A Guide to Perennial Flowers

A Guide to Perennial Flowers

After a cold start to the year, the recent warm weather has seen a huge spurt in growth in almost everything in the Quickcrop garden and tunnel. It is wonderful to see what was an unremarkable sea of pots suddenly burst into life and show off their unique shapes and colours. 

It's a very inspiring sight, as so many pleasing combinations suggest themselves: particularly the contrast between the saturated colours of flowering plants against the taupe and straw tones of the grasses. The whole place looked so good that I did a quick walk around taking some photos which, in no particular order, I include below. 

 'Bowles mauve'

Pictured above is Erysimum (everlasting wallflower) 'Bowles mauve' which looks stunning when planted en masse, with its silvery foliage and striking mauve flowers. You may be surprised to know that Erysimum is actually a member of the cabbage family; you can see the similarity with the shape of the flowers and the way they are displayed on their tall stems. 

One of the biggest advantages of erysimum is its long flowering period for nearly the full season - one of the longest of any perennial. Flowering is also prolonged by regular dead heading and tidying, which keeps plants looking their best. 

Erysimum looks most dramatic when planted in big drifts, meaning you need a lot of plants; but as it is very easy to propagate from cuttings, a few plants in year one can be used to create many multiples for the following season.

Geum 'Totally tangerine'

Another notably long flowering perennial (from May to September), Geum 'Totally tangerine' looking very pretty above with the sunlight shining through its orange petals. I much prefer this variety to the more common red geums. It is a particularly nice colour that goes well with almost everything, without being overpowering. 

Again, deadheading will promote new blooms - but instead of removing the flowers only, it is better to remove the spent flowering stem right down to the base of the plant. 

perennials in the Quickcrop garden

You can see 'Totally tangerine' above in my own garden, providing some warm tones against a backdrop of purple alliums in flower and spiky looking 'Verbena bonariensis' (which will be flowering in 3 or 4 weeks). 

This bed was only planted last year, by the way, and has filled out really well, particularly the verbena and the contrasting yellow 'Achillea Cloth of gold' (pictured below). 

Achillea Cloth of Gold

I do think it's worth making the point that perennials do exactly as they say ('perennial' comes from the latin 'per' and 'annus' meaning 'through the years) and come back every season. The plants will also get larger as the seasons pass, with vigorous plants eventually crowding out the more dainty species. 

This means a perennial bed needs yearly tweaking by dividing larger specimens, but it also gives the added bonus of free plants to use elsewhere in the garden. My overall point is that a relatively modest investment in the first year will naturally multiply: not only to fill out the bed they are planted in, but to populate your whole garden. 

Mexican fleabane

The above pretty little plant is Erigeron Karvinskianus or Mexican fleabane, which produces daisy-like flowers that start off white but change to pink as they mature. Easily overlooked because of its similarity to the daisy, it is a very useful plant that puts up with any amount of punishment. 

Fleabane's hardiness makes it incredibly versatile, especially for softening hard edges or adding interest to difficult areas where little else will grow. This tough little plant will find a home in any crevice, whether in cracks in walls or the edges of paths, paving or steps. 

Fleabane can grow along steps and paths

Erigeron also looks great in a pot, particularly a small one, where the cheerful, wiry stems growing out in all directions puts one in mind of a little boy with unruly hair. 

You may have spotted the soft yellow of Aquilegia 'Yellow queen' in the background behind the erigeron and in my garden at the top of the page. 

Aquilegia 'Yellow queen'

Like the tangerine orange of the geum, the calm primrose yellow of this aquilegia also goes very well with other colours where a more vivid yellow can look out of place. Of course, the flower shape is also absolutely fabulous, with it's dramatic, swept back spurs. 

Aquilegias are also happy in partial shade, making 'Yellow queen' very handy for getting some bright, sunny colours into the darker areas in the garden. The flowering period is from May to the end of June, so it's at its best now. Again, removing spent flowers will encourage further blooms. 

William Guinness

I couldn't show Aquilegias without including the striking 'William Guinness' above. Also flowering in May and June, it fills a handy gap between the end of the tulip bulbs and the start of the main late summer flowering season for many other perennials. 

Aquilegias produce masses of seed and easily self-seed in the garden, so while they are relatively short lived plants, you won't notice as new versions come up every year. They are also unfussy about sun, shade or location, so your problem may be keeping numbers down rather than getting them to grow! 

Salvia Nemorosa 'Caradonna' is another plant that looks best grown in drifts to get the full effect of its royal purple spires. The good news is that it is low maintenance (provided it is in well-drained soil) and propagates easily from dividing in Autumn. 

Once established Salvia is also drought tolerant, so it's a good choice for dry gardens: handy if we get a summer drought like last year. 

Bees are attracted to perennial Salvias

Salvia is also a key plant for pollinators and is an absolute magnet for bees, two of whom were snacking when I took the photo above. This variety in particular is a super choice for wildlife gardens, as it is vigorous, reliable and easy to grow. 

There are many more perennial varieties - each with their own unique qualities - but that's just a handful of the ones that particularly caught our eye this growing season.