Plants for a purpose FAQs

Are there any annual climbing flowers that I can grow to hide a temporary but unsightly shed?

Sweet peas (Lathyrus), climbing nasturtiums (Tropaeolum), cup-and-saucer vine (Cobaea scandens), and canary creeper (Tropaeolum peregrinum) are easily grown annuals suitable for such a purpose, as is the half-hardy morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea). You should give the plants something to climb up, such as trellis, horizontal wires, or netting. These plants are particularly attractive for decorating walls, pillars, and pergolas, especially where a permanent plant would impede house decoration and maintenance.

I have a long narrow border, about 450 mm (18 in) by 4.5 m (15 ft), along the side of my driveway. What permanent plants do you suggest I grow that would make it colourful during the summer but would allow the car door to be fully opened?

A useful selection of low-growing perennials for this purpose would include aubrieta, dwarf michaelmas daisies (perennial asters), Primula denticulata hybrids, lily-of-the-valley (Conuallaria majalis), Veronica gentianoides, Geum borisii, yarrow (such as Achillea ‘Moonshine’), montbretia (Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora), Anemone ‘Bressingham Glow’, doronicums, species and hybrids of pinks (Dianthus), dwarf phlox, pansies, violas, and violets (all Viola species and hybrids), candytuft (such as Iberis ‘Little Gem’), cerastium, and cinquefoil (Potentilla). Between them these plants will give flower and leaf interest from late spring to early autumn.

Could you suggest some good ground-cover plants which will swamp the weeds in my flower borders?

Ground-cover plants will not swamp existing weeds: it will therefore be essential to remove all weeds before setting them out. It is equally important to continue weeding until the ground coverers have become well-established, for it is only then that weeds will be suppressed.

Some effective evergreen ground-cover plants are bugle (Ajuga), alyssum, rock cress (Arabis), thrift (Armeria), wormwood (Artemisia), aubrieta, snow-in-summer (Cerastium), coral flower (Heuchera), candytuft (Iberis) dead nettle (Lamium), creeping jenny (Lysimachia), catmint (Nepeta), self-heal (Prunella) soapwort (Saponaria). saxifrage (Saxifraga), comfrey (Symphytum), tellima, foam flower (Tiarella), and waldsteinia. These plants, being low-growing, also make useful front-of-border edging plants if kept under control.

Can you give me the names of some really tall-growing herbaceous plants for the back of my border that will screen an untidy neighbouring wall and fence during the summer?

There are not many herbaceous plants suitable for this purpose, and you would probably be best advised to put in a background screen of climbers, or shrubs that can be trained as climbers . The tallest-growing herbaceous plants include delphinium, Crambe cordifolia, foxtail lily (Eremurus robustus), mallow (Lauatera olbia), coneflower (for instance,

Rudbeckia ‘Autumn Sun’), Ligularia przewalskii, and the perennial climbing sweet-peas (Lathyrus latifolius and L. rotundifolius). All grow to about 1.5 m (5 ft).

I am a keen flower-arranger and want to create an area devoted to flowers that are good for cutting. Which plants would you advise as being most suitable?

Many border plants fall into this category, but for a ‘cutting’ border the following are among the most useful: yarrow (Achillea), knapweed (Centaurea), blanket flower (Gaillardia), chalk plant (Gypsophila), Heliopsis scabra ‘Golden Plume’, gay feather (Liatris), sea lavender (Limonium latifolium), pyrethrum, scabious (Scabiosa), globe thistle (Echinops), iris, peony (Paeonia), phlox, golden rod (Solidago), coneflower (Rudbeckia), thalictrum, African lily (Agapanthus), lady’s mantle (Alchemilla), cupid’s dart (Catananche), crocosmia, leopard’s bane (Doronicum), chrysanthemums, dahlias, everlasting flowers (Helichrysum and Anaphalis), and grasses for seed heads.

Which cultivated perennial plants will attract butterflies?

Some attractive garden plants that butterflies appreciate are yarrow (Achillea), michaelmas daisies (Aster novi-belgii) valerian (Centranthus), fleabane (Erigeron), sneezeweed (Helenium), scabious (Scabiosa), ice plant (Sedum spectabile), and golden rod (Solidago).

Could you suggest some flowers that will thrive in a shady border?

Plants that grow well in fairly dense or light shade include monkshood (Aconitum), Japanese anemone (Anemone x hybrida), masterwort (Astrantia), Christmas rose and Lenten rose (Helleborus niger and H. orientalis), Virginian cowslip (Mertensia), Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum multiflorum), bugle (Ajuga), columbine (Aquilegia), astilbe, bergenia, brunnera, plantain lily (Hosta), dead-nettle (Lamium), lungwort (Pulmonaria), and wood-lily (Trillium).

I like scent in the garden. Can you tell me the names of some of the most popular sweet-smelling flowers?

Lily-of-valley (Conuallaria: flowers in April/May), many border carnations and pinks (Dianthus species: all summer) catmint (Nepeta: summer to mid-autumn), many irises (early summer), verbena (summer to first frosts), violets (early spring to autumn, depending on species and varieties), mignonette (Reseda: all summer), and some sweet peas (June to September)—all these have beautiful fragrance.

We have just acquired a house and garden close to the sea and would like to know which plants will grow well with our salt-laden winds.

A surprisingly large range of plants can be grown by the sea, especially if windbreaks, in the forms of hedges or ‘filter’ fencing , are used to reduce the force of the winds and their salt content. Some good perennial plants for seaside gardens include sea holly (Eryngium), red-hot poker (Kniphofia), sea lavender (Limonium latifolium), thrift (Armeria), chamomile (Anthemis), aubrieta, montbretia (Crocosmia), pinks (Dianthus), crane’s-bill (Geranium), rock or sun rose (Helianthemum), perennial varieties of lobelia, catmint (Nepeta), African lily (Agapanthus), yarrow (Achillea), spurge (Euphorbia), stonecrop (Sedum), woundwort or betony (Stachys), centaurea, and michaelmas daisy (Aster noui-belgii), as well as many silver-leaved plants .

Which plants have interesting leaves which last over a long period and can give variation to a flower border?

Among the most popular for this purpose are species and varieties of New Zealand flax (Phormium), with spiky leaves of different colours; green, blue-green, and variegated hostas; reddish bergenia; bear’s-breeches (Acanthus), which are large, green, deeply toothed; purple tellima; peltiphyllum, with its large ‘parasol’ leaves; thyme (Thymus), yellow, grey, or green; purple forms of bugle (Ajuga reptans); and stonecrops (Sedum) and house-leeks (Sempervivum), which have various shades of reds, greens, and yellows.

I would like to grow some silver-leaved plants. Could you suggest a few?

Silver-leaved plants make an attractive, cool foil to other border plants, and some worth considering include: artemisia, lamb’s-ears (Stachys lanata), yarrow (Achillea), garden ragwort (Senecio cineraria), blue fescue grass (Festuca glauca), Salvia argentea, mullein (Verbascum olympicum), Ballota pseudo-dictamnus, pearl everlasting (Anaphalis), Helichrysum petiolatum, Centaurea gymnocarpa, cardoon (Cynara), pinks and carnations (Dianthus), campion (Lychnis coronaria), and scotch thistle (Onopordon).

I am finding it difficult to grow plants on a bank that is in full sun and where the soil dries out quickly. Can you suggest some suitable plants?

Among useful plants for such an area are yellow (Achillea), alyssum, rock cress (Arabis), thrift (Armeria), aubrieta, pinks (Dianthus), flax (Linum), mesembryanthemum, catmint (Nepeta), stonecrop (Sedum), houseleek (Semperuiuum), mullein (Verbascum), toadflax (Linaria), and sea holly (Eryngium).

Can you suggest any flowers I could grow in an area of very moist ground which adjoins a neighbour’s stream?

Obviously many bog plants would be suitable; herbaceous perennials that enjoy such conditions include: monkshood (Aconitum), goat’s beard (Aruncus), astilbe, Inula magnifica, loose-strife (Lythmm salicaria), globe flower (Trollius), monkey flower (Mimulus), spearwort (Ranunculus lingua), marsh-marigold (Caltha), rodgersias and ligularias (sometimes listed as Senecio), and the generally hardy arum lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica).

Can you suggest some plants for covering the ground beneath deciduous shrubs, particularly roses?

Nothing too invasive should be used, and the ground must first be cleared of weeds. Plants used for this purpose should not detract too much from the shrubs. Useful plants include: viola (Viola gracilis), violetta (V. x williamsii), speedwell (Veronica prostrata), dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla), pinks (Dianthus), crane’s-bills (Geranium); also spring-flowering bulbs and dwarf annuals, such as candytuft (Iberis), ageratum, alyssum, and nemophila. All these are good for general ground-cover purposes and also for the front of borders.

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