From cottage gardens to the bold drifts of perennials in prairie-style planting schemes, tall spires of flowering plants continue to be popular. But it’s no secret that getting this type of planting combination to look good is hard work, not least because perennials need mulching, cutting back, deadheading and dividing. And many require staking. Staking can be time-consuming and you need to get the timing right – it’s important to add the stake before the plants have grown too big. As such, many of us prefer low maintenance schemes.
Some public gardens have turned staking into an art form, using natural willow supports. But, while it’s lovely to see the inventive ways plants are staked, and there are certainly lots of attractive off-the-shelf plant supports you can buy, it pays to lighten your workload and invest in a few choice perennials that don’t require staking.
Find out which perennial plants don’t need staking, below.
Verbena bonariensis looks deceptively delicate. With tall fine, but robust stems, it’s perfect for adding an airy feel to a planting scheme, wafting above grasses and other perennials. The small purple flowers attract insects. It will self-seed if conditions are right and will easily root from cuttings. The RHS has given it the Award of Garden Merit.
Monkshood, aconitum, is closely related to larkspur (delphinium). Its beautiful hooded flowers are borne on stems up to 1m high, with finely divided leaves. Aconitum napellus ‘Newry Blue’ has deep, indigo flowers held closely together to form a denser spire than the uncultivated species. All aconitums are highly toxic.
Salvias are perfect for adding long-lasting colour right through the summer and beyond. They’re good for a sun-drenched wildlife friendly border – the small, brightly coloured flowers, from pink through to deep purple and blue, are rich in nectar. Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ bears violet-blue flowers on upright, medium-height stems.
Yarrow, achillea, are valued for their feathery foliage and striking flat, flowerheads which are loved by insects, especially hoverflies. Achillea ‘Moonshine’ has grey-green foliage and pretty light yellow flowers, carried on stems around 40cm high. The plants spread slowly into sizeable clumps without becoming invasive. The RHS has given it the Award of Garden Merit.
Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ offers a fantastic combination of bold, upright sword-shaped foliage, and tall arching stems of bright red flowers. It’s ideal for growing in swathes through the herbaceous border, particularly in hot or tropical planting schemes. Its flowers are excellent for cutting.
Another summer-flowering perennial loved by bees and pollinating insects, the bottle-brush blooms of culver’s root, veronicastrum, put on a long-lasting show from midsummer. Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Fascination’ bears elegant, tall racemes of lilac-blue flowers that are great for cutting and adding to hand-tie bouquets.
Thistles are great for adding architectural impact. Globe thistle, Echinops ritro, has the added bonus of metallic blue, globe-shaped flowers, with silvery, spiny leaves. It looks good with other tall, late summer plants such as cardoons and echinacea or grasses. It’s a good plant for insects and also makes a great cut flower, both fresh and dried.
Mulleins are eye-catching plants with felted, silver-grey rosettes of large leaves, from which tall, furry flower-spikes appear from early to midsummer. Verbascum phoenicium ‘Violetta’ is a compact variety, with rich purple blooms, followed by seedheads that gradually darken to red-black. It’s perfect for borders and pots.
Alliums come in a variety of shapes, colours and sizes, and are a magnet for pollinating insects. Allium ‘Globemaster’ has rounded, deep violet flower heads, 15-20cm in diameter, from late spring to early summer. It works well when planted in drifts with ornamental grasses and other alliums, and makes a great cut flower.
For best results, grow tall plants in full sun so plants don’t lean towards the light.