Location, location, location

Knowing what soil and light conditions plants require cuts down on expensive mistakes, writes JANE POWERS

Knowing what soil and light conditions plants require cuts down on expensive mistakes, writes JANE POWERS

DID YOU EVER notice how the plants in some gardens seem remarkably healthy, while in others they look as if they are barely hanging on? Often the healthiness of plants owes little to the skill or attentiveness of the gardener, it is more thanks to the fact that they suit the conditions where they are growing. The best season for putting in herbaceous things – autumn – is not too far away, so it is a good time to think about suitable plants to fill up spaces, or to replace those tired old things that never really worked. I’ve compiled some lists here of sterling plants for different situations in the garden.

Not all may be available at this time of the year, as some garden centres stock mainly what’s in flower or what’s looking good, rather than what’s sensible to plant now. But if you keep a list in your wallet, or on your phone, you can pick up the plants when they appear on the displays.



Only vigorous things will grow here. If you let them loose in the rest of the garden, they may take over. Water very well when planting, and water thoroughly every couple of weeks during the growing season for the first year, while the roots are getting established.

Japanese anemone (Anemone x hybrida and related cultivars): White or pink flowers on tall, wiry stems. Honorine Jobert is a white variety, perfect for brightening dark corners.

Bergenia: Evergreen leathery leaves and sprays of pink or white flowers.

Geranium macrorrhizum: Resin-scented, semi-evergreen foliage and white or pink flowers.

Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae: Evergreen wood spurge with glossy leaves and lime-green flowers in spring.

Lily-turf (Liriope muscari): Dark green grassy leaves and beaded sticks of violet flowers in autumn.

Anemanthele lessoniana: Pheasant’s tail grass (previously known as Stipa arundinacea), the best grass for dry shade, with an elegant, arching habit.


Water plants during their first year to help them establish. All of the following (except for the grass) are good nectar plants and will attract insects.

Achillea: Feathery foliage and flat plates of flower in white, yellow, orange, pink and red.

Sea holly (Eryngium): Many species and cultivars, with spiky, thistle-like flowers and blue-tinged or silvery foliage.

Knautia macedonica: Little ruby-red pincushions of flower on long wiry stems; pale pink, salmon and mauve kinds available as Melton pastels forms.

Russian sage (Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’): Upright, shrubby plant with spikes of blue flowers; this doesn’t like to be crowded.

Verbena bonariensis: Very tall, purple-topped, airy plant; a loose row of them can make an excellent see-through curtain in the front or middle of a border

Stipa tenuissima: Sometimes known as ponytail grass for its wispy leaves and inflorescences; silvery-green to start with and becoming buff-coloured as the season wears on.


These plants will grow in damp, but not permanently waterlogged, soil.

Actea: Previously known as Cimicifuga, these are tall spires of flowers over cut foliage. The Atropurpurea Group has bronze stems and leaves, and pink-tinged blooms.

Astilbe: Plumes of white, pink or red borne over deeply-cut green or bronze foliage; ‘Fanal’ has deep red flowers.

Ajuga reptans: Groundcover plant with small, spoon-shaped leaves and short spires of blue flowers in spring. The bronze-purple-foliaged ‘Atropurpurea’ is widely available.

Umbrella plant (Darmera peltata): Pink drumsticks of flower in spring, followed by the eponymous umbrellas.

Hosta: One of the most elegant of foliage plants, with ribbed and quilted leaves, and tubular flowers; there are hundreds of varieties, and are very popular with slugs and snails.

Shuttlecock fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris): Beautifully architectural fern, with tall, upright fronds.


These are mostly large-scale plants, and look well if they have lots of room to spread their wings. In a smaller garden, use only one or two, and don’t cram them together.

Eupatorium purpureum: The American Joe Pye weed, a stately plant with pinky-purple umbrellas of blossom, beloved of bees and butterflies.

Meadowsweet (Filipendula): The native F. ulmaria has creamy sprays of flower, and looks good in a wild garden. For a more cultivated look, choose one of the pink varieties, F. purpurea or F. rubra ‘Venusta’.

Iris ensata: Show-off irises from Japan and eastern Asia with white, pink, mauve or violet flowers in summer.

Ligularia: Several species and cultivars, with large leaves and canary-yellow flowers, these beefy plants needing plenty of space.

Thalictrum: The meadow rues, a group of plants with tall, airy sprays of flower in white, pink, mauve and violet.

Trollius: The globe flowers, striking yellow blooms, members of the buttercup family. The cultivar ‘Alabaster’ has pale creamy-yellow flowers. jpowers@irishtimes.com

August 22nd, 10am-5pm Farmleigh Plant Fair, Phoenix Park, Dublin 15. Specialist nurseries from all over Ireland, children’s garden, garden advice clinic with Dermot O’Neill, a food market and brass band. Admission is free.