Hydrangea aspera ‘Villosa Group’

Nigel Dunnett: 21 sustainable and beautiful plants

Welcome to our new series, introducing you to sustainable plants fresh for 2021. Our changing climate is already changing the way we garden. But what plants should we grow? Must we sacrifice lushness for toughness? We asked five leading designers whose gardens have sustainability at their core for their ideas. 

Nigel Dunnett
Nigel’s choices are all robust plants with strong character that fit nicely into the layers of naturalistic plantings, and above all have multiple seasons of interest. Find out more about Nigel’s influences, style and work at nigeldunnett.com

Advertisement
1

ACTAEA ‘QUEEN OF SHEBA’

Striking, dark purple-black foliage and arching racemes of scented white flowers in late summer – a long-season plant of great value. Really special gem for shade. H 1.5m. S 60cm. C Moist soil; sun to part shade. SI Spring to 38 autumn. HR RHS H4, USDA 4a-8b.

2

AGAPANTHUS ‘WHITE HEAVEN’

Really large heads of pure-white flowers in late summer over evergreen foliage. These are so exotic, but what I really like, in addition, are the papery seedheads and prominent pure black seeds, adding so much extra value. H 1m. S 50cm. C Moist but well-drained soil; sun with some shelter. SI Summer to autumn. HR RHS H4, USDA 7a-10b.

3

AMMI MAJUS

AMMI MAJUS
©Jason Ingram

Produces beautiful, billowing clouds of pure white from June through to September. A hardy annual that is easy from direct sowings outside in spring. Looks lovely scattered through perennials. AGM. H 1m. S 50cm. C Well-drained soil; sun or half-shade. SI Summer. HR RHS H6.

4

ANEMONE X HYBRIDA ‘HONORINE JOBERT’

Pure-white flowers in virtually never-ending abundance – starting in July and going on into November at head height. Perfect for bringing light into shady places. Needs plenty of space of course. AGM. H 1m. S 50cm. C Moist but well- drained soil; sun or part shade. SI Year round. HR RHS H7, USDA 4a-8b.

5

ASTER X FRIKARTII ‘MÖNCH’

Aster x frikartii 'Mönch'
©Jason Ingram

Is this the longest-flowering aster? Probably. It starts in August, and is often still going in November. The plants are open and quite floppy, but there’s no need to support them if you use them among plants they can weave through. AGM. H 60cm. S 50cm. C Moist but well-drained soil; full sun. SI Summer to autumn. HR RHS H7, USDA 6a-10b.

6

ASTILBE CHINENSIS VAR. TAQUETII ‘PURPURLANZE’

What a true multi-season plant! Its leaves emerge cherry-red in spring and then develop into lovely ferny foliage. The flower spikes in bud are beautiful, the purple-pink flowers shine, and the seedheads stand all winter long. AGM. H 1m. S 50cm. C Moist soil; full sun. SI Year round. HR RHS H7, USDA 4a-8b.

7

CALAMAGROSTIS BRACHYTRICHA ‘MONA’

A wonderful, medium-size grass that looks good virtually every day of the year. The shoots emerge olive green, with purple leaf and flower stems. The silvery-grey, fluffy flowerheads are pink-tinged and it bleaches out perfectly all winter. H 1m. S 1m. C Well-drained soil that is not too dry; sun or partial shade. SI Year round. HR RHS H6, USDA 4a-9b.

8

DIANTHUS CARTHUSIANORUM

Parham Gardens Plants (12th June 2018)
©Jason Ingram

A real go-to plant for dry meadow and steppe plantings. Produces heads of small, vibrant, pink flowers on long stems, over several months. Will self-seed around if happy. A green-roof stalwart. H 40cm. S 30cm. C Dry, well-drained soil; full sun. SI Spring to summer. HR RHS H7.

9

ERIGERON ANNUUS

A real pop-up plant! Delicate, small, white daisy flowers from August to December – really beats any white-flowered aster hands down. Great for mingling with robust perennials. Simply thin out seedlings each year where they’re not wanted. H 1m. S 50cm. C Light, well-drained soil; full sun. SI Summer to winter. HR RHS H6, USDA 2a-7b.

10

GERANIUM PATRICIA (= ‘BREMPAT’)

Patricia has lime-green young leaves, and an amazingly long flowering time, from early summer through to November, and is almost a vine, sending out weaving branches that wind their way through other plants, popping out all over the place. Great naturalised into a meadow. AGM. H 50cm. S 2m. C Moist but well-drained soil; sun or half shade. SI Spring to autumn. HR RHS H7, USDA 4a-8b.

11

HESPERANTHA COCCINEA ‘MAJOR’

There’s something very special about the sheer lusciousness of these tall spikes of crimson- red flowers in late summer and early autumn. Nice to mingle among Rudbeckia fulgida for a startling combination. AGM. H 70cm. S 30cm. C Moist but well-drained soil; sun. SI Autumn. HR RHS H4, USDA 7a-9b.

12

HEUCHERA VILLOSA ‘AUTUMN BRIDE’ 

Lovely mounds of soft, downy foliage look good from spring through to autumn and then take on fantastic autumn colours. Tall spikes of cream flowers. Works well among open, multi-stem shrubs or trees. H 60cm. S 40cm. C Moist, not too dry soil; sun or half shade. SI Spring to autumn. HR RHS H6, USDA 3a-8b.

13

HYDRANGEA ASPERA VILLOSA GROUP

Hydrangea aspera ‘Villosa Group’
©Jason Ingram

Greyish, felted, sensual leaves, purple and white flowers, beautiful flaking bark in the winter and an open structure, this is a magnificent shrub for structuring woodland-edge plantings. H 2m. S 2m. C Moist but well-drained soil; sun or part shade. SI Year round. HR RHS H5.

14

MISCANTHUS SINENSIS ‘SILBERFEDER’

A totally reliable Miscanthus that produces masses of flowers – which is what I grow Miscanthus for – in autumn. These stay on right through the winter. And it still looks great in January. Very upright plants, and the leaves have a silver mid-rib. AGM. H 1.5-2m. S 1m. C Moist but well-drained soil; sun. SI Year round. HR RHS H6, USDA 4a-9b.

15

NARCISSUS ‘ACTAEA’

The flowers of this gorgeous daffodil are oh-so elegant and beautifully scented too. The white flowers are combined with a small, yellow-orange cup that has a darker rim. Lovely in clumps and groups, but naturalised en masse in a meadow it’s breath-taking. AGM. H 30cm. S 30cm. C Moist but well-drained soil; sun to part shade. SI Spring. HR RHS H6, USDA 4a-8b

16

PRIMULA VULGARIS

Primula vulgaris,
© Bob Gibbons / Alamy Stock Photo

Indispensable herald of the gardening year. And not just for woodland shade: use it as an early flowering base layer among perennial plantings – it feels at home under the taller herbaceous canopy. AGM. H 20cm. S 20cm. C Moist but well-drained soil; full sun to part shade. SI Spring. HR RHS H7, USDA 4a-8b.

17

PULMONARIA ‘DIANA CLARE’

Pulmonaria 'Diana Clare'
© Sharon Pearson

I generally don’t go for many variegated plants but this – and the very similar P. ‘Cotton Cool’ – is an exception. Its silvery leaves look good from spring to winter and has blue spring flowers. Much easier than hostas AGM. H 30cm. S 30cm. C Moist but well-drained soil; full to part shade. SI Year round. HR RHS H6.

18

RHUS TYPHINA ‘DISSECTA’

Like virtually all of my plant choices, this is a virtuoso multi-season plant. An open, multi- stemmed shrub with ferned foliage, and spectacular autumn colour. Suckering isn’t really a problem in naturalistic plantings – just cut to the ground along with the perennials, and the whole shrub can be coppiced. AGM. H 3m. S 2.5m. C Moist but well-drained soil; sun. SI Year round. HR RHS H6, USDA 3a-8b.

19

RUDBECKIA FULGIDA VAR. DEAMII

Rudbeckia fulgida var.deamii
© Annaick Gutteny

One I can’t do without. Soft apple-green foliage – much better than all the other cultivars including the better known R. fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ – and yellow flowers with black pincushion centres that last until late autumn. Plus perfect winter skeletons. AGM. H 60cm. S 40cm. C Moist but well-drained soil; full sun or half shade. SI Summer to winter. HR RHS H6, USDA 3a-9b.

20

SANGUISORBA ‘BLACKTHORN’

Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Black Field'
©Jason Ingram

Low mounds of fresh ferny foliage and tall, upright stems holding narrow, strong pink flowers. Self-supporting and see through. Great in a meadowy planting with tall equally see-through Molinia cultivars. H 1.2m. S 40cm. C Moist but well-drained soil; full sun to part shade. SI Year round. HR RHS H7, USDA 4a-8b.

21

THYMUS ‘JEKKA’

Thymus ‘Jekka’, Jekka’s Thyme
© Anne Gilbert / Alamy Stock Photo
Advertisement

A really vigorous, totally bright, fresh, evergreen thyme that doesn’t become gappy or straggly. Ideal for groundcover in dry places, or trailing over walls. Covered in mauve flowers on long stalks in early summer. H 20cm. S 60cm. C Well-drained, neutral to alkaline soil; sun. SI Year round. HR RHS H6, USDA 5a-9b.