So you want to grow beautiful plants and flowers but don't know where to start? Try this selection of tough plants for years of easy enjoyment
Many of these award-winning plants are old favourites – one reason is that they’re so difficult to kill. All of them have an RHS plant hardiness rating of H7, which means they'll sail through even the harshest winter.
Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) is a rare British native whose perfume and quiet beauty are captivating. In shady spots the roots can sometimes spread strongly, with the dark foliage making effective ground cover and the ideal background for the arches of nodding white bells. It's always worth growing for those delightful flowers and the red berries that follow. 20cm (8in).
Yarrow - Achillea ‘Coronation Gold’ has vertical stems and flat horizontal flowerheads which brings a delightful combination of flower and foliage colour. The greyish feathery leaves form an attractive cluster of foliage when they first emerge, while the heads of tiny flowers are bright yellow. Plant in sun in any reasonable well-drained soil. 90cm (3ft).
Monkshood – Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’ – is invaluable for bringing its rich lavender-blue colouring to the autumn garden which is more often filled with orange and rusty shades. The leathery, dark green leaves set off the short spikes of flowers beautifully. 1.2m (4ft).
'Autumn Joy' sedum (Hylotelephium ‘Herbstfreude’) is surprisingly frost hardy. It’s not for nothing that sedums of this type are called ice plants. Broad, deep pink flowerheads open in August and September and turn brown as they remain on the plant for autumn and winter interest. Provide support for your plants if your garden soil is on the fertile side, as they may grow lush and flop ever when in flower. 50cm (20in).
Echinacea purpurea ‘Ruby Giant’ is a perennial for sheer drama. It’s tough to beat, being one of the large-flowered echinaceas. ‘Ruby Giant’ has flowers 12cm (5in) across which open in reddish pink and mature to silvery pink – and each with that rounded red-and-honey central cone. The stems branch so that each plant features an impressive display, and it really is tough. 90cm (3ft).
Hosta sieboldiana var. elegans is an old and dramatic favourite with large, blue-green, corrugated leaves and short spikes of white flowers in early summer. Plants develop into striking clumps, making impressive specimens in light or partial shade. Late frost may damage new shoots, but by summer you’d never know. 80cm (2½ft).
Bleeding heart – Lamprocapnos spectabilis – is better known by its old name of Dicentra spectabilis. This is one of the most elegant of perennials in the arching growth of its succulent stems – and one of the most intriguing in the colour and structure of its pink and white flowers. It may be damaged by late frosts but it always recovers. The lovely pure white flowered form also has an AGM. 90cm (3ft).
Perfect for hot, dry gardens, Jerusalem sage (Phlomis russeliana) is an unexpectedly hardy perennial. In spring you may think it has succumbed to winter cold - but it is noted for its late emergence. The bold, slightly felted lower leaves support upright stems carrying clusters long lasting yellow summer flowers; its seedheads then make an interesting feature in autumn and winter. 90cm (3ft).
Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ is one of the brightest of summer perennials. The deep yellow ray petals strike out boldly around the chocolate brown central cone, each flower held on an upright stem which supports itself well if the soil is not too rich. With a long flowering season from July to October, this is a colourful sun lover which usually comes true from seed. 80cm (2½ft).
Lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis) is both valuable and exceptionally hardy. Its chartreuse flowers blend happily with most other shades, while its soft lobed foliage is always appealing, especially when holding dewdrops. Cut the flowers off as they fade to prevent seedlings taking over. 45cm (18in).