Perennials (Blue, Purple and Pinks)

When deciding on herbaceous perennials in a border, it is worth mentioning to decide how it will be seen. At a 360 degree or head on or at an angle. A characteristic of herbaceous schemes is varying heights so you don’t want something upright and staked masking something mat forming. Herbaceous perennial is a term for plants that die back in dormant months, and usually cut at base level. The goodness returns to their storage organ, the following year they return.

Upright (require staking – not essential / advisable. The plant won’t be damaged by being top heavy or by high winds).

Delphiniums like sun but do require a little shade. The perennial can suffer if overfaced with very dry conditions. It will flower late spring to summer and it needs deadheading to prolong flowering. Every couple of years, divide the plant to retain its vigour. Delphinium elatum ‘sweethearts’ good for beneficial insects, pink throughout summer. If you cut back immediately after flowering, you may get another swathe.

Hollyhocks have a single stem with flowers hanging from it. After the flowers are spent, the plant needs to be cut to the base. It is good houskeeping, will reduce disease but the perennial benefits too. Strictly speaking a biennial but in the right conditions it can return. It’s suited to a sunny aspect, well drained soil. These plants need support.

Penstemon ‘Blue Spring’ is a good all rounder but may still need a little more protection. It will do well in full sun and in a sheltered aspect. It is easy to grow but to ensure the soil isn’t saturated and not too poor.

Cosmos provide flowers from summer to early autumn available in pinks, reds. By dead heading you will prolong the flowering until the first frost. The plant doesn’t require any particular care and they’re tolerant of poor soil. If you don’t dead head though they will stop flowering. Cosmos atrosanguineus ‘Chocamocha’ is an exception to staking. more compact in its habit.

Phlox paniculata ‘bright eyes’ comes in pink but a variety of other colours, sweetly scented throughout summer, it attracts beneficial insects and free standing.

Echinacea provides flowers throughout the summer, requires no staking. Although upright, these perennials are robust and self sufficient. It is fragrant and attracts beneficial insects.

Salvia nemorosa is a hardy choice, providing aromatic foliage from late spring right through summer. A very straightforward perennial. Shave the top growth in spring and the plant willl come back with luscious growth.

Mat / clump forming (compact habit or sometimes spreading).

Nepeta is a low maintenance perennial. All it needs cutting back at the end of the year. It needs sun and a chalky soil, so full of substance. Common name ‘catmint’ since cats like rolling on it. It will attract beneficial insects, providing you with colour from late spring throughout summer. Again, dead heading this plant will encourage more flowers. It has a spreading habit so this needs to be at the front of a border.

Geranium or ‘true’ Geraniums are perennials. There is a bit of discussion on this. Those with ringed leaves, heavy aroma and furry leaves could be described as a ‘Pelargonium’. This is something else. It is very straightfoward to look after just not in wet soil. It will tolerate shade but performs better in full sun. It is drought tolerant and will survive in adverse conditions. It roots system will spread underground.

Sedums are a succulent but used in perennial borders. A compact cluster of stalks. It doesn’t require any support and provides pink flowers. A very hardy perennial that gets cut at the base in dormancy. It can be divided to multiply and benefits the storage organ.

Dianthus (Pinks) or carnations as the cut flowers are referred to. Clump forming of pink, red, white, purple. A grass like foliage, it will provide scented flowers through late spring and summer. The plant is drought tolerant but the more irrigation it gets in full sun, the better it will do. At the front, low growing.

Vinca (Major and Minor) generally speaking the difference is the size of foliage and flowers. Periwinkle is ground cover, mat forming and provides purple and white flowers spring into summer. What it does not tolerate are very dry conditions, not drought tolerant. Ideally to be in partial shade in well drained soil and some moisture is a bonus.

Osteospermum jucundum var compactum will flower mid summer to autumn, a spreading habit these perennials will fill in gaps where weeding would otherwise be necessary. A low growing habit, they like sun and water. They sometimes don’t survive a cold snap which is why they are considered a bedding / annual but with the right conditions they will come back.

Plant combinations (Blue, purple and pink)

Ceanothus (Californian Lilac) is a highly scented shrub. An evergreen, it provides flowers and attracts beneficial insects. It prefers a full sun aspect but can cope with partial shade. It flowers early to mid summer. Pruning is very similar to Lavender. After flowering, just take the top off lightly.

Lavender is a popular choice mainly for the scent. It does prefer an alkaline soil so on the chalky side. It needs to be free draining so lighter is better. There are French (Lavendula dentata) and English (Lavendula angustifolia) varieties and their characteristics make them separable. French have little ears resembling those of Rabbits, slightly lighter lilac colour, more frost tender. English is a deeper purple and the plumes are upright. Prune the top growth after they have flowered or in spring when it has warmed up. Be mindful to leave some green growth at the base and is more an exercise of reshaping. It will stop them getting leggy / straggly.

Daphne odora is a scented shrub that provides flowers and foliage from late winter into spring. It doesn’t require any maintenance. It is worth mentioning the flowers form on last years wood so any pruning, do straight after it has flowered. Other than the odd rogue branch, it keeps its shape well. It prefers a sunny aspect and perhaps not tolerant of very dry conditions.

Perovskia (Russian sage) is not really a shrub but effective in a mixed border. It needs to be cut back each year, it dies back. It will flower in summer, tolerant of drought conditions too. It’s good in poor soil, has purple flowers and aromatic foliage. It will look like its dead in the dormant period and will come into its own, springtime, round about now.

Azalea japonica prefer a more shaded area but will provide an abundance of colour from mid spring to summer. ‘Aladdin Scott’ is an orange variety suited to an acidic soil as with Azaeleas. There are both decidious A. ‘Jolie Madame’ (Pink) and evergreen A. ‘Chippewa’ varieties. Some scented A. ‘Tower beauty’ and some not ‘Homebush’.

Syringa meyeri (Lilac) ‘Paliban’ a dwarf variety that is highly scented and provides pink, perfumed blooms in late spring. S. vulgaris the most common ‘Belle de Nancy’ and provides double blooms early in the summer. Cut out any epicormic growth if it appears (suckers) it drains the shrub. It prefers an alkaline soil, the soil needs to be quite rich in humus matter too. It should have substance but nevertheless be well drained.

Buddleja davidii is the most common and attracts butterflies amongst other insects. It is hardy, drought tolerant and will cope with harsh pruning in spring. This will promote new and healthy growth. The pruning, from an emerging bud maybe a third down. It is fast growing and the shrub will return to its desired state quickly. Buddleja’s are usually purple and blue but B. globosa is orange and flowers in summer. It needs more protection than its relatives and B. globosa needs to be sheltered not exposed.

Weigela prefer full sun but will tolerate some shade. Prune periodically to a) control the size and b) encourage young growth. The shrub / small tree will perform better. W. florida ‘variegata’ benefits from attractive gilded leaves. It will lose its leaves but through summer will provide you with highly scented blooms that attract beneficial insects.

Spirea have two flowering periods. A variety that performs in spring and one later mid summer to autumn. The downside is the blooming period doesn’t last long – so they are shortlived. However, very easy to look after. A resilient, robust choice that only requires a harsh prune at the beginning of the year. It prefers full sun but other than this self sufficient.

Industrial areas

Japanese maples are not fond of polluted skies but some acers can cope with emissions. Tilia’s (Limes) x euchlora are often used in urban areas since they are not only tolerant but actually absorb it too. Fragrant flowers in spring and providing beautiful autumnal colour.

Cotoneasters horizontalis (groundcover) / salicifolius (shrub) offer berries and necessary habitat in the winter months. An evergreeen that arguably could be thrown in a skip and survive. A very robust shrub. These are drought tolerant too.

Pyracantha coccinia (Firethorn) offers berries. Red and Orange. An effective shrub that can be used as a hedge. It has quite sharp thorns so equally a good deterrent. An evergreen providing foliage all year round. In spring, there are creamy white flowers. It’s hardy too.

Magnolia grandiflora, an evergreen will offer scented flowers in summer, Magnolia stellata and soulangeana have fragrant flowers too but these are decidious. Magnolia’s do prefer a partially sunny aspect and ideally a little sheltered. The latter flower in spring usually and without leaves.

Rhododendrons are low maintenance, providing flowers and some scented through spring into summer. The soil condition is of course important (acid) but dwarf varieties R. impeditum, R. ‘april rose’ can have fragrance and standard ‘Christmas cheer’  provide flowers, foliage and colour winter to spring. Rhododendrons are hardy but some evergreen and some decidious. For shrub varieties partial shade and for dwarf full sun.

Virburnums, ‘tinus’ the most common,  are good at providing winter colour where there is none. A hardy shrub that can be used as a hedge. Be mindful, this is not a neat shrub. It needs to follow its natural habit and remain informal. It flowers through winter to spring providing fragrant flowers and attractive foliage. After this, it bears black berries. An easy shrub to look after, the aspect is not too important, the shrub is robust and withstands harsh conditions.

Sambucus nigra ‘Black lace’ or ‘Eva’ provide scented flowers and attractive foliage. It flowers in summer and bears fruit after. A member of the elder family, it is a tree but can be pruned to control its growth. A hardy shrub that prefers sun but generally tolerant of most conditions and most soils.

Escallonia is prolific in its growth. It can tolerate strong winds and resilient to most adverse conditions, but not the cold. Wind, yes but cold no. It is an evergreen but maybe choose a spot that is sheltered or coveted. It prefers more sun to shade and will provide you with pink flowers through the summer months. It has a tendency to become invasive to neighbouring plants so as a reminder, one it has flowered, give it a clip.

Ericaceous Plants

The soil needs to be on the acidic side. This is neutral 7.7 and below, to improve the soil add sulphur, a fertiliser, any humus rich matter, peat, although the latter not accepted as ethical anymore. Above the 7.7 mark would be alkaline (lime, chalk based medium). Most plants can tolerate a mixed medium and cope with the conditions but some are on the picky side. An indication of such a deficiency would be the yellowing of leaves.

Calluna vulgaris (the commonest of heathers found on hillsides, moorlands) prefers a sunny aspect but can cope with partial shade. It can flower in summer and autumn. The soil needs to be slightly on the moist side for it to do well. As long as the soil is acidic.

Erica carnea – these are winter flowering heathers. Again, an evergreen but provides you with colour where there is none. No maintenance other than taking away spent growth. These are usually dwarf varieties in an assortment of reds, pinks, whites and purples.

Azaleas are evergreen / decidious but will provide a huge of colour late spring to early summer and some are scented. Azalea ‘arborescens’ is scented but it loses its leaves.

Rhododendrons are evergreen and unlike Azaleas don’t usually cope well in full sun. They do prefer a little shade. This plant prefers a slighly cooler atmosphere. These can be used as a hedge although usually a specimen shrub. Rhododendrons have a tendency to become leggy inside if they are left unpruned for a long period. The size, shape and vigour can be retained if they are pruned each year. There are hybrids that are sun tolerant and flower later like ‘Nova Zembia’ which can continue into summer. As a rule, not scented but later flowering hybrids can be. R. burnacum, R. megacaly x. These varieties seem to flower for a shorter period and are more tender to the cold. They are a hardy and robust choice in the main.

Camellia japonica is a spring flowering evergreen. It does prefer a sheltered spot to perform well with some shade. Camellia’s do tend to be damaged by the wind and cold. Camellia’s can be moved although there is speculation they prefer not to be. However, if the plant is not performing well, to move it would be a lesser of two evils. Be mindful to do this at the right time of year. (a) dormancy period (b) try and retain as big as root ball as you can (c) avoid it drying out by soaking – can reduce the shock but not sitting in it (d) choose a well drained location with shelter and use ericaceous compost.

C. sasanqua prefers similar conditions, smaller in size, and suited to a container where it can be moved. This autumn flowering variety is more frost tender and does need additional protection. The flowers are scented too.

Pieris is an compact evergreen. It does flower in spring but is more well known for varying foliage. ‘Forest flame’ a popular specimen provides a wonderful colour from Febuary onwards and once in situ, little is needed. A larger shrub compared to this is Pieris japonica. The only maintenance, just to remove flowers or any unwanted growth. P. japonica ‘compacta’ provides white flowers but these are scented too.

Kalmia latifolia (Calico bush) This flowers in spring. It won’t compete with space since its slow growing. The amount of sun is important since the flowers will be dependent on this. Full sun ideally, not particularly drought tolerant so the soil needs to be moist or the plant partially shaded.

Clay soil

There are a number of factors to consider dealing with compact soil (medium that’s difficult to penetrate and work over). It can often be waterlogged. The plant might find sourcing food difficult, the roots to develop too. The surface “crust” may make it difficult to allow air in.

These problems can be alleviated by working over repeatedly, improving the movement of air; encouraging worms to condition the quality.

The soil particles ideally need to be finer, sand can be added to make it more free draining (since not many plants cope in excessive moisture). However, under this surface “crust” it can also be thin and lacking lustre, nutrients and bulk.

In this instance, the soil can be nourished with manure, organic matter, any rotted compost that might be ready. There will be worms in this certainly, these will populate the designated area and treat. It will still be on the heavy side but much better. It may need adding to periodically with humus rich matter, since all soil becomes tired.

There are plants, without these steps, that will tolerate clay conditions despite no action being taken. This is not a comprehensive list, there are many others.

Fatsia japonica is a resilient evergreen with very attractive foliage. It prefers a fertile soil and perhaps some shade if anything. As long as it is relatively sheltered it will thrive. This shrub will bear black berries aswell as flowers but its really recognised for its leaves. It has an anti-pollutant quality too.

Garrya elliptica (Silk tassel) prefers a sheltered spot but generally is forgiving of most conditions. It doesn’t require any maintenance – to do would cause more harm. It flowers very early in the year, provides a food source for birds and bears attractive catkins in spring.

Sarcococca confusa (Christmas box) is an evergreen shrub which like a few flower in wintertime. It will provide delicate scented flowers from winter to spring. It keeps it shape well by habit. It is very resilient to drought, needs little support. A shrub good in a shaded, neglected spot. After it flowers, it will bear black fruit.

Lavatera (Mallow) an annual, a perennial, and warrants the term “shrub” aswell. A large specimen that flowers mid summer, it’s very resilient and can cope with an exposed site with salt laden winds. Keep spent growth on until spring and then remove. It protects it for the future year.

Magnolia grandiflora is an evergreen with glossy leaves. It prefers a well drained soil with humus matter. It bears fragrant flowers throughout summer. Its roots system is relatively shallow so can cope with partially compact soil. Having said this, be mindful that any roots protruding from the surface are coveted to avoid unecessary drying out.

Magnolia stellata, a very different variety (starry flowers) but equally impressive. It offers spring flowers that are scented but not heavily. It does prefer a more sheltered spot although roots are very so good close to the surface. It does not need planting deeply albeit protected though. It prefers a heavy humus rich medium. If it’s in a sheltered position, it is protected from both the wind and sun.

Weigelia is decidious, so over the dormant is non descrpt. However, W. florida “variegata” does provide you with the most wonderful cream edged leaves and fragrant flowers from late spring to summer. A resilient shrub, it can cope in most aspects, exposed or sheltered. It also attracts beneficial insects too which always a bonus.

Rhododendrons/Azaleas are together since they are so closely related. Both flower from spring to summer. A variety of colours, some scented and others not. R. occidentale offers orange/yellowish flowers which are fragrant in early summer. This is decidious so will lose its leaves. R kaempferi (which is an Azaelea really) flowers late spring to summer but is evergreen, so will provide you with foliage all year round. What is certain, however, of this family is the soil must be acidic soil to perform well. This is something entirely for a different post.

It can also be said that an Azalea is a Rhododendron but a Rhodendron is not an Azalea. This is something else entirely too.