cut the stems down in the autumn.
Elephant’s ears (Bergenia)
You get double value from these plants, and don’t be put off by the name. The thick, rounded, evergreen leaves are up to 30cm long, and are glossy green in summer and often tinted with red or even completely bronzed in the winter. They’re an important winter feature and good at smothering weeds. In spring, clusters of purple, pink or white bell-shaped flowers appear just above the leaves.
Elephant’s ears don’t like too much sun, try to plant them where they’ll be in the shade for around half the day. Plants grow to 38-45cm tall.
Ice plant (Sedum)
Ice plants are stars of the autumn garden. The rather juicy, greyish green leaves are attractive from when they first emerge in spring but then, in autumn, the broad flat heads of small pink or white flowers open for many weeks. The plants make very tight clumps.
But two more things. The flowers are favourites with butterflies, I’ve seen so many feeding that their wings were touching. And, when the flowers fade, they turn rich rusty brown for late autumn and early winter colour and interest. Plant in a sunny spot. Plants grow to 45-60cm tall.
The best pulmonarias have two distinct features. In spring, short stems carry clusters of funnel-shaped flowers – usually in shades of blue, but sometimes in pink or white. Then, as the flowers fade, the foliage emerges from the base, and at their best the dark leaves are sparkled in silver or even completely silvered.
The leaves slowly expand to produce an overlapping, silvery weed smothering clump that lasts all summer. Some have plain green leaves; don’t bother with them. Plant where they’ll get shade for at least part of the day. All pulmonarias make low, steadily spreading plants. Plants grow to 25-35cm tall.
There are lots of different kinds of tickseed, but the ones to look for have wiry upright stems with dark green leaves split into such slender segments that they’re often called threadleaf. The stems are topped with groups of delightful summer daisies about 4cm across in shades of yellow or gold.
These are very dependable plants that spread steadily in sunny places to create a very bright display but don’t get too tall. The flower stems are good for cutting, too. You might also spot some similar plants with red or bicoloured flowers; give them a try. Plants grow to 30-90cm tall.
Also read Graham’s five plants to fling-and-forget.