Plants that fade gracefully

Make your garden work hard by choosing perennials that continue to offer attractive colour, texture and wildlife value over colder months

We asked four horticulturists from RHS Gardens and Partner Gardens for their recommendations on perennials that keep on giving even after the frosts have arrived.


Osmunda regalisOsmunda regalis (royal fern)
Matthew Pottage, Curator, Wisley

 

At Wisley we have very old, large, established clumps of this magnificent fern. It has the most wonderful autumn display, turning shades of butter yellow, through to a golden bronze, finally ending with a coppery hue.

As it turns, the fern slowly folds itself into what looks like a tangled bird's nest of leaves and stems, which looks colourful through until the end of the year. If not cut back, the foliage is a good wildlife shelter.

Osmunda is a water-loving plant, and is happiest alongside subjects such as Iris and Typha, which can also add structural interest if not cut back until late March – especially when adorned with frost. When it reawakens, the pinkish fronds almost seem to unfurl by the day, and are one my favourite sights in spring.

More about RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey


Miscanthus Ferner OstenMiscanthus sinensis 'Ferner Osten'
Neil Lucas, Owner, Knoll Gardens

 

From mounds of linear green foliage come masses of dark reddish flowers in high summer. Over the next few months the flowers gradually fade through silver to beige but retain their wonderful texture. The foliage often turns warm shades of autumnal orange before finally drying to its winter garb of light beige.

'Ferner Osten' makes wonderful overwintering habitat as the plant stays intact until cut down in spring. Seed-eating birds, especially goldfinches, love the seeds. It goes especially well with larger perennials such as Eupatorium, Verbena and Rudbeckia, which also fade gracefully. Like most flowering grasses, 'Ferner Osten' prefers an open sunny spot for best growth and colour.

More about Knoll Gardens, Dorset


Echinacea pallidaEchinacea pallida
Paul Smith, Head Gardener, Scampston Walled Garden

 

A nice soft pink flower, the petals fade to a washed pink before falling to leave a well-defined seedhead. Although a very graceful plant with thin stems, it still stands well into the winter. The seedheads then become welcome food for mice and birds.

E. pallida grows well within other plantings, happy to push up in between stronger plants. As with most Echinacea it will self seed a little - the seedlings of which often grow better than the main plant.

More about Scampston Walled Garden, North Yorkshire


Image: Elliott ForsythFrancoa sonchifolia
Elliott Forsyth, Head Gardener, Cambo Gardens

 

Grouped or scattered, this eyecatching Chilean plant offers interest before, during and after flowering. It has lovely pink and white flower spikes arranged on strong stems from July to August, followed by excellent pale brown seedheads which light up when caught by the sun. Persistent through winter, it can be used with grasses to enliven some of the darker browns in the midwinter garden. 

The attractive leaves are arranged at the base, leaving the stems clear and offering good transparency. At Cambo we use it interplanted with Sedum 'Matrona' for a two-tier effect. It is hardy to H4 - we have never lost it.

Despite its almost evergreen leaves it responds well to being cut back hard in February. A good low-maintenance, high-output plant.

More about Cambo Gardens, Fife


 

Perfect perennials


Picking the perfect perennials will give your garden interest all year round. They can be deciduous (die back each year), such as delphiniums; or evergreen, like many ornamental grasses. Click the picture above for tips on growing some choice ones.

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