Hardy Perennials For The Garden

It is my belief that in terms of value for money and effort, Hardy Perennials exceed any other section of decorative gardening. It is nearly 10 years ago that I first became attracted to them. It is on this experience that the above testament of belief is based. But experience covers more than knowledge of plants. It has to include ones failures, the amount of work, some pleasant, some tedious, which has been entailed. Its all very well, they say, but I have the setting and the scope for Island Beds, and really ‘going to town’ on Perennials, but they have only a small garden patch, and they find even this difficult to keep tidy and colourful. My answer to them is that, no matter how small or even inhospitable, there are kinds of plants that will grow there, if a careful choice is made.

They cannot expect something for nothing. It takes thinking time as well as effort to get the best out of any garden space. The axiom that what you get from life is measured by what is put into it, applies also to gardening. But it must be said that some forms of gardening are more demanding than others. Annual bedding is probably the costliest in this respect, having to replant beds twice a year to obtain a display from spring till autumn. A few people have gone in entirely for shrubs or ground coverers but are seldom pleased with the result which even if labour saving, provides little by way of interest. Even a garden entirely of lawn, needs frequent regular attention and gives nothing but a sward of greenery. But Hardy Perennials are a two way investment. The initial cost relative to shrubs or ground coverers, is very low. Yet having made ordinary preparations and a careful choice of Hardy Perennials, one has a variety of plants that will not only live on from year to year, providing not only colour and beauty, but interest as well. It is the latter that inspires and stimulates, that makes the little effort required by way of maintenance, infinitely worth while. This is the reason why, speaking from experience, my belief in the value of Hardy Perennials has increased with the passage of time.

What are Hardy Perennials ?

There are some wrong ideas in circulation as to what Hardy Perennials are. To some they are known as, ‘Herbaceous Border Plants’ but ‘Hardy Perennials’ is the betterterm because is conveys most—once it is fully understood. By dividing the two words we can arrive at its full and true meaning. A hardy plant—as distinct from a shrub, bush or tree, is one that will withstand winter frost and damp. It has to be relied upon to do this in our climate as it is expected to re-appear after the winter is over and flower again year after year. Perennial means just that, a plant that re-appears year after year as opposed to an annual which only flowers once and dies. Not all Hardy Perennials are truly herbaceous because the latter term means that foliage dies down in autumn and new growth is made in spring, but some keep their foliage throughout the winter.

The quest for variety.

The range of such plants which are both hardy and perennial is immense. It is far wider than most people imagine, who only grow such things as Lupins, Delphiniums, Michaelmas Daisies and a few others. This category is designed to show not only the best of subjects already popular, but to illustrate something of the rich variety of less common kinds in existence and available from specialist nurseries. In this respect it will undoubtedly fill a need, because variety makes for continuity in the garden, as well as pleasing changes in form and colours from the more ordinary kinds. To widen the variety one grows and can rely upon, is for all keen gardeners a very stimulating process. To enhance-one’s range is to create new interests, to widen one’s knowledge and to achieve a hitherto unsuspected joy and satisfaction by way of reward for one’s efforts.


But the criterion is garden worthiness, coupled with reliability. Difficult or unreliable subjects are not included in this section of the site. All plants possess a measure of adaptability in regard to soil, situation and climate, and it must be understood that no plant can possibly be adaptable to every condition. For this reason every subject recommended is described with this in mind and though the majority are adaptable to most conditions they are likely to encounter, any special needs are mentioned for those with a limited range of adaptability.

Garden worthiness.

The reliability factor must take account not only of hardiness and longevity, though these must be of paramount importance. Garden merit must also be reckoned with on such matters as a long flowering period, of form and grace as well as the display it gives, and the question of whether or not it will stand without supports. To have to stake or support, is a chore that no one could be blamed for shirking unless they are especially fond of such kinds as Delphiniums which scarcely ever can stand unaided.

Hardy Perennials For The Garden

Natural conditions for growth.

Ease of maintenance, is a vital point, and it must be said that a good many conventional herbaceous borders exist which are anything but easy to maintain. This is almost invariably due to too many plants being crammed into too narrow a space. The old idea—when labour was cheap— was to make a massed planting in an artificially created border, with a wall or hedge as backing. This is the conventional herbaceous border, and it is small wonder that nowadays they are regarded as troublesome to maintain. The reason is that with over close planting, the effect of the backing is to make the growth drawn and spindly. Lack of light and the free circulation of air during the growing period produces taller, weaker stems.

The narrower the border in relation to the height of the backing or the type of plants grown—often too tall growing anyway—the more artificial, incongruous and troublesome it is.

Making a careful choice.

It is however realised that in some gardens, where space is restricted, the usual rectangular garden area seems to lend itself to a border of some kind against the boundary hedge or fence and a lawn in the centre. In cases where no change from such a pattern can be considered, there are ways and means of making a comparatively trouble free border so long as a careful choice of plants is made. This is very important, whether or not they are used in company with shrubs, for it should be noted here that many kinds of perennials are very complementary to shrubs. Their range is so great that some can be used as ground coverers, whilst others can provide colour and interest after the majority of shrubs have finished flowering.

Key to success

This, along with other uses to which Hardy Perennials can be put, is dealt with further on, but here the best way of growing them in variety for their own sakes must be more fully covered. Undoubtedly the best means is that of growing them in Island Beds as distinct from the conventional one sided affair with a backing wall, hedge or fence. An Island Bed is closer to natural conditions, allowing free circulation of strength giving air and for all but shade lovers, the benefit of light.

The majority of Perennials prefer an open situation—open to sun, light and air, and by making a careful selection of subjects, one can achieve variety in form, height and colour from early spring to late autumn, with practically no staking and the minimum of labour generally.

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