There are some plants that are just a pain to grow, rather like a new born baby they need a high level of input to look after them. In my own garden I’m thinking roses in particular, not only is there the appropriate pruning regime for that particular rose but also the feeding, the deadheading, the watering and that’s before I even mention the list of pests and diseases just waiting to attack them. Then there are plants such as delphiniums and hostas which are mauled by slugs. Stunning magnolias which you wait all year for to flower and then just when they are looking at their best there is a frost, which turns all those petals to brown mush and oriental poppies whose flowers can be destroyed by a heavy shower. I still grow these plants, well apart from the delphiniums there really was no point giving the slugs a slap up meal every spring, because for all the hard work they are glamorous and beautiful. Fortunately though there are some plants out there that just get on and do their thing without any fuss or attention. These are often not the showiest, most dramatic of plants but they are in my opinion the unsung heroes.
I’m thinking of plants such as Alchemilla mollis. I know a lot of people who think of it as a weed. Yes it does self seed but I’ve found the young plants easy enough to remove. I love its crinkly fresh green foliage as it starts to grow in early spring and once fully unfurled the leaves capture raindrops, where they sit like globules of mercury. The lime green, fading to yellow, flowers are not dramatic but give the garden a zing and contrast well with so many other plants. I love using the flowers in my cut flower arrangements where they have a good vase life and the foliage is a useful filler too. By July the leaves and flowers of alchemilla are starting to look tired but if you cut them back fairly hard, in several weeks you will have plenty of new, fresh green growth and with a mild autumn, a second flush of flowers.
Another favourite of mine is erigeron or Mexican fleabane. It’s a plant I remember from my childhood holidays in Cornwall growing in rocky crevices. These plants always looked a bit scrawny in such poor conditions but grown in richer garden soil it will make larger, greener clumps that are covered in daisy like flowers all summer long. The only care erigeron needs is a cut back in mid spring.
Sedums are a must in any garden. From as early as February their thick, fleshy rosettes of leaves push through, forming clumps as the spring and summer progresses. From July they start to flower in a range of pinks, reds and white and are adored by butterflies, bees and hoverflies. Their flowers fade in mid autumn but as they die and dry out they leave seedheads which if left over winter look beautiful rimed with frost. A quick trim back of these stems in late spring is enough to keep these plants looking good.
Geraniums are a large group of plants and they are an excellent easy going addition to any garden, from tiny alpine plants to big and blousy clumps they will tolerate a variety of conditions. Geranium phaeum is an early flowerer but most will bloom from May until July. To get a second flush of flowers be brave and cut the plant back down to the ground. This may seem extreme but you will be rewarded with fresh leaves and more flowers.
And finally, valerian or centranthus is another unsung hero in my own garden. It too, reminds me of holidays in Cornwall where it can be found growing in fairly inhospitable places, virtually growing in sand and being hit by salt-laden winds. It will grow more lush in garden soil producing good sized clumps with either reddish pink or white flowers, I personally prefer the pink. Leaves start to appear in late February with flowers appearing from late May and given a sunny spot it will flower all summer long. It does benefit form a little deadheading and this helps to restrict it self sowing but is otherwise unfussy.
All these plants are untroubled by pests and diseases, left untouched by slugs and are easily propagated, so are great for filling gardens on a budget. So lets hear it for the unsung heroes of our gardens and be grateful that not all plants are as needy as roses!
I loved to hear about the plants you think deserve a bit more attention.