Performance plants

Posted: Monday 14 April 2014
by Adam Pasco

Every garden needs plants that really perform, and this is particularly important in small gardens where each plant must earn its place.

Every garden needs plants that really perform, and this is particularly important in small gardens where each plant must earn its place. Sometimes that means being picky, and not succumbing to the temptation of buying something that happens to be in flower at a nursery or garden show without asking two questions. First, how long will the flower display last, and second, what happens next?

This week I've been struck by how glorious the honesty flowers are looking – and so much earlier this year too. They're currently adding some much welcome colour to my borders, taking over from early daffodils, and providing extra height to the displays. My plants are already well over 60-70cm tall, and once flowering is over, the display won't have ended.

Every honesty flower will turn into a green disc-like seed-pod, and as these ripen through summer, and the seeds inside become more prominent, they transform into translucent silvery discs. They can be left to enjoy outside, or cut and brought inside to create indoor arrangements. Left in situ, the discs peel open during autumn, and ripe seeds scatter onto surrounding soil. The following year you'll have a nice sprinkling of honesty seedlings growing, and these can be left where they are or transplanted to fill gaps elsewhere.

Honesty, or Lunaria annua, is classed as a hardy biennial, meaning its seedlings develop into young plants one year, grow through the winter, and then flower the following year. Many foxgloves are biennials too, as is parsley.

So in terms of performance, honesty provides interest for months on end, and produces new generations of plants that flower in future years too. Other plants I'd recommend that offer so much more than one short flowering season include ornamental onions, including my favourite Allium christophii. Their flower heads are striking, but even when colour fades these short stems topped by an explosion of stars form stunning seed heads that last right through until autumn.

In fact, anything that forms interesting seed heads is worth considering. Several of my patio pots are full of Eucomis, (the Pineapple Flower), and these look great well after their flowers have faded. Agapanthus form lovely seed heads too – check out one of my favourites, Back in Black.

Or look for plants that form bright, colourful fruits or berries. Once again you'll have flowers to enjoy, but more action to follow.

Choosing plants that perform is more than just choosing pretty flowers. It's what happens next that really makes them worth growing.

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