Tiarella flowers

Underrated plants

We think some plants should be celebrated more than they are. Do you agree with our choices?

While dramatic, floriferous plants such as roses, dahlias and clematis are widely celebrated by gardeners, others are overlooked or under-valued. You may simply not like these plants, or think suitable only for supermarket car parks, gaudy bedding displays or the walls of an abandoned warehouse.

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Yet some of these plants, used properly, can have real value in the garden. They might provide a source of pollen and nectar for wildlife, for example, or they might have architectural value at a time when other plants are in short supply.

We’ve chosen 10 plants, below, that we think deserve more recognition. Would you give them space in your garden?


Mahonia

Mahonia repens
Mahonia repens

A stalwart of municipal planting schemes, yellow-flowering mahonia is often written off as a ‘car park plant’. Yet, as well as providing a winter source of pollen and nectar for bees, some species also provide glorious autumn colour and berries for birds. The most commonly grown variety is Mahonia x media. But why not try Mahonia repens, a low-growing variety with purple-green leaves?


Cotoneaster

Cotoneaster frigidus 'Cornubia'
Cotoneaster frigidus ‘Cornubia’

Long used as a climber for a tricky shady corner, Cotoneaster horizontalis is now regarded as highly invasive and is listed on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act in England and Wales. It’s therefore an offence to plant or otherwise cause to grow these species in the wild. However, there are other cotoneasters to choose from, which are popular with birds but less invasive and therefore safe to grow in gardens. Try Cotoneaster frigidus ‘Cornubia’, which is a large, bushy shrub, or Cotoneaster amoenus, a dense evergreen shrub with arching stems that are laden with berries in autumn and winter.


Hebe

Hebe 'Celebration'
Hebe ‘Celebration’

Many a garden designer has turned their nose up at a hebe, and it’s true, there are some gaudy varieties out there. But there are other, more attractive cultivars to consider. Avoid the variegated forms and give white or pink-flowered varieties a try, such as Hebe ‘Nicola’s Blush’ and Hebe ‘Celebration’. Or try growing a red-leafed hebe such as Hebe ‘Frozen Flame’ with tulips in spring.


Heather

Winter heather, Ercia Darleyensis
Winter heather, Ercia Darleyensis

Both summer and winter heathers can be overlooked in the garden. In winter, few of us are outside, and so the subtle, low-growing blooms can go unnoticed by many. Yet, planted en masse, the blooms look wonderful lit by winter sun. In summer, heathers are out-competed by more showy perennials, or confined to rockeries or a mixed container display. We think they deserve border space, too, so do consider planting them in generously sized clumps.

Winter heathers to grow


Begonia

Begonia rex
Begonia rex

There are lots of different types of begonia, including wax begonias, which are used in bedding displays, Begonia boliviensis, which is almost fuchsia-like in its prolific profusion of orange-red flowers, and Begonia rex, which has large, variegated leaves in a range of swirling patterns and colours. They’re widely regarded as being on the vulgar side of floriferous, with Monty Don once describing them as “repulsively ugly”. But look closely at the forms of some species an you may understand why so many gardeners are still buying them. They flower for months on end and need little looking after. Rex begonias make great, easy-to-keep houseplants.


Tiarella

Tiarella flowers
Tiarella flowers

Foamflower, Tiarella, is the less well known, and far less fashionable, cousin of Heuchera. Like Heuchera, it’s a genus of shade-loving plants, bearing masses of gorgeous flower spikes in pink or white. They thrive in nutrient-poor soils and can cope with being waterlogged. What’s not to like?


Persicaria

Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Firetail'
Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetail’

Bistort is another plant that should be more widely celebrated. Perennial, with a gently spreading habit and requiring little attention, it flowers for several weeks in summer. Bees love it, too. Try growing Persicaria bistorta ‘Superba’ or, for a more dramatic display, Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Orange Field’.


Privet

Privet hedge in flower
Privet hedge in flower

Most of us walk past a privet hedge without giving it much thought. Dense, evergreen and fast-growing, it makes a good hedging plant, and is largely untroubled by pests and disease. Privet is usually trimmed back regularly to maintain its shape, but if you leave it to flower it provides a fantastic source of nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinators. Worth giving it a second look?


Ivy

Ivy leaves
Ivy leaves

Ivy has a reputation for damaging walls, but this is only true for old walls. Its aerial roots can take advantage of existing cracks and holes, but a solid wall with no existing damage will not be ruined by ivy. Indeed, ivy growing up the side of a house can insulate it, making it warmer in winter and cooler in summer. What’s more, ivy has air cleaning properties and can reduce toxic carcinogens such as formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene, so it could help to improve your health if you live near a road. It also makes a fantastic habitat for wildlife, providing nesting opportunities, flowers and berries. It will self-climb walls and can be trimmed back to a neat, glossy green hedge or allowed to develop into a mature, ‘arboreal’ shrub.


Spider plant

Spider plan, Chlorophytum comosum 'Variegatum'
Spider plan, Chlorophytum comosum ‘Variegatum’

The spider plant has long been regarded as a relic of the 1970s that should stay in the 1970s. Recent trends for keeping houseplants have boosted its popularity somewhat, but it still lags behind the Swiss cheese plant, fiddle-leaf fig and Pilea peperomioides in the must-have stakes.

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However, it’s a really great houseplant. Easy to grow, it requires very little attention. What’s more, it’s good for you, too. A study conducted by Nasa showed that spider plants help to reduce levels of carbon monoxide in the home, and it’s non-toxic to pets, too. If the variegated form is a bit much for you, then try the non-variegated form.