What are perennial plants? The top 10 timeless garden classics
From trees with attractive foliage to small herbaceous plants with woody growth, perennial plants cover a wide range of plant species that all have one thing in common – they grow back year after year. Compared to annuals, that grow for one year and then die away, perennial crops are long-lasting and can help you grow a mature garden landscape.
When we think of most perennials, we conjure up pictures of colourful flowers and cottage garden delights. So, if you are looking to plant perennials to create a timeless English garden that blooms yearly with minimal fuss, we can help. From their growing season to their love for well-drained soil, discover more about our ten most timeless garden perennials below.
Quick perennial recap
In general, plants can be split into two categories: annuals and perennials.
Annuals (annual meaning year) only live for one year. After they have grown, bloomed, and possibly even fruited, they will release seeds and die back. Although some of those seeds may establish themselves, the original plant won’t grow back. A good example of this would be a tomato plant or a green bean plant. We grow them from seed, harvest their fruits, and then the plant dies away by autumn or winter.
In comparison, perennial plants grow back year after year. Keeping with our vegetable patch example, rhubarb and many herbs like rosemary and sage will continue to grow year after year, producing multiple harvests. This is what a perennial is all about.
What about evergreen and deciduous plants?
Often confused with annual and perennial terms, evergreen and deciduous refer to the seasonal habits of a plant. A deciduous plant will lose leaves and die back in the winter, while an evergreen plant retains foliage throughout the cold months. For example, a pine tree is evergreen while an apple tree is deciduous.
When it comes to perennials – plants that come back year after year – you can find both evergreen and deciduous varieties. On our list below, Vinca is a classic evergreen perennial while Echinacea is a beautiful deciduous perennial.
There are other terms to look out for, like biennial and bulbs and all manner of other plant types. At Gardeners Dream, we make sure to explain exactly what each plant is, what to expect from it, and how best to take care of it. Just click on any product on our website to see all the details. You can also reach out to our horticulturalists if you need specific advice on creating a wonderful garden with any of our timeless perennials listed below.
Now let’s dig in!
10 timeless perennial plant varieties
These ten perennials offer a variety of options, whether you want perennial flowers for early summer or long-lasting blooms to add extra colour in autumn. Some have a long life cycle, while other short-lived perennials bloom and die back in a flash. But what all ten have in common is that they add a timeless look to your garden.
P.S. If you are looking for perennial vegetables for the vegetable patch or trees and hedges for height, you can find these at Gardeners Dream too.
1. Shasta daisy
The Leucanthemum Freak, better known as the Shasta daisy, is one of our favourite herbaceous perennials. This daisy-like plant has gorgeous white flowers with yellow centres, just like a daisy. These beautiful blooms emerge with ruffled paper petals throughout the summer months, not dying back until the last weeks of the late summer.
Shasta daisy loves full sun and will grow happily in a flower bed with green foliage before the tall stems develop and flowers bloom. These perennials are notoriously easy to grow and typically bloom consistently throughout the season. Growing up to 65cm tall, these are lovely cut flowers or tall plants for the back of flower beds.
2. Iris bulbs
Daffodils are the cheery face of spring, brightening your garden after the last light frost. Crocus are best-sellers too for this time of year. But if you want a truly timeless perennial for the spring growing season, then you should select Iris Bulbs. These are the best perennials for adding some intense shades to the late spring garden.
From the Siberian iris to the dwarf harmony, there are numerous iris in shades of blue, indigo and purple, with bright yellow centres. Although they pop up for a short time like annual plants, these perennials tend to come back year after year and naturalise well in the autumn. Unafraid of cold weather, they bloom from February to March before they die completely.
If you are looking for classic perennial flowers for a cottage garden, then Lupin (see below) and Anemone are the best perennial flowers for you. Anemones are daisy-like plants that come in a huge range of colours and varieties. They are late bloomers, providing colour in the late summer and early fall when most other plants are beginning to wither away.
Loving full sun (or partial shade at least), they provide excellent ground cover with a mound of soft green foliage and an abundance of blooms. These perennials live for a long time, but you should take care to mulch over the root systems during winter to help them survive the coldest frosts. Above ground, they are particularly resilient and suitable for exposed areas.
Our favourite anemones are:
- Fantasy Jasmine – blush pink petals
- Blanda Blue – bulbs for March and April
- Wild Swan – white flowers for half the year
Flowers are beautiful, but they aren’t the only option. You can also choose perennials like Hosta, which provides lush greenery through the foliage. This perennial plant is a super tough perennial, growing with impressively large, thick and textured leaves. Known for being shade-loving plants and having a long life span, Hosta varieties are timeless for bulking out flowerbeds.
So long as they have part shade, new plants will grow quickly and robustly. They reach full size in just a few years and we highly recommend thinning them out. Some Hostas will produce flowers, but most varieties like Sum And Substance or Blue Mouse are better known for their clumping deciduous foliage. Although large and robust, you cannot deny that Hostas have elegance!
On the topic of elegance, if you want classic perennials to attract butterflies, then you cannot go wrong with the beautiful flowers of Agapanthus. Growing in shades of blue and white, these globe-shaped flowers grow in clusters atop long, sturdy stems. Despite looking incredibly extravagant and eye-catching, these flowers are blissfully low maintenance with many varieties being drought tolerant too.
Also known as the African Lily, Agapanthus varieties like Brilliant Blue and Charlotte bloom in the early summer. They may need to be mulched over in the winter, to ensure they survive the cold weather, but with careful nurturing, they will become timeless tall perennials in your garden. You can even split them up every few years for an easy way to propagate more plants.
If you are dreaming of the perfect English cottage garden, then it won’t be complete without these deciduous perennials. Attracting bees and butterflies (and maybe attracting hummingbirds too), Lupins are tall and stately perennial plants that grow in clumps and flower from early summer. Not to be confused with numerous other flower varieties that also grow tall on a single stem – think Hollyhocks and other lupine-like flowers – Lupins are a timeless choice.
Available in a huge range of shades from the violet-blue Lupin Persian Slipper to the rich pink, red and yellow shades of Lupin Terracotta, there’s a Lupin perennial for every garden. Grown in full sun or part shade, these plants can reach 1 metre when in full bloom so they are fantastic for adding height to your garden space.
Vinca are perennial plants with deep, lush green foliage and pretty flowers in shades of white, blue and lilac. With foliage that can be as dark and intense as ivy, growing as an evergreen shrub, they provide year-round interest and won’t die back like other perennials. The lifecycle of the Vinca flowers extends through spring, summer and autumn depending on the variety, providing colour throughout portions of the year that are hard to fill, like late summer. Customer favourites include the Blue Periwinkle Dwarf Vinca and the delicate white flowers of Vinca Minor Alba.
This plant is notoriously hardy and provides good evergreen ground cover wherever you place it. From full sun to shade, it is happy in most circumstances and doesn’t have a preference for soil type either. Although this perennial has a timeless appearance, it does need to be managed to prevent it from taking over your garden. Thin out, or prune back, the Vinca every year.
Echinacea are classic flowering perennial plants also known as coneflower. They have daisy-like flowers with a cone-shaped centre, making them distinct from the similar Shasta daisy and anemone perennials listed above. An echinacea plant is highly beneficial for pollinators, so it will attract all manner of bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects into your garden. This is great for the eco-system too.
The Echinacea flowers are available in a huge range of colours, from SunSeekers Pink to White Meditation. These flowers typically bloom from mid-summer into autumn, so they are ideal for adding colour after your late spring flowers have died back. The Echinacea plant enjoys full sun and well-draining soil but doesn’t need any particular care to thrive in your outdoor space.
Clematis are a group of hardy perennial plants that bloom with vivid flowers in a range of feminine colours. As perennials go, they are quite hardy and extremely varied. The Clematis Purpurea Plena Elegans, for example, has elegant ruffled petals in a dusky purple-magenta shade. Other timeless Clematis varieties have simpler flowers with striking patterns, like the raspberry-striped purple-blue flowers of Clematis Mrs N. Thompson.
You can find a timeless plant for your garden in this collection of Clematis plants. You will need to check the individual plant for its bespoke requirements, but most of the Clematis plants are eager climbers. They prefer partial shade or full sun, with rich well-draining soil. Most will flower once or twice a year spring and/or autumn.
The final perennial on our list of plants is Achillea, also known as Yarrow. These classic perennials bloom with lots of tiny flowers in the full sun, adding a touch of wildness to your outdoor space. If you love wildflowers but are tired of sowing annual seeds year after year, then Achillea is an excellent perennial plant alternative.
Some of our best-selling Achillea include the New Vintage Rose and Achillea Moonshine. Yarrow benefits from being deadheaded, and this may even extend the typical flowering season from summer through to autumn. Yarrow plants also have intriguing fern-like foliage that adds visual interest to flower beds. As a bonus, these timeless perennials tend to be rather drought resistant too.
What is the difference between annuals and perennials?
Perennial plants live year after year, while annual plants complete their lifecycle in one year – once annuals are dead, they are dead! Most shrubs and trees are perennials, along with numerous flowers and plant varieties.
What are perennial flowering plants?
Perennial plants live for consecutive years. When these perennials are flowering plants, this means that they will continue to flower each year as the plant enters its growing season. The are numerous perennial options that flower, from tender perennials to herbaceous varieties.
What is a hardy perennial?
A hardy perennial can survive cold winters and harsh conditions without fuss. Most evergreen perennials are hardy, while some deciduous shrubby plant varieties can also be quite hardy. Non-hardy varieties should still come back each year but may be more fussy about water, light, soil and temperature conditions.
Can you plant perennials all year round?
Although a perennial plant may be alive all year round, you cannot go planting perennials at any time. In the winter, with the frozen solid ground, it would be impractical anyway! Some bulbs that flower in early spring must be planted the autumn before. Most perennials should be planted in either autumn or spring.
What are the best perennial flowers?
There are so many herbaceous perennials that bloom into a flowering plant variety in spring and summer. It’s hard to choose! Some of the most popular in the UK include iris bulbs, for blue-purple flowers, and anemones or echinacea for bright yellow flowers. You can find flowers in all colours at Gardeners Dream.