Updated/Fact-Chacked on June 20, 2023 by Gareth James
If you are planning a new border and considering plant colour, textures, height and spread, don’t overlook how the plants will look over winter. Why have a completely bare border when you could have evergreen perennials for winter interest? Paired with some winter flowering plants, you can have an engaging winter border.
This article will give you some ideas for evergreen perennials that will give you spring/summer flowers and year-round foliage. This is my short list of plants I am considering adding to a new border design.
- 1 What are perennial plants?
- 2 What are evergreen perennials?
- 3 What are semi-evergreen perennials?
- 4 Heucheras
- 5 Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’
- 6 Dianthus (Evergreen Varieties)
- 7 Hellebores
- 8 Bergenias (Elephants Ears)
- 9 Lavender
- 10 Iris lazica (Lazistan Iris)
- 11 Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’
- 13 Plants that leave seed heads and stems for winter interest
What are perennial plants?
A perennial plant will grow back each year and last for at least 2 years, opposed to annuals which flower, set seed and die all in one year. The term ‘perennial’ is also used by gardeners to differentiate plants from shrubs that have a woody structure. Perennial plants can be herbaceous, dropping all their foliage in winter or evergreen.
Herbaceous perennials lose all their foliage and stem over winter, opposed to deciduous shrubs which lose their leaves but the woody stem will remain all year.
What are evergreen perennials?
An evergreen perennial is a plant that keeps its leaves all year round and does not have a woody structure like a shrub. Evergreen perennials, like those listed below, can also flower each year at set times.
What are semi-evergreen perennials?
Semi-evergreen perennials keep their foliage if the winter is mild. For example, the scabiosa and chrysanthemum I planted last year kept all their foliage due to the last mild winter. If we had a very hard frost, these plants would have completely died back.
Heucheras are often used as bedding plants to provide textured leaf interest; they come in a range of leaf colours from lime green (Heuchera ‘Lime Marmalade’) to silver with purple veins (Heuchera ‘Spellbound’).
Many heucheras like to sit in dappled shade, being native to North American woodlands. In general, the darker the foliage, the more sun tolerant the plant will be. They can be fed with a tomato every 2-3 weeks during the summer months. Heucheras will keep their foliage over winter, but protect the roots from hard frost with some heavy mulching.
Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’
This plant keeps cropping up in many of our articles as it has a long flowering season and is a great middle-of-border plant. I have recently just planted one in my new border design and paired it with scabiosa and rudbeckia.
Since writing this article, I have bought a red flowering Erysimum and a yellow flowering variety for my front garden. Note the red flowering Erysimum (‘Red Jep’) flowers in spring/summer; my yellow flowering variety (‘Walfrasun’) is still in bloom, and it’s nearly November.
Dianthus (Evergreen Varieties)
Dianthus is a large genus with annuals, biannuals and evergreen perennials. Dianthus generally have a long flowering season and are great for the front of borders; often referred to as ‘pinks’ for the cottage garden look.
Evergreen dianthus varieties include dianthus memories (white), Alpine Pink (pink), Queen of Henry and Whatfield – generally any dianthus that is classed as ‘hardy’.
Hellebores are one of the few plants that will flower in the winter months, generally from January to the end of April. Along with winter flowers, hellebores will give you evergreen foliage.
Hellebores are generally around 30cm hight and sit well at the front of a sunny border. Larger varieties like the stinking hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) can grow to 60cm+.
Bergenias (Elephants Ears)
Bergenias are a fantastic evergreen perennial ideal for any border, giving year-round foliage which changes colour in Autumn. Bergenias are also easy to grow and come in a few varieties. They generally flower in spring, but you can get varieties that flower in late winter. Bergenias are low growing, front of border plants that can spread to around 2ft, ideal for ground cover to help prevent weed growth.
Lavender is regarded as a perennial evergreen shrub and great for borders or pots to add fragrance – bees also adore most lavenders. Most varieties are classed as ‘hardy’ having the ability to survive in -15 degrees.
Most lavender flowers are blue/purple, but you can find a white lavender, namely Lavandula x intermedia ‘Edelweiss’ the hybrid variety. While most lavenders are small and compact, Lavandula angustifolia can be used to add height to a border, with stems growing up to 60 cm.
Iris lazica (Lazistan Iris)
This iris flowers in early spring from March through to June, but will leave behind glossy foliage that can stand at 0.5 M tall. The plant works well in the middle or front of a border to add winter interest and provide a green backdrop to annuals at the front of a border.
Lazica can be grown in full sun or partial shade and is low maintenance. The plant spreads by rhizomes but can be easily divided if it outgrows its space.
Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’
This evergreen perennial makes the perfect bedding plant for filling in border gaps. The plant can flower from late April through to early July but will leave behind black leaves. Ajuga reptans can be grown in full sun or partial shade and is very hardy. The plant is non-toxic and loved by pollinators including bees, butterflies and hoverflies.
Plants that leave seed heads and stems for winter interest
You don’t always need an evergreen plant for winter interest in a border, many plants will leave seed heads and stems that can look interesting.
These plants all leave behind seed heads in winter and are worth considering for their architectural qualities in winter.
Phlomis russeliana (Jerusalem sage) – flowers can be yellow or pink and leave haunting looking seedheads over winter
Artichokes – Though the heads and generally harvested and eaten before they flower, they can be left to provide large seed heads over winter
Rudbeckia – Rudbeckia dead flower heads can look great with ornamental grasses over autumn and winter
Sea holy ( Eryngium varifolium) – This plant has amazing architectural qualities when in bloom and also leaves behind its spikey heads over winter
Evergreen Perennials FAQ
Do perennial plants stay green all year?
No, you will specifically need to buy evergreen perennials that are listed in this article.
What is the hardiest perennial flower?
Any perennial that has a hardiness rating of H7 can survive -20 degrees temperatures. Plants include Lily of the valley, Echinacea, hostas, Rudbeckia
Does lavender last all year round?
Yes, most lavender varieties are considered evergreen but will lose their flowers in winter.
What plants survive winter?
Most perennials will survive a UK winter if they have a hardiness rating of H4 and above. Below this rating, plants will have to be brought indoors or the tubers dug up and stored in a dry place like with dahlias.
What flower grows all year round?
No perennial will flower all year, but you can find long-flowering perennials that are also evergreen.
Gareth is the owner of Plantsman Media. Gareth lives in the North East of England and is obsessed with flowers. He has just started RHS level 2 certification.