Achillea ‘Coronation Gold’ This elegant combination of vertical stems and flat horizontal flower heads also brings us an unusual association of flower and foliage colour. The prettily lobed leaves, which form an attractive cluster of foliage when they first emerge, are greyish in colour while the heads of tiny flowers are bright yellow. Best in sun in any reasonable well-drained soil. 90cm (3ft).
Aconitum carmichaelii (Arendsii Group) ‘Arendsii’ - monkshood. Invaluable for bringing its rich lavender-blue colouring to the autumn garden more often filled with orange and rusty shades. The leathery dark green leaves set off the short spikes of flowers beautifully. The roots are tuberous, and can easily be divided; but all parts of the plant are poisonous, so it’s wise to take the precaution of wearing gloves. 1.2m (4ft).
Cottage garden favourite
Convallaria majalis - lily of the valley. 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. Sometimes slouching, sometimes vigorous but always worth growing for those delightful flowers and the red berries that follow. 20cm (8in).
Autumn (and winter) joy
Sedum (Herbstfreude Group) ‘Herbstfreude’ - ice plant. It might seem unlikely that a plant with such succulent foliage could be so frost hardy, but it’s not for nothing that sedums of this type are called ice plants. Broad, deep pink, slightly domed flower heads open in August and September and turn brown as they remain on the plant for autumn and winter interest. Needs support on rich soils. 50cm (20in).
Echinacea purpurea ‘Ruby Giant’. For sheer drama, it’s tough to beat 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. First grown here over one hundred years ago, this bold and dramatic favourite features large, blue-green, corrugated leaves just above which open short spikes of white, early summer flowers. An impressive specimen for light or partial shade which develops into a striking clump; late frost may damage new shoots, but by summer you’d never know. 80cm (2ft6in).
Lamprocapnos spectabilis - bleeding heart. 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 purplish pink and white flowers. May be damaged by late frosts but always recovers. The lovely pure white flowered form also has an AGM. 90cm (3ft).
Long lasting beauty
Phlomis russeliana - Jerusalem sage. Although originating in the very different climate of Syria, as long as the drainage is good this is an unexpectedly hardy perennial which, in spring, you may think has succumbed to winter cold - but is noted for its late emergence. The bold and broad, slightly felted lower leaves support upright stems, which may need discreet support, carrying clusters long lasting yellow summer flowers. 90cm (3ft).
Rays of sunshine
Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’. 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 (July to October) season, this is a colourful sun lover which usually comes true from seed. 80cm (2ft6).
The perfect foil
Alchemilla mollis - lady's mantle. Though perhaps losing its lustre as the plant that goes with everything simply through having been used with absolutely everything, lady’s mantle remains both valuable and exceptionally hardy. And it’s true that its chartreuse flowers blend happily with most other shades, while its soft lobed foliage is always appealing. Cut the flowers off as they fade to prevent the appearance of masses of seedlings. 45cm (18in).