Perennials thrive in difficult conditions, and they are remarkably long-lived. Here are some of the most robust.
In poor, dry soils: Valerian, erigeron, gaura, antennaria, poientilla, anthemis, achillea, hollyhocks, wormwood (Artemisia) and centaurea.
In shady areas: Foxgloves (Digitalis), astrantia, lady's mantle (Alchemilla), lungwort (Pulnonaria), euphorbia, aconites and giant for-get-me-not (Brunnera).
In chalky soils: Achillea, limonium, chrysanthemums (Leucanthemum and Dendranthemum), anthemis, centaurea, hellebores, helianthemum, gypsophila, gaillardia, valerian, aubrieta, asters, bergenia and arabis.
In acid soils: Corydalis, potentilla, Pasque flower (Putsatilla)
and lily of the valley (Convallaria).
Long-flowering perennials: Achillea, anthemis, penstemon, verbena, cranesbill (Geranium), gaura, bee balm (Monarda), diascia, bellflowers (Campanula), centaurea, coreopsis, gaillardia, nepeta, potentilla and delphinium.
Reduce your workload: Cut down on maintenance by planting perennials in large patches and restricting the number of species used. This means in autumn you can cut back the
dying plants all at the same time, using a pair of shears to work quickly across the entire bed.
- Wait until winter has passed, however, to cut back tender perennials such as verbascum and salvia. The dead stems protect the crown during bad weather and can also look very attractive covered with hoarfrost in winter.
Successful transplants: Most perennials can be easily transplanted, so long as you prepare the planting area with a compost mixture and are careful not to damage the roots when you move them. The dormant season is the best time to do this. If you don't have the chance to do this in the autumn, avoid the cold weather and wait to transplant until early spring, just before regrowth begins.
Moving home-loving plants: Hostas, peonies and hellebores do not like being moved and take a long time to become established. If you have to move them, make sure you take up the entire rootball and water frequently during the first year until their roots have spread. Flowering after transplanting is unpredictable however, so be patient.
- Be careful not to bury peony buds too deeply. Make sure they are planted just below the surface, or there is a chance that they will never flower.
Perennials for the vase: Many perennials will last well as cut stems in a vase. Pick them in the morning, just after they open and before the sun is too high. The best species for cutting are agapanthus, anthemis, astilbe, bee balm (Monarda didyma), centaurea, chrysanthemum (Leucanth emum), coneflower (Echinacea), crocosmia, delphinium, dicentra, epilobium, gaura, gypsophila, heliopsis, liatris, peonies, phlox, primula,rose campion (Lychnis), salvia, golden rod (Solidago), sunflowers (Helianthus) and valerian.
If you like arrangements of dried flowers, then grow anaphalis, achillea, Chinese lantern (Physalis alkekengii), camomile, globe thistle (Echinops), honesty (Lunaria annua) and statice (Limonium).
Top tips for staking: Tall plants, or those with heavy flowers, often need staking to keep them upright.
- Peonies and delphiniums : Insert twiggy branches from hazel or silver birch into the soil around the clump and slant half of them inwards to support the centre of the plants. You can also buy cages or linked stakes, through which the plant will grow.
- Delphiniums: Insert a single, sturdy stake in the ground near the base when planting, being careful not to damage the root system, and attach the stem to the stake as it grows. The fastener should be flexible so it does not impede the growth of the stem.
- Maintaining on edge: For discreet staking along the entire length of the border, put in a thin wooden stake at each end of the bed and extend raffia, string or green plastic garden twine between the stakes. The support will soon be hidden by the foliage.
- Clumping perennials: Insert three or four bamboo or plastic stakes in the ground around the clump and tie a length of string or raffia around them, about halfway up. You can raise the height gradually as the clump grows.
- Hosepipe damage: It is surprising how much damage you can do to flower beds by dragging your hosepipe behind you when you water. Avoid this when setting out your beds by putting in some small wooden stakes to guide your hose safely past vulnerable plants.