Here's the notes I made from my chat with Tony Murrell last Sunday morning on Radiolive, The Home and Garden Show. We caught up last week and discussed perennials that every garden should have - and managed to whittle them down to a shortlist! I have also added the audio link from our live chat....
Must-have perennials for gardens all over the country (According to Tony Murrell and Kate Jury)
Salvia leucantha, or Mexican bush sage – a really generous plant with numerous long spikes of fuzzy flowers over a long period, usually purple or violet, but lilac, pink and white flowered varieties are available as well. The calyces can compliment or contrast the flower colour which adds to the interest. They are all stunning and can even grow in large pots, cut them back in spring after frosts have passed and they will bush up again quickly. As well as the purple S. leucantha, keep a look out for varieties such as ‘Midnight’, ‘Santa Barbara’, ‘Velour White’ and ‘Velour Pink’, or ‘Spring Joy Gold’ with golden tones to the new spring foliage.
Penstemon – Border Penstemons fill out spaces quickly in spring and early summer, then cover themselves with flowers in summer and autumn. They come in virtually every colour – try ‘Raven’ or ‘Blackbird’, ‘Sour Grapes’, ‘Purple Passion’, ‘Garnet’, ‘Hidcote Pink’, ‘Snowstorm’, or pretty ‘Emily’ and beautiful ‘Alice Hindley’. Easy in any average garden soil, don’t overfeed them, just give them a dressing of compost once or twice a year. Interesting fact with the border varieties is that those cultivars with very wide leaves are not nearly as hardy as those with narrower leaves. If you’ve got free draining soils try some of the smaller species too, like Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Electric Blue’; P. digitalis varieties like ‘Pocahontas’ or ‘Husker Red’ have great foliage, or my favourite species P. smallii which combines pretty leaves and upright stems of equally gorgeous flowers.
Aster - I just can’t go past these for their usefulness in the garden in late summer and autumn. They come in a full range of heights from dwarf varieties for edges and small gardens to tall willowy clouds that suit the back of the garden or wildflower areas. Flowers are mostly pastels but there are a few hot pinks and bright violets as well. They are tough, easy and reliably hardy, and the pollinators and butterflies love them. I love the bright colours of Aster novae-angliae ‘Harringtons Pink’, A. novi-belgii ‘Coombe Violet’ as they really standout, the white A. ‘Herbstschnee’ has beautiful medium white flowers that fit in anywhere, and the small flowered varieties like A. ‘Coombe Fishacre’ and A. ‘Hi-Jinx’, or the closely related Boltonia asteroides and its variety B. a. var. latisquama which is so tough and has tall clouds of palest lavender-pink flowers.
Kniphofia – Red Hot Pokers - Often forgotten until the flowers appear these guys are great for filling gaps as they form fast-growing clumps and have long-lasting flowers which the birds love. They add vertical shots of colour which can create contrast in the garden – try them with similar shades or fire things up by pairing them with clashing colours….hot pink dahlias and fiery orange Kniphofia are always a good talking point. They also come in yellows, reds and cream of course, try some like Little Maid, Percy’s Pride or the traditional Winter Cheer. They look great paired with other flowering perennials such as Dahlias, Asters and Campanulas which bush out and cover the sometimes unsightly foliage of the hot pokers. Taller grasses also work well with them for the same reason.
Daisies - not marguerites, although they are also useful, we’re talking big and bold and bright here. Rudbeckias like R. fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ and the bright lemon yellow of R. laciniata, big white Shasta daisies like ‘Shaggy’, the bright autumn tones of the tried and true varieties of Heleniums like ‘Waltraut’, ‘Moerheim Beauty’ and ‘Butterpat’ (I have found some of the more modern types are not as vigorous and hardy in our gardens – unfortunately we don’t yet have the large selection of cultivars that are available overseas). Echinaceas come in every colour imaginable nowadays, and those with Echinacea purpurea or E. pallida blood in them tend to produce hardier plants that last the distance – try the species above, or look out for their hybrids – there’s always new ones being released and hybrid vigour has been closely looked at in recent years. I am trying the gorgeous looking E. purpurea ‘Green Twister’ this year for that very reason. Two recent favourites which I am impressed with – Centaurea, the perennial cornflowers, tough and reliable with showy flowers, try C. macrocephala, C. dealbata and C. phyrgia); and Stokesia laevis or Stokes’ Aster, I have several varieties in the garden, ranging in colour from blue to white to lemon yellow, all have which have proved to be low maintenance, resilient and beautiful. All good qualities in a plant!