We need performers!

We all look for outstanding performers … so here are a few plants that in my opinion, merit an ‘outstanding’ award.

I have an all-consuming passion for trying new plants and arranging them in my garden.  There are some that truly add value for many months requiring little maintenance – just an annual trim.  It is a bit like my house really. After all, if there is not time for endless gardening, there isn’t time for endless housekeeping.  I know which one I prefer. 

Here are some notes on three enduring and pleasing plants for you to consider.  Even if these plants are not to your taste, you will find that if a plant is well placed and allowed to flourish, it will become part of the furniture, the backbone, and joy of your garden.  Do not discount them.

Soft shield fern (Polystichum setiferum).  Plant it in shade

I have a few varieties of these, all are graceful, low maintenance, and add essential texture.  I would say that half the people I design for dismiss ferns as they see plants for their ‘flowers’ rather than foliage.   Funnily enough, I used to not like ferns myself, but now I have the perfect site for a collection of them, I cannot have enough. 

In general, when you come to choose a plant for your garden, think first of the foliage, and then the flower.   Flowers are short-lived and are only there for one purpose.  I was given a fabulous book one year, called ‘Plant Love, the scandalous truth about the sex life of plants’, by Michael Allaby.  It has chapters with intriguing titles like ‘tarts and hookers… meet the flowers that are wide open and available to all insect life, or ‘Boozers and Chancers’. 

I am all for plants that attract an insect.  The decline of habitat caused by interaction with mankind, endangers natures pollinators so anything that helps insects is good in my book.  OK.  So polystichum isn’t great for attracting insects, but what it is good for is adding structure to a shady woodland border.   I make the case for plant diversity to help all wildlife.  Better to have choice plants, than bare soil or a lifeless grass lawn (more of that another time!)

Black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia sullivanti)Plant it in full sun.  Not for the feint hearted when it comes to colour with their truly gold / ochre yellow, petals.  Late and long flowering they take no work.  No staking, happy on clay.  They survive drought and heat as well as winter wet, though interestingly this year they did not grow as tall as usual last year, due to a dry spring.  They aren’t too vigorous and their seed heads make a tasty snack for the birds.  Up until they are chomped away, that is, they have structural dark brown seed heads, and are attractive in their own right.  This means they offer a warming spectacle from cheerful to muted, from July one year, through to March, the next. 

And for my final offering today, I share with you the wonderful wildlife plant, tall vervain aka purpletop vervain (Verbena bonariensis).  Sun or partial shade. Did you know there are fashions with plants?  I am told that this is now out of fashion.  Madness!  I don’t believe in plant trends – create your own, that’s what I say!  At maturity tall vervain will grow to between 4 and 8’, depending on fertility and water.   It can make a great see-through screen and is perfect for bees and butterflies as well as later becoming bird food.  It associates well with tall grasses like Stipa Gigantea.   I let it seed wherever it wants, and just move it if clashes with plants where it lands, with its purple lilac clusters of teeny tiny flowers.

It is a great performer.

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