While trends may change, there are some plants that always earn their keep.


To stand the test of time, these plants need to put on a good show each year, endure changing weather patterns and be easy to grow.

Pelargoniums, for example, have been grown in the UK since the 1700's, and the group boasts a huge variety of cultivars, including the intense 'Dark Secret' and scented 'Bitter Lemon'.

Discover Alan's most reliable flowers to grow, below.

Penstemon 'Sour Grapes'

'Sour Grapes' is a short, bushy, semi-evergreen perennial with blue-purple-amethyst flowers from early summer to late autumn, even in strong sun/drought. Hardier than it’s given credit for.

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Penstemon Sour Grapes
Vivid blue-purple flowers of Penstemon 'Sour Grapes'

Verbena bonariensis

Verbena bonariensis is a self-sufficient, self-seeding biennial, best left to wander through mixed borders for an airy purple haze all summer.

Verbena bonariensis
Mauve blooms of Verbena bonariensis

Annual sunflowers

Annual sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are great fun for kids. Short multi-stemmed varieties make great cut flowers or patio tub plants, with good seed-heads for birds afterwards.

Annual sunflowers
Sunflower blooms

Sedum 'Herbstfreude'

A top butterfly and bee flower, reliably blooming in late summer and well into autumn with coppery seed-heads to follow. Withstands poor soil, hot sun and wettish winters well.

Sedum Herbstfreude
Burgundy blooms of Sedum 'Herbstfreude'

Pelargonium 'Frank Headley'

An old variety, Pelargonium 'Frank Headley' has white-edged leaves and single red-pink flowers; good in the conservatory or summer tubs, where it goes with most bedding.

Pelargonium Frank Headley
Single red flowers of Pelargonium 'Frank Headley'

Alan's favourite fruit and veg to grow

  • Tomato 'Gardener's Delight' – easy to grow, very reliable. Produces masses of sweet, bite-sized fruit that is versatile in the kitchen
  • Eating apple 'Sunset' – a great alternative to 'Cox', with similar flavour but none of the problems. Productive and easy to grow almost anywhere
  • Plum 'Victoria' – an oldie that crops every other year unless fruit is thinned in 'good' years. Reliable heavy cropper and very tasty. Use for cooking, eat raw or for making juices and jam
  • Raspberry 'Joan J' – reliable and easygoing heavy-cropping raspberry that fruits from late July to November, weather permitting
  • Potato 'Duke of York' – still one of the tastiest and most reliable heavy-yielding early varieties; also good in tubs or under cover for earlier results
  • Runner beans 'Enorma' – a heavy-cropping old favourite with large, tasty, good-looking stringless beans
  • Lettuce 'Little Gem' – one of the easiest varieties to grow well, quickly reaching useable size. The same packet of seed can be sown all season
  • Brussels sprout 'Trafalgar' – a festive favourite with all the family, thanks to its sweet flavour. A reliable, heavy cropper that 'stands' well past Christmas
  • Courgette 'Defender' – an exceptionally heavy-cropping, reliable variety with superb disease resistance, so one plant is enough in a small garden