For many people, colour in the garden means one thing – bedding plants.
Bedding plants deliver a spectacular show from June until the first frosts, but after this they’re pulled up and thrown on the compost heap, to be replaced with a new set of plants the following year. On top of this, their carbon footprint is huge. It takes massive amounts of resources – energy for heat and transportation, water and fertilisers – to produce the millions of bedding plants the UK grows every year.
However, at Carol Klein’s Glebe Cottage, the plants that create the colour are perennials, shrubs and bulbs. Many of them are truly long-lived and almost all of them can be divided, giving you greater numbers of plants over time. This means sustained colour and interest over many months and a display that will get better year on year.
If you choose your perennials carefully, you can find species that will flourish in every bit of your garden, from shady corners to sunny spots. Alongside perennials, bulbs that last, and in many cases increase, from year to year can be part of the plot, adding to the richness and depth of the planting. Daffodils, camassias and lilies are all bulbs that will go from strength to strength given a situation that suits them.
More on low-maintenance gardening:
Discover Carol Klein’s top plants for fuss-free flowers, below.
Dahlia ‘David Howard’
Though dahlias are tender, they are long-lived and require little work other than lifting and storing in winter, and repotting in spring. From June until the first frosts they produce an array of blooms in a kaleidoscopic range of colours. ‘David Howard’ has small but numerous orange flowers and contrasting bronze-green foliage.
Height x spread: 75cm x 75cm
There’s something about sea hollies that appeals to most gardeners. Their armoured, blue-green bracts are long-lasting and long-lived – all they need is sun and decent drainage.
H x S: 75cm x 30cm
Helenium ‘El Dorado’
Versatile and long-flowering, helenium petals are flounced like a tutu, with velvety door-knob middles. Popular with pollinators, they come in a variety of sunny shades. Easy, hardy and rewarding. ‘El Dorado’ looks fantastic planted in large drifts.
H x S: 80cm x 50cm
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pinky Winky’
Hydrangeas are a colourful group of shrubs with papery sepals that last for months and, along with roses, they add long-lasting colour. ‘Pinky Winky’ is a relatively compact variety with conical flowerheads that gradually age from white to deep pink.
H x S: 1.5m x 1.5m
Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’
‘Goldsturm’ has a lovely presence in the garden. Once its flowers get going during August, there’s no stopping it. It’s reassuringly easy to grow and can be divided readily to propagate more plants for free.
H x S: 60cm x 45cm
Providing your soil is not thin or too dry, astrantia is a major stalwart in beds and borders, in sun or partial shade. The papery bracts around their pincushion flowers last for ages and more flowers are produced over a long period. ‘Roma’ is sterile and has pink bracts. Astrantia major has white and green flowers and there are crimson-flowered varieties, too.
H x S: 60cm x 60cm
Get the best from your plants
- Mulch: apply organic mulch such as garden compost or well-rotted manure around plants in spring when the soil is damp and has started to warm up
- Feed: when plants are growing. Flowering is a high-energy exercise for a plant and depletes its resources, so to help your plants maintain peak flower production it’s a good idea to feed during the growing season. A balanced liquid feed, preferably organic, can be applied to the surrounding soil and in a weak solution as a foliar feed to anaemic looking plants. Always water first before applying feed
- Deadhead: deadheading is essential unless you want to leave seedheads to collect your own seed, provide food for birds or for their ornamental qualities. Cut back dead flower stems to the next bud down or right down to the ground when the whole stem has finished flowering to smarten up appearances. It’s vitally important in the production of new flowers. When a plant has set seed, its flowering will deteriorate or stop. The only exceptions are double flowers, which don’t set seed, but even they benefit from having flowers removed once past their best to keep plants looking tidy and avoid the spread of fungal disease
- Lift and divide: the centre of the crown of many perennials can become tired and unproductive. To maintain vigour and performance, lift plants every few years using a garden fork, pull them apart, discarding the old centre, and plant out or pot on the younger pieces in fresh compost. Not only does this keep the plant floriferous, it also gives you several plants, where before there was just one. When replanting, add a general, granular fertiliser to your planting mix