THE JOURNAL FOR THE SOCIETY OF GARDEN DESIGNERS

Long-lived plants

Inula magnifica ‘Sonnenstrahl’. Photo: Paul McBride


We asked a nurseryman, a gardener and a designer to recommend perennials that will reliably thrive for years


Gardens are, by their nature, largely ephemeral and much of the beauty, joy and poetry lie in this impermanence. But when employed as professionals, spending large amounts of resources on plants that will predictably disappear within four to five years is not giving value for money, nor is it in any way sustainable.

It is useful to consider life expectancy of plants along with whatever level of maintenance the garden can expect to receive at the early design stage. We need to use more enduring plants, and I define ‘enduring’ to be at least 10 years, and 15-20 years if other factors remain constant.


Nurseryman’s picks

Chris Marchant of Orchard Dene Nursery says her top six low-maintenance, enduring perennials are:

  • Acanthus mollis ‘Rue Ledan’ – “a reliable mainstay in a prominent north-facing border where dignified green architecture is required”
  • Veronicastrum virginicum – “essential strong vertical detail for open sunny aspect. I favour ‘Alba’, ‘Lavendelturm’ and ‘Adoration’”
  • Aruncus ‘Horatio’ – “consistent form which has wonderful structural balance and stands late into the winter. Also rabbit-resistant”
  • Gillenia trifoliata – “an iron constitution once established”
  • Ageratina altissima ‘Braunlaub’ – “a valuable foil which can be offered up to a wide range of autumn classics to bridge strong or strident colours”
  • Euphorbia cornigera aka wallichii – “a magnificent upright, clump-forming euphorbia, which can withstand winter flash flooding”. 


Symphyotrichum lateriflorum ‘Prince’. Photo: Paul McBride


Gardener’s choice

Paul McBride of Sussex Prairies says he has been growing some plants for 20 years. They include:

  • Aster Symphyotrichum lateriflorum ‘Prince’ – “jet-black foliage and delicate little leaves from May until flowering time in September/October”
  • Sporobolus heterolepis – “the only strongly scented grass I’ve come across, great in enclosed or small spaces”
  • Eupatorium maculatum Atropurpureum Group – “this is a colour monster! Six foot of purple stems, ribs and flowers. It has great wind movement and is totally reliable”
  • Inula magnifica ‘Sonnenstrahl’ – “shoulder height with masses of hand-sized yellow flowers with very fine petals”
  • Miscanthus malepartus – “the most reliable Miscanthus I have come across, and with very dark purple flowers”
  • Kalimeris incisa ‘Madiva’ – “giving 1m3 of flowers for three months from mid to late summer. It’s sterile, so it’s long flowering and won’t self-seed”.


Miscanthus malepartus. Photo: Paul McBride


Designer’s favourites

Designer Jane Brockbank MSGD’s choice of top plants for longevity in a planting scheme are:

  • Helleborus orientalis types – Notable in that they form tight, well-behaved, stable clumps. I’ve had some in my own garden for 20 years and they show no sign of abating.
  • Macleaya cordata – Tough as old boots, this giant spreads vegetatively from its roots. It can be a problem on heavy rich soils but is less invasive than M. microcarpa.
  • Anenome japonica & hupehensis – They need a few seasons to build up root mass, and then, bingo! There’s no stopping them.
  • Peonies – Paeonia lactiflora types, if not invaded by perennial weeds, can happily do their thing for 25 years plus.
  • Sedum Autumn Joy, aka Hylotelephium ‘Herbstfreude’ – One of the longest lived reliable sedums. Benefits from replanting when clumps eventually start to fall apart in the middle.  
  • Origanum laevigatum ‘Herrenhausen’ – Hardy and long-lived in well drained soils, this is a great latesummer flowering perennial that can be left to its own devices.