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Six long-flowering perennials


Staff member
Mar 21, 2024
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Six long-flowering perennials

It’s that intoxicating time of year when primroses, violets, wood anemones and celandines decorate hedgerows and woodland glades, jostling for position and vying for the attention of happy pollinators and humans alike. And the first bluebells have popped out too! Flowers give such a boost to our well-being and in the garden, particularly a small one, it’s well worth choosing perennials that will bloom for months, earning their keep in the space they occupy. So we’ve picked six for your delectation.

We may not have all the plants listed here in our stores, but do ask our staff for help choosing alternatives if you need to.

Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’

Not so low at 60cm tall, this valiant catmint is already beginning to bloom where conditions are right and cutting back the spent flower stems in June will stimulate a second act which should continue until September. With violet flowers and aromatic foliage, it has a similar look and feel to lavender. Use it in the same way to line paths where it will flop slightly and delightfully, softening hard edges and releasing its heady, minty, sage-like aroma as you brush past. Or place it around seating areas where you can pinch the leaves to inhale. You’ll often see it abuzz with bees and other pollinators love it too, as do cats, although their plant of choice is said to be Nepeta cataria, or catnip, which is less decorative. Nepeta is a food plant for caterpillars of the small and pretty burgundy and gold mint moth but they rarely cause noticeable damage. https://butterfly-conservation.org/moths/mint-moth

‘Walker’s Low’ has the longest flowering period of the many nepetas available. Others are equally beautiful although they usually begin to bloom in June. They’re still excellent value, however, and should continue to flower until late summer if the first flush of flowers is cut back. Plant in full sun and free-draining soil.

Geranium ‘Rozanne’

Hardy geraniums are superb all-rounders with flowers in shades of pink, blue, lilac and white, tough and easy to grow and reliably slug and snail-proof. Adding to their charm are their rounded, often finely-cut leaves. Some are open and leggy in form, some compact and ideal for the front of the border. They’re also loved by pollinators.

Well-known and extremely popular for good reason, ‘Rozanne’ was Winner of the RHS Plant of the Centenary at Chelsea Flower Show 2013. Its mauve-blue flowers with paler centres just keep coming and usually continue from early summer until autumn. Preferring full sun, it will also be fine in part shade.

There are numerous geraniums to choose from, many with long flowering periods. Geranium x oxonianum ‘Wargrave Pink’ has a lower public profile than ‘Rozanne’ but is still worthy of a place in the hall of fame. Often flowering from early summer to autumn, it has blush-pink flowers and deeply-divided, semi-evergreen leaves. A vigorous plant, it self-seeds in unexpected places. I have it in my garden and it’s a survivor, even in a pot, sprouting back, apparently from the dead, after a period of unfortunate and accidental holiday neglect. Others usually flowering for three to four months between early and late summer are Geranium ‘Patricia’ and G. ‘Ann Folkard’ (both magenta with nearly-black centres), ‘Brookside’ – indigo with darker veins – and pink Geranium wallichianum ‘Kelly Anne’.

Erysimum bicolor ‘Bowles’s Mauve’

Named after gardener, botanist and artist E.A. Bowles, who lived for many years at Myddleton House in North London, this wallflower is unlike others in that it has no scent. However, its many other qualities mean that it more than makes up for this. Evergreen and perennial with masses of glorious mid-purple flowers, it blooms for an astonishingly long period, often right through from spring to late autumn. Its nectar-rich flowers are also a magnet for bees, butterflies and other pollinators. For a perennial it’s relatively short-lived, but during its lifespan it really shines. At its most floriferous in full sun but also does fairly well in dappled or part-shade.

And if you’re anywhere near Enfield, the gardens at Myddleton House are definitely worth a visit. There’s a small charge for the car park but entry to the gardens is free. https://www.visitleevalley.org.uk/myddelton-house-gardens/explore-the-gardens

Silene coronaria

Formerly known as Lychnis coronaria, this is another relatively short-lived perennial, but compensates for this shortcoming by self-seeding in moderation, adding new plants to your collection without being invasive. From early to late summer or early autumn it bears a profusion of striking, dark neon pink flowers that almost seem to glow against the soft, silvery leaves. It has a fairly open, leggy habit with long, branching stems up to 80cm tall. The white form, S. coronaria ‘Alba’ is more ethereal but equally beautiful and generally blooms from June to August. Grow in full sun for the best results.

Alchemilla mollis

Rather more understated than purple erysimum or magenta silene, the low, frothy spires of pistachio-green lady’s mantle are nevertheless a perfect foil for both. Its scallop-shaped leaves magically hold onto drops of rainwater and dew, adding considerably to its allure. A low-growing plant, it provides valuable cover for bare patches and also offers interest as low edging at the front of borders and along paths. Self-seeding in cracks in paving, gravel and stonework, it’s usefully drought-tolerant too. Although it should carry on flowering without intervention, cutting back after the early summer flowers have faded will encourage a stronger second flush from late summer to early autumn. Full sun or part-shade.

Vinca minor

Trailing down walls and banks and providing welcome ground cover in places where not much else will thrive, the star-like, lilac, violet or white flowers of Vinca minor are a cheering sight from spring right through until autumn. Some cultivars of this evergreen have leaves variegated in gold or cream. It flowers best in sunny conditions but will also tolerate shade and, robust enough to survive in relatively dry soil, it’s ideal for planting in tricky areas under trees and large shrubs and hedges as well.

The shoots of vincas develop roots where they touch the ground, allowing the plants to spread to form a carpet of greenery and flowers. This does mean that they have the potential to be invasive but V. minor doesn’t usually get out of control. It’s advisable, however, to avoid the larger V. major unless you have a substantial wild area, as it can be difficult to keep in check.

These garden stalwarts are easy to grow and, with a little attention, should help to fill your outdoor space with flowers from spring right through to autumn.

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