Have you just started gardening and need some more confidence about your skills? These robust plants will fill your garden with flowers and fragrance and ask for little in return. Author Jamie Butterworth nominates 10 of his favourite plants that are hard to kill.
Cosmos is the princess of the cut-flower garden and queen of the container. This fantastic annual blooms relentlessly from June through to the first frosts. Rapidly growing into large clumps, they quickly fill gaps in borders while maintaining their elegance and chic composure, taking the form of a cloud of flowers. No summer garden is complete without them! Sow seeds indoors March-April and plant out once the last frost has passed. Keep feeding and deadheading throughout summer for continuous blooms. Cosmos can grow quite large, so it’s worth staking plants with old birch stems to prevent them collapsing in heavy rain.
H1m (3ft 3in), S30cm (12in)
Lady’s mantle is quiet, understated and extremely hard-working. It comes into its own just after rain as the droplets of water bead on the foliage and create the most mesmerising effect. Its foamy mist of butter-yellow flowers splays from the finely serrated foliage; this is one of the best foliage plants you can use in the garden. Make sure it doesn’t dry out during the summer months – although it loves full sun, it also thrives on moisture. That aside, it’s a reliable plant that’s relatively maintenance-free. If it starts to spread, dig up some clumps and share them with a friend.
H50cm (20in), S75cm (30in)
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Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’
The bold, impressive flower heads of this hydrangea add theatre to the garden, and it performs reliably year after year. ‘Limelight’ produces large cones of flowers like giant ice cream cones that last well throughout winter. Grow in dappled shade to help keep the plant cool in summer. Hydor is Greek for water, so make sure they don’t dry out. In late winter, cut back the previous year’s growth to two buds from the main framework.
H2.5m (8ft), S1.5m (5ft)
Every garden, no matter how big or small, has cracks and crevices where it can be difficult to know what will grow. These are the perfect places for small alpine plants and the dazzling daisies of Mexican fleabane. This amazing perennial produces hundreds of tiny, daisy-like flowers May-October, drifting and dancing through walling and paving, and creating a delicate froth of flowers along path edges. Grow them in full sun with good drainage; these plants thrive in a tricky hot spot or suntrap, but won’t do well in shade.
H30cm (12in), S1m (3ft 3in)
Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’
This spectacular salvia features majestic purple flower spires that rise over a compact mound of foliage. Flowering from May through to the first frosts, salvias keep on giving long into winter when their skeletal flower stems catch morning dew and hard frosts. They’ll tolerate dappled shade, but the sunnier it is, the better they’ll grow. Though hardy, they don’t like the wet, so avoid growing salvias in clay soil, where possible. In February cut back to ground level, mulch with rotted organic matter and watch them spring back to life.
H50cm (20in), S30cm (12in)
Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’
A hard-working, easy-to-grow evergreen shrub, it’s ideal for year-round structure. A superb alternative to box, it can be tightly clipped to make a topiary focal point or grown as low hedging. Its foliage is small, dense and waxy – new leaves emerge fresh green in spring and fade to deep purple. These slow-growing shrubs love a sheltered, sunny, free-draining site, and just need occasional clipping to keep the foliage dense and compact. Spread a thick layer of mulch around the base in winter to help protect roots from frost.
H and S1m (3ft 3in)
The delicate-looking flowers of evergreen climber Clematis armandi are breathtakingly beautiful in early spring – belying the fact it’s incredibly resilient and easy-to-grow, ideal for covering an ugly wall or adding height to a border. It can tolerate some shade, but for best results plant in a sunny spot against a south-facing wall. Cultivars such as ‘Apple Blossom’ don’t need regular pruning, but if it does start to become too big, prune it back just after flowering. Keep it well watered, mulch and feed in spring with a slow-release fertiliser.
H8m (26ft), S3m (10ft)
Verbena is loved as much by bees and butterflies as it is by gardeners. Despite its gracious, airy appearance, it’s incredibly tough and withstands the hottest of summers. It flowers from the end of June to the first frosts and the silvery seedheads provide architecture throughout winter. Verbena adores a south-facing, sunny spot with good drainage; gravel gardens offer the perfect planting location. Water them to get established and then again when the weather gets very hot (July-August), then just leave them to it. Cut back in early spring.
H2m (6½ft), S45cm (18in)
Lonicera periclymenum ‘Graham Thomas’
Honeysuckles are one of the most iconic, sweet-smelling climbers and are a brilliant addition to any garden. They’re the perfect solution to most vertical dilemmas; they grow fast and produce impressive displays with minimum effort. The tubular, colourful flowers are a brilliant attraction, not to mention their incredible aroma. This cultivar is reasonably unfussy about soil type, location or aspect, although it won’t grow well in deep shade. Manage its size by cutting back hard after flowering; it has a tendency to become bare at the bottom. With an extra mulch and some controlled-release fertiliser in spring, it will keep rewarding you.
H8m (26ft), S1m (3ft 3in)
Euphorbia characias wulfenii
The spurge family is a huge group of plants and although most are succulents, the herbaceous cultivars offer an exciting array of textural foliage in vibrant blue, green and gold. Euphorbia characias wulfenii is one of the most popular: drought resistant and practically pest and disease free. Its whorls of attractive, blue-green evergreen foliage last all year and in spring they’re joined by huge clusters of acid-lime flower bracts on stiff stems. They’re unfussy and tend to thrive in any soil as long as it’s well drained. Grow in full sun or part shade and take care not to get the milky white sap on your skin because it’s a toxic irritant.
H1.5m (5ft), S1.2m (4ft)
This is an edited extract from 50 Plants That You Can’t Kill by Jamie Butterworth (£16.99, Mitchell Beazley). To buy the book for just £11.90 plus free UK p&p call 01235 759555 quoting offer code 9952100028. Offer subject to availability, please allow seven days for delivery.