Perennials are the mainstay of our garden borders, providing colour from spring to autumn. There are thousands to choose from, with many familiar favourites earning their place in border displays year after year. It pays, though, to ring the changes and there are plenty of unusual, lesser-known species and varieties to try.


Perk up your beds and borders, with these striking perennials.

Chinese fairy bells (Disporum longistylum)

If you're looking for an interesting plant to grow in shade, Disporum longistylum is a good option. The graceful foliage is similar to Solomon's seal, accompanied by pale flowers held on arched stems.

Chinese fairy bells (Disporum longistylum)

Porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata)

The porcelain berry, Ampelopsis brevipedunculata, puts on spectacular show in autumn with clusters of berries in colours like blue, green, purple, cream and turquoise. Allowed to climb up a pergola, trellis or other support, it's guaranteed to catch the eye.

Porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata 'Elegans')

Sandersonia aurantiaca

This bulbous perennial has lantern-shaped flowers that positively glow luminous orange. Sandersonia aurantiaca isn't hardy, so in the UK can be grown in containers as a houseplant that can be moved outdoors in summer.

Sandersonia aurantiaca flowers

Gas plant (Dictamnus albus)

Dittany is otherwise known as the gas plant or burning bush, owing to a coating of oils that covers old flowers and seed pods. On a still day, the flammable vapour released by the oils builds up and can be lit with a match, causing a brief but dramatic flame.

Dittany (Dictamnus albus var. purpureus) flowers

Doll's eyes (Actaea pachypoda)

White baneberry, or doll's eyes (Actaea pachypoda) gets its name from the white summer berries, each of which is dotted with a black, pupil-like point. Held together in a loosely-packed cluster, the effect is rather striking! It's also a great plant for shade.

White baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) flowers

Arisaema spp.

Arisaema species, like this Arisaema nepenthoides, have very distinctive flowers, with an open 'hood', from which a spadix emerges, bearing numerous minute flowers. All arisaemas are capable of changing their sex based on their environment, genetics and the nutrients available to them.

Cobra lilies (Arisaema nepenthoides)
Haworthia truncata

More unusual plants to discover

  • Illicium floridanum – this species has stunning fuchsia flowers, which unfortunately have a fishy odour
  • Solanum pyracanthum – the foliage of this tender annual is covered with bright orange-yellow spines to deter herbivores
  • Welwitschia mirabilis – these long-lived plants survive in arid deserts with two leaves and several inches of annual rainfall
  • Lithops spp. – succulent species resembling pebbles
  • Haworthia truncata – like Lithops, these are compact, succulent plants, in this case resembling stacks of teeth
  • Platycodon (balloon flower, Platycodon grandiflorus) – very unusual and eye-catching balloon-like buds that open to violet-blue flowers