Fuller gardens all year

Fuller gardens all year

Are your window gazing dreams of sunnier times destroyed by the view of a barren, windswept wasteland of bare soil and weeds? What on earth happened to all that lush summer growth?

When choosing plants for your garden it is all too easy to be swayed by the stunning array of flower colours and shapes seen at your local nursery or in the highly colourised images of garden magazines. This dedication to flower alone is the cause of many a desolate winter garden.

Too often we consider perennials as plants that die back in the winter to emerge again in the spring. But there is a wide variety, many with gorgeous flowers, which are fully or semi- evergreen. These perform in a number of ways – they offer interesting foliage that suppresses weeds and reduces maintenance whilst throwing up an array of dazzling flowers throughout the seasons. But above all they give gardens a full, shapely look through the year. Add some bulbs for an additional splash of colour and you’re well on your way to a pleasing, low maintenance border that will look good all year round.

One of my favourite evergreen perennials is Libertia grandiflora. Originating from New Zealand its attractive strappy leaves fan out into a neat ball shape and offer a striking contrast for larger leaved plants such as Heucheras and Bergenia. Then from May into June masses of small white flowers emerge on the end of long stalks as an added bonus. Despite warnings that the leaves can get damaged in very cold winters I have one of these planted in my front garden that has survived wind, snow and frost without ever remotely looking troubled. Libertia grandiflora, or its rusty leaved sister LIbertia ixioides, will grow to around 2 ½ foot tall and is a perfect structural element even in small gardens.

Assuming you have a Libertia mid border you could edge this to the front with some Bergenia (or elephant’s ears) - Silberlicht is a great variety for pink-flushed white flowers or choose Overture for its plum and green foliage. Alternatively you could try Ajuga reptans (Bugle) whose spreading foliage soon knits together to form an evergreen carpet that suppresses weeds. Best planted en masse there are varieties with stunning plum to bronze evergreen foliage and all have spikes of blue flowers in spring to summer. 

If you’re looking for something that will spill over a wall and flower profusely without looking a mess in the winter you are unlikely to beat Campanula portenschalgiana. Though the name is a bit of a mouthful, this beauty produces spreading mounds of kidney-shaped evergreen leaves which smother the soil preventing weed growth, topped with masses of purple bellflowers just above the foliage in mid-summer (though mine were still flowering in our recent mild December!). If your border is in the shade try Lamium maculatum (a low growing member of the dead nettle family) or Liriope muscari (small with strappy leaves and purple spires in late summer to autumn). With a little imagination the looks you can create using evergreen perennials are almost endless!

Ajuga Burgundy Glow
Campanula portenschlagiana