A beginner’s guide to perennials and 20 to try today

The best perennials for your garden.

Perennials lift our garden borders with their colourful array of blooms and, although they may be more expensive to buy than other plants, they reward us with their longevity. Flowering from spring through to autumn, they live for at least two years – unlike shorter-lived annuals that only last for one.

When browsing the garden centre, it may seem like there’s a perennial to suit every colour palette, soil type and position, so how do you decide which one is right for you?

With these questions in mind, we spoke to the experts to find out the 20 best perennials to plant this year.

Prairie flower bedCredit: Shutterstock/Beekeepx

Why choose perennials?

Exceptional asked garden expert Sarah Raven why perennials are a good choice for the garden.

“Perennials are the backbone of my summer garden,” says Raven, “providing invaluable colour, texture and scale, and of course, returning year after year. As they don’t need to be lifted, stored or replanted,” she explains, “they are a super-easy and rewarding choice for all types of gardeners.

“From dainty spring tulips and snowdrops to statuesque alliums and fragrant narcissi, it’s important to pick perennials that suit your garden type,” she advises, “considering key things such as the size of your space, soil type and aspect. Many bulbs can be naturalised, spreading over time, creating carpets of flowers in grass or shade that you can enjoy for years to come.

“Whether you choose to grow perennials from seed, or choose bulbs, or plants, there really is something for everyone,” she says.

How to choose the best perennials for your garden

If you’re anything like me, you pop along to your local garden centre and pick out the perennials you like the look of, rather than considering your soil type or how large the plants will grow. But as I’ve learnt from experience, this style of gardening can be a bit hit and miss.

Keen to get it right this year, we asked Sam Proctor, garden designer at Chiltern Garden Design and member of the Society of Garden Designers, for her advice.

It’s a common phrase you’ll hear in gardening circles, but it really is ‘right plant, right place’. Proctor tells us: “Always ensure you choose appropriate plants for the situation, don’t try to put sun-loving plants in shade or vice versa, or plants that need sharp drainage in the boggiest part of the garden.”

It’s also important to know your soil. “If you’ve got heavy clay, you’re going to struggle to grow plants that love really sharp drainage,” says Proctor, “Instead, grow those in pots so you can supply the right conditions.”

Space is another consideration. “What is the plant’s anticipated size in two or three years? And will it thrive among the plants you’ve already got, or will it struggle with competition?” Proctor advises.

20 best perennials to try

If you’re planning on popping to the garden centre soon, get your shopping list ready. Here’s a list of the top 20 perennials as recommended by the experts.

1. Aquilegia

Makes a good cut flower

Single purple and white aquilegiaCredit: British Garden Centres

The name ‘aquilegia’ comes from the Latin ‘aquila’, meaning eagle, and refers to the shape of the spurs on its petals. “Aquilegias are a great choice for any gardener,” says Julian Palphramand, head of plants at British Garden Centres, “They are both easy to grow and resistant to rabbits and slugs. Not only are they stunning, but they are also incredibly durable.”

What soil type does it prefer? As they are not picky about soil conditions, they are ideal for novice gardeners. For the best results, position in sun or semi-shade.

Try this cultivar: Aquilegia ‘McKana Hybrids’ are sometimes known as grandma’s bonnets and look stunning planted en masse. They also make beautiful cut flowers.

2. Astilbe

Plant around ponds and woodlands

Astilbe pink 'Rheinland' in flower in the summer monthsCredit: Alex Manders/Shutterstock

Why is it a good perennial? “Astilbe is one of the most impressive perennials,” says Palphramand, adding that it boasts a lengthy flowering period.

“Not only is it easy to grow, but it also flourishes in both sunny and shady gardens. Its delicate, fluffy flowers provide elegant hues of pink, white, purple, peach and red for several months.”

What soil type does it prefer? “To ensure optimal growth, astilbes demand soil that is both rich and moist,” advises Palphramand. “Therefore, it is crucial to incorporate a generous amount of well-rotted organic matter into the soil prior to planting,” he says.  It also favours both sunny and shady positions.

Try this cultivar: Astilbe ‘Pink’ provides spires of densely packed flowers throughout July and August and is a hive for bees and butterflies. As it favours damp conditions, it’s a perfect addition around ponds and woodland gardens.

3. Astrantia

For a cottage garden

AstrantiaCredit: Marlene Lento Design Studio

Why is it a good perennial? Astrantia is an easy-to-grow perennial, with soft, muted blooms that look beautiful in a border. The flower heads are particularly delicate, with pincushion-like centres surrounded by petals.

Marlene Lento, garden designer at Marlene Lento Design Studio and pre-registered member of Society of Garden Designers, says they are bee-friendly, not attacked by slugs and snails, and make excellent cut flowers.

What soil type does it prefer? Moderately fertile, moist and well-drained. Position in sun or light shade.

Try this cultivar: Astrantia ‘Buckland’ flowers earlier than other astrantias and has dusty pink flowers and tidy clumps of foliage. Lento tells us the ‘beauties’ light up partially shaded areas but will also take full sun.

4. Campanula

Vigorous and low-growing

Campanula with heart-shaped foliageCredit: Marlene Lento Design Studio

Why is it a good perennial? “This common creeping bellflower is easy to grow in any spot and is even happy in dry and shady positions under shrubs and along north facing walls,” says Lento.

“Campanula is quick to spread and forms clumps of fresh green, heart-shaped foliage,” she adds, “and in mid-spring, tentacles of purple bellflowers climb up and trail down walls. They are fabulous at supressing weeds and only wane in the autumn.”

What soil type does it prefer? Moist, well-drained soil. Position in full sun or partial shade.

Try this cultivar: Lento recommends Campanula poscharskyana, a low-growing variety that provides excellent ground cover and spreads by underground runners.

5. Centaurea montana

A show-stopping flower head

Centaurea montana, mountain cornflowerCredit: Marlene Lento Design Studio

Why is it a good perennial? Often referred to as mountain cornflower, Centaurea montana is a clump-forming plant with grey-green narrow leaves. The purple, spidery flowers have thistle-like centres that attract bees and butterflies.

It will seed quickly if the flowers are not deadheaded and it suits sunny borders and gravel gardens.

What soil type does it prefer? Most soil types. Position in sun or light shade.

Try this cultivar: Lento recommends Centaurea montana ‘Alba’: “It’s a lovely white version of the blue cornflower that starts in April and flowers intermittently until autumn,” she says.

6. Echinacea

A late summer addition

EchinaceaCredit: Marlene Lento Design Studio

Why is it a good perennial? “Echinacea is the stalwart of the late summer garden,” says Lento, “and is beneficial to birds, bees and pollinators who are drawn to its pollen and nectar.” Known as the coneflower because petals on the daisy-like bloom, in either white, pink, orange or red, surround a large central cone. It’s easy to grow and makes a sculptural addition to the garden.

“It’s perfect for growing in drifts towards the middle or back of a cottage-style or herbaceous border, or among grasses in a prairie-style planting scheme,” says Lento. “It doesn’t need staking and the long-lived flowers are a sculptural addition to the winter garden.

What soil type does it prefer? Well-drained soil. Position in full sun.

Try this cultivar: Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ comes to life in the late summer with pink flowers surround a large, orange-brown cone. It’s happy in sun or partial shade.

Perennials can be split into four groups

  • Deciduous perennials shred their leaves in autumn and die down to their roots
  • Evergreen perennials keep their leaves all year and add continued interest in the garden throughout the year
  • Herbaceous perennials have non-woody stems that flower and then die down over winter and reappear again the following spring.
  • Hardy perennials tolerate low winter temperatures and can be kept outside all year
  • Tender perennials, such as verbena, will need digging up in autumn and storing in a frost-free location. The RHS advises that they are best propagated each year from cuttings.

7. Epimedium

Makes for good ground cover

Epimedium with yellow flowers on thin spiky stemsCredit: Shutterstock/Eileen Kumpf

Why is it a good perennial? Epimediums, often known as barrenwort or bishop’s hats, have heart-shaped deciduous or evergreen leaves that are often tinted with red or bronze. The delicate, spider-like flowers spray out on slender stems above the foliage.

“It’s a fantastic groundcover plant and spreads neatly and reliably,” says Lento.

What soil type does it prefer? Moist soil with good drainage, although some varieties will prefer a drier soil. Position in a shady or partially shaded location.

Try this cultivar: Lento recommends Epimedium x  perralchicum ‘Froehnleiten’. “It forms neat clumps of evergreen foliage marbled with warm reds and bronze in spring, and colours again in autumn, and sprays of delicate, light yellow flowers float above the foliage in spring.”

8. Eryngium

Add texture with spikes

Silvery blue EryngiumCredit: British Garden Centres

Why is it a good perennial? “Eryngium, commonly called sea holly, is a favourite among pollinators and is tolerant of dry weather,” says Palphramand. “Its striking blue thistle-like flowers make a bold statement in any garden, especially when mixed in sunny borders, gravel gardens, prairie planting or wild gardens.”

What soil type does it prefer? Likes well-drained sandy or loamy soil (containing sand, silt and a small amount of clay). Position in full sun.

Try this cultivar: Eryngium x zabelli ‘Big Blue’ emerges in March and remains through to November, with dainty blue flowers appearing in June to attract pollinators.

9. Erysimum

An abundance of flowers

Erysimum Bowls MauveCredit: Marlene Lento Design Studio

Why it’s a good perennial: Erysimum, more commonly known as wallflower, is a short-lived perennial. Despite this, Lento believes it has many benefits. “It produces so many flowers on its long spikes that it’s worth replacing the plant every few years,” she says.

“The grey-blue foliage quickly forms an attractive backdrop for the purple flowers that start appearing in February and go on well into the summer.

“It’s also pest and drought resistant and tolerant of a wide variety of soils,” she adds. “This sun lover won’t disappoint. Best of all, snails and slugs leave it alone.”

Soil type: Well-drained moderately fertile neutral or slightly alkaline soil. Position in full sun.

Try this cultivar: Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’ is bushy and long-flowering with long stems of purple flowers from March through to August. The evergreen foliage consists of small and narrow grey-green leaves.

10. Euphorbia

Go small, go compact

EuphorbiaCredit: Shutterstock/guentermanaus

Why it’s a good perennial: “Choose compact cultivars if you have a small garden,” says Proctor. “You can repeat them through the scheme, creating flow, rhythm and much more impact rather than one big overpowering specimen.”

Soil type: Fertile, well-drained soil. Position in sun or partial shade depending on your variety.

Try this cultivar: Proctor suggests Euphorbia characias ‘Humpty Dumpty’. “It’s a compact form of the much loved, but often straggly, E. characias subs. Wulfenii,” Proctor explains, “which is typically twice the size of the former.”

11. Geranium

Perfect for ground cover

Purple geraniumCredit: © Jonathan Buckley

Why it’s a good perennial: “Geraniums are totally hardy, low-maintenance and a brilliant for ground cover under shrubs and trees,” says Raven. “They come in all shapes and sizes, with striking colours and markings on the flowers and foliage.”

Soil type: “Geraniums are not too fussy about soil type,” she adds. “Like most plants, they prefer it moist and well drained, but once established they can survive in the rain shadow of walls, shrubs or trees.”

Try this cultivar: Raven recommends Geranium ‘Rozanne’, explaining: “It’s the best of the violet-blue perennial geraniums for a pot or in the border, which flowers for months at a stretch.”

12. Geum

Prolific bloomers

Geum Totally TangerineCredit: Marlene Lento Design Studio

Why is it a good perennial? “Geums are some of the earliest flowering perennials,” says Lento, “often with evergreen foliage, ranging from [8in] to 60cm [2ft] in height, with buttercup-like flowers in yellow, orange, green and mauve colours.

“They are vigorous bloomers and easy to grow in most soils in full sun,” she adds, “and the colours are brilliant with spring bulbs, alliums and euphorbias.”

They also last well as cut flowers and will brighten up any inside space.

What soil type does it prefer? Moist and well-drained. Position in full sun.

Try this cultivar: Lento recommends Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ for its abundance of flowers that start in May and last until September.

13. Hosta

For shady year-round interest

Mix of hostasCredit: British Garden Centres

Why is it a good perennial? Palphramand recommends hostas for shady areas and says they are mainly grown for their foliage, “They come in a wide range of varieties, with leaves ranging from light green to blue.”

What soil type does it prefer? Moist, fertile soil. Position in light or partial shade.

Try this cultivar: Hosta ‘Patriot’ is a variegated hosta, with olive-green leaves and white margins. Spikes of lavender-blue flowers appear in July and August.

14. Japanese anemone

For attractive foliage

Japanese anemone with white flowersCredit: Marlene Lento Design Studio

Why is it a good perennial? Japanese anemones bloom in late summer and early autumn with white or pink flowers. They suit woodland and shady areas beneath trees and do well in shade.

The plants are known by many gardeners as windflowers because of their tendency to sway in the breeze. They are also popular with bumblebees.

What soil type does it prefer? Well-drained. Position in light shade.

Try this cultivar: Lento recommends Anemone x hybrida ‘Whirlwind’, for its slightly ruffled, white flowers with semi-double blossoms that flower in late summer.

“It’s great for brightening up a shady spot and isn’t fussy about soil,” she says. “It also does well in partial shade or shade, positioned in the middle of the border or on its own.”

15. Lysimachia nummularia

Soften hard edges

Lysimachia nummularia drapes over an edgeCredit: Marlene Lento Design Studio

Why it’s a good perennial: Lysimachia nummularia, also known as ‘creeping Jenny’, is fast-growing with rounded leaves and cup-shaped yellow flowers, that appear from June to August.

“This wonderful plant adds zesty yellow-green colour as it trails over edges and creeps along the base of plants in sun or part shade,” says Lento.

“It likes pond edges but will grow perfectly well in any bed, as long as it doesn’t dry out. I’d also recommend it as a weed suppressant.”

Soil type: Moist soil. Position in sun or partial shade.

Try this cultivar: Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ provides a low carpet of golden-yellow leaves and helps to soften hard edges. It enjoys moist conditions and can even be planted in the margins of a pond.

16. Rosa

Best for fragrance

Rosa banksiae 'Lutea' displays yellow cluster flowersCredit: Marlene Lento Design Studio

Why it’s a good perennial: What garden wouldn’t be without a classic rose, flowering in abundance from early summer in an array of pastel and vibrant shades?

Opt for a bush rose with a long flowering period, or a climber if space is limited. Some varieties will produce colourful hips in autumn that contain a rose’s seed – birds enjoying eating them and will spread them too. Roses are also good for cutting.

Soil type: Well-drained, fertile soil. Position in sun.

Try this cultivar: “Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’ has masses of light-yellow miniature roses and it’s thornless with a light scent,” says Lento. “The rambling rose is early to flower in April to May and will scramble over pergolas and into trees.”

17. Rudbeckia

Long flowering

Rudbeckia fulgid 'Goldsturm'Credit: Chiltern Garden Design and Nigel Procter

Why it’s a good perennial: Proctor’s go-to perennial is Rudbeckia as it holds interest during and after its flowering period. “It stands up well after flowering and doesn’t need deadheading instantly,” she says.

Soil type: Most soil types, although favours soils that are moist and well-drained. Position in full sun.

Try this cultivar: Proctor recommends Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ as it’s long flowering, easy to maintain and performs well into autumn.

18. Salvia

Easy to grow with velvet petals

Salvia × jamensis 'Nachtvlinder'Credit: © Jonathan Buckley

Why it’s a good perennial: “If I was only allowed to take one plant to a desert island, this would be in the running,” says Raven. “It’s a prolific flowerer with petals that look as if they have been cut from silk velvet.”

Apart from this quality, Raven explains that salvias are, “notoriously unfussy and easy to grow in a pot or in the border.”

Soil type: Salvias have a broad tolerance and favour moist but well-drained soil. Position in full sun.

Try this cultivar: Raven recommends Salvia x jamensis ‘Nachtvlinder’. “Its glorious, striking purple is my favourite of all the tender perennial salvias,” she says. “Serving as the perfect companion plant, we have it in our rose garden, underplanting the roses to protect them from fungal diseases.”

19. Sedum

Pick a late starter

Deep pink sedumCredit: British Garden Centres

Why is it a good perennial? “As other garden plants begin to fade, sedum awakens to add a burst of vibrant colour to the landscape,” explains Palphramand. “Its flat clusters of vivid rosy, pink blooms flower in late summer and autumn, drawing in pollinators to the garden.”

What soil type does it prefer? For optimal growth, sedums should be planted in soil that is well-drained and has an alkaline or neutral pH balance. Position in full sun.

Try this cultivar: Sedum ‘Munstead Red’ is compact cultivar with a dense head of raspberry red flowers that appear in late summer and autumn. The succulent foliage is also attractive, which provides added interest with the seed heads that appear in the winter.

20. Verbena

Encourage the bees and butterflies

Small White Butterfly (Pieris rapae) on Verbena bonariensisCredit: © Jonathan Buckley

Why it’s a good perennial: “One of my absolute favourite perennials, verbena, creates a lovely, airy filling within a border, and is an excellent choice for lining paths,” says Raven.

“Adored by the bees and butterflies for its rich source of nectar, it’s also loved by visiting goldfinches for its abundant seed,” she adds. “This plant will also help you achieve that wonderful, ‘settled-in’ look and feel.”

Soil type:  Well-drained soil. Position in full sun.

Try this cultivar: Verbena bonariensis is a total must-have, producing a haze of delicate purple flowers at head height, which becomes a ‘confetti of butterflies’ the moment there is a glimpse of sun,” Raven says.

She recommends protecting the plant with a layer of leaf mould or compost and giving it a mulch in the autumn.

Camilla Sharman

Written by Camilla Sharman she/her

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With her 30 years of experience, Camilla Sharman has covered a wide range of sectors within the business and consumer industries both as a feature, content, and freelance writer.  As a business journalist, Camilla has researched articles for many different sectors from the jewellery industry to finance and tech, charities, and the arts. Whatever she’s covered, she enjoys delving deep and learning the ins and out of different topics, then conveying her research within engaging content that informs the reader.