A guide to choosing perennials

When considering what to put in a border perennial plants are a must. Easy to grow, many are long lived and there are hundreds of plant shapes and flower colours to choose from. This sheer choice can make selecting the right variety a daunting process especially for the less experienced gardener.

So here are a few guidelines to make the task simpler.

What is your soil like?

Most perennials grow in well-drained soil that does not stay wet for long, but if the soil is really dry or stays wet for a long time there are many varieties to choose from. Because most perennials originate from meadow or grass land they grow best in soil that is not too rich in nutrients. If you are uncertain about your soil type a simple to use shop-bought soil tester can be useful. Be aware though, that the soil in one area of your border may be different to that in another area.

How much light will the plants get? 

The amount of light available to a plant will also define your choice of plants. Stand in the place where the plants are to be grown and take a look at where the sun is. Most perennials need sun for a good proportion of the day, say from 10 am to 4pm, while some are natural woodlander and love shady spots. 

How tall and wide do you want the plants to grow?

Perennials come in all shapes and sizes. Tall ones can grace the back of a border, while short, spreading types are great for the very front. As perennials dies back in autumn and re-emerge in spring they strive to reach the ultimate height and width within one growing season. They also grow at different rates so if you plant a tall perennial in front of a short one, the shorter plant will be hidden if they both bloom at the same time.  

When do you want them to flower?

I love my garden to have flowers for as much of the year as possible, but some gardeners don’t spend much time in the garden until the days get warmer and lighter. Consider when you use the garden most. For instance if space is limited don’t waste money growing early spring flowering perennials that may never be seen at the end of the garden.

Which flower colours do you like?

Just as you spend time choosing curtains for your windows, the choice of flower colour is a personal thing. Most of us have favourite colours so don’t let anyone say that you should not put two disparate tones, such as yellow and pink, together. If its what you want go with it!

Other things to consider

There are other considerations that might help limit the number of plants to choose from. You might want to attract wildlife, or to cut flowers for the vase. If space is limited you may want the longest flowering varieties. You can also choose plants that have been awarded the Award of Garden Merit (AGM) by the Royal Horticultural Society. It is a great guide, but not one that is faultless.

You can select soil type, amoung to sun (full sun, partial shade, etc), height and width and much more when you BROWSE PERENNIALS on the webstie. My book ‘Claire Austin’s Book of Perennials’ can provide you with more information too.