5 resilient flowers that will thrive in the most difficult summers

August 14th, 2021 Posted In: Gardening know how

Resilient flowers are an essential part of a successful garden.

However carefully you choose the right plants for your weather, soil or zone, there’ll always be the unexpected weather event. Here in South East England, we usually have warm, but very dry weather in the summer.

But this year, we’ve had double the normal summer rainfall. And it’s been intermittently cool and windy. Flowers have been battered and blown about, or haven’t come out yet.

So the stars of the show have been the most resilient flowers and plants.

 

I’ve identified five resilient flowers I personally have found both tough and beautiful. Then I checked out what many major horticultural associations and plant sellers had to say about them.

So these five flowering plants will withstand both dry and wet weather, a range of soils and are also hardy across a wide range of zones or climates. They’re also a little less fussy about sun and partial shade than many other flowering plants.

Plus -at the end of this post, I’ve added a couple of good performers in my garden which may suit you.  But these last two will come with a hazard warning. So don’t plant them until you’ve checked them out for where you live.

This post focusses on flowers because many shrubs, trees and ornamental grasses are resilient. The difficulty is in finding resilient flowers for the border.

5 resilient flowers for your garden (+ 2 warnings!)

Find out more about each flowering plant and whether it will suit your garden in the post below.

  1. Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia)
  2. Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus)
  3. Catmint (Nepeta)
  4. Globe thistle (Echinops ritro)
  5. Roses – there’ll be one for you

The two plants I should warn you about are Bear’s britches (Acanthus mollis) and Japanese anemones (Anemone x hybrida). They are beautiful and can work in your garden. But they can spread too vigorously. And they are also forbidden in some parts of the world.

Oakleaf hydrangeas – the most easy-going hydrangeas

Eleven years ago I planted an oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’) under a tree and beside a wall. I really didn’t know much about gardening at the time! It is one of the most difficult positions in any garden. Most other plants I’ve put there haven’t survived.

Oakleaf hydrangea leaves.

The distinctive oak leaves of Hydrangea quercifolia or oakleaf hydrangea. This plant has thrived in a spot where most plants give up. This is ‘Snow Queen.’

But the oakleaf hydrangea is looking so pretty! It has white, conical flowers. And in the autumn, it has beautiful rich red foliage.

Autumn foliage for oak leaf hydrangeas

Oakleaf hydrangea changing colour for autumn.

Although hydrangeas are reasonably resilient plants, most do droop in a prolonged heatwave. I’ve had to water my other hydrangeas in really hot, dry weather. But I have never watered or fed my oakleaf hydrangea because it’s too far away from the hose. Some years I even forget to prune it. It has survived total neglect.

Most hydrangeas are happiest in partial shade, but the oakleaf hydrangea can handle full sun, too. According to the RHS, it can be planted in North, South, East or West facing positions. And it can cope with exposed or sheltered positions.

Oakleaf hydrangeas are resilient flowers

Hydrangea quercifolia is one of the prettiest and most resilient flowers in my garden.

It’s also widely quoted as being rabbit and deer resistant. But, as Rosy Hardy of Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants explains in Perennials Made Simple, all plants can get eaten by a deer or a rabbit somewhere in the world.

Oakleaf hydrangeas come from the United States, where they’re hardy between Zones 5-9. So they’ll survive UK, most European and Australian winters without a problem.

Cosmos – one of the most resilient flowers for a border

I’ve grown cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) almost every year. It always come up trumps, whatever the weather. Although I mainly grow pink or red cosmos, there are some beautiful white ones, and also lemon yellows.

Cosmos are resilient flowers

As you dead head cosmos, they bush out, pumping out more flowers and delicate foliage as the summer goes on. Also now available in white, pale pink, yellow and orange.

Keep dead-heading cosmos throughout the summer in order to enjoy flowers until the first frosts. Otherwise I have never personally either fertilised or watered it, even in the driest summers. And it’s looking good in this rather wet summer we’re having.

Cosmos is an annual, so although it’s considered hardy in a very wide range of areas, it doesn’t survive the winter. You plant new seed again every spring. However, Sarah Raven also suggests planting cosmos seeds under cover in September if you have a greenhouse or potting shed.

Cosmos does prefer full sun. I’ve grown it on the edge of one of my East-facing borders, but it strained to reach the light and never looked fully happy. And when I checked the RHS, BBC Gardeners World, Sarah Raven and US gardening blogs, The Spruce and Gardening KnowHow, they all confirmed this.

However, they all varied their advice on soil. Some said cosmos must have dry, poor soil. Our soil is dry, but quite rich. So I would interpret that as ‘cosmos is pretty happy on most soils.’

Cosmos is loved by pollinators. And although it self-seeds, it isn’t considered too aggressive in the UK, Northern Europe or Australia. But there are a few places in the US where it’s on an ‘invasive plants’ list.

Catmint/Nepeta – even less fussy than lavender

A friend recommended I grow catmint (specifically Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’) because it is less fussy than lavender. And lavender is not considered fussy – although it hates damp soils. This was when I was beginning to learn about gardening. I think he could see I needed ultra-resilient flowers and plants.

There are several different varieties of nepeta. It has grey-green foliage and spikes of blue, white or pink flowers. I’ve grown the taller one, ‘Six Hills Giant’, in both borders and pots. I’ve found it indestructible.  The flowers can last from June to September. If they over, chop them back and you’ll get a second flush. Otherwise you never have to feed or water it, or certainly I never have.

Nepeta lining a path

Nepeta lining a path. If you’re after resilient flowers, nepeta is even more easy-going than lavender.

Nepeta is loved by wildlife, and is ‘rabbit resistant’, according to plant grower Claire Austin of Clare Austin Hardy Plants. That can mean that a very hungry rabbit will have a go. But it’s less likely to be eaten than some of your other plants.

A friend of mine was dividing nepeta. She dropped a clump off for me in my front garden. I forgot about it. The next time I looked, it had taken root. So you barely need even to plant it.

There is some debate about whether nepeta is a suitable companion for roses. Several sites recommend it. But well known rosarian Michael Marriott of David Austin Roses told me it was not a good choice as it’s quite vigorous. Roses hate too much competition for nutrients.

Nepeta underplanting roses.

I planted Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ (top right of pic) beside the roses in my front garden. Michael Marriott told me it was not a good idea. I think the roses did grow less vigorously when the nepeta was there, although it’s hard to tell.

Many sites also recommend growing nepeta in full sun. But my nepeta has been fine in full sun and partial shade, and I’ve come across others who agree.

When I come across contradictory information on lots of different sites, I assume that this means different people have different experiences. So I’d recommend at least trying nepeta in partial shade. For more about choosing plants for shade, see this post.

Globe thistle – loved by pollinators

I’ve got two clumps of globe thistle (Echinops ritro ) in my garden. Both flourish whatever the weather. This is a member of the thistle family. Thistles are labelled ‘invasive’ (and therefore sometimes illegal) in some parts of the world.

However Echinops ritro seems to be accepted as non-invasive in every one of the dozen national and international blogs and websites I consulted on the matter. It even has an Award of Garden Merit from the RHS. But check it out where you live before planting it.

Easy-care echinops ritro

The taller echinops varieties need support. I didn’t support this one and it is sprawling everywhere. And this blue Echinops ritro definitely grows to 6ft, which was not what I expected.

I was, however, puzzled to find that everyone said it grows to 2ft-4ft. Mine is taller than I am (5’5″). It’s a remarkable presence in the garden. The white variety of echinops grows up to 6ft, but mine is definitely not white. Mine is blue. It is adored by pollinators.

There were also mixed messages over whether it must grow in full sun. One of mine is in full sun. The other is in an East-facing border, where I have had trouble growing sun-loving plants in the past. Both are towering and healthy.

Blue globe thistle

Blue globe thistle (Echinops ritro)

So, once again, I’d suggest giving it a go and seeing what happens.

Roses – there’ll be one for you!

I really thought carefully before including roses as ‘resilient flowers’. So many rose varieties ‘ball’ when it rains (the buds and flowers turn into mildewy balls and don’t open properly.) Roses also need dead-heading and how many flowers you get depends on whether you feed them.

But some are incredibly resilient. They really are. And there’s a rose variety for whichever impossible situation you find yourself in. My sister-in-law lives in Vermont, with four months snow a year. She has a catalogue of Sub Zero Roses. Although I’m not sure how successful she was. And Impatient Gardener blogger Erin has had trouble with getting roses through her Zone 5 Wisconsin winters.

Yet two of my roses have bloomed happily through wet summers and super-dry ones. One is ‘Bonica’ and I’ve lost the name of the other. It looks like Eustacia Vye, which was bred by David Austin for its ‘Wet, Windy & Exposed’ list. Both tolerate full sun and partial shade and grow on a wide range of soils. They flower from mid-summer to late autumn, if dead-headed regularly.

Bonica roses

‘Bonica’ roses in my front garden, in spite of all the wet and windy weather.

Rosa rugosa, the wild rose, is also very resilient. But it is on the UK’s Schedule 9 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act. That means it is considered invasive, especially in coastal areas. It is an offence to grow it in the wild or allow it to grow in the wild. As it’s quite difficult to prevent plants from escaping from your garden, this means that a responsible gardener will think twice about planting it.

It’s still sold, however, by many reputable companies and organisations. I checked six leading plant information/sales websites. All sold Rosa rugosa. None mentioned the issue of Schedule 9. So it’s down to us as gardeners to decide how we feel about including damagingly invasive plants in our gardens.

Thugs – flowers that are just too resilient!

Any plant that grows well in many situations has the potential to grow out of control in some places.

For us, as gardeners, it is merely irritating when a plant takes over our borders and refuses to be dug up.

But if plants go rogue in the wild, they often out-compete plants that usually grow there. Insects, algae, mosses and other organisms that rely on the indigenous plants can die out. Then the species that rely on those organisms can struggle. And the chain goes on.

So, in many parts of the world, there has been an effort to identify garden plants that may damage the wider environment. The UK has Schedule 9, as I mentioned earlier. Apart from botanists getting cross on Twitter, I’ve never seen anyone take any notice of it. Though I would be delighted if you could contradict me.

In the US, Canada and Australia, bans on invasive species of plants are taken much more seriously. So check which plants are considered just a bit too friendly where you are.

But there are less vigorous varieties…

In the UK, Acanthus mollis (Bear’s britches) is not listed under Schedule 9. But it is a spreader. Once you have it in your garden, it is extremely difficult to dig it up again.

But it has a wonderful sculptural shape, and withstands anything the weather can throw at it.

Acanthus mollis Rue ledan

Photographer Mikael Buck came to experiment with photographing my silver birches. He brought this smoke machine which shows off the Acanthus Mollis ‘Rue Ledan’ very well. You can see what a beautiful plant it is and it is completely trouble-free.

I have a less invasive variety called Acanthus mollis ‘Rue Ledan’, available from Sarah Raven. It has pure white spikes instead of purple tinted ones. It’s adored by pollinators. I’ve had it for over seven years and it hasn’t spread too far. Although it is time to divide the clumps.

Japanese anemone – the prettiest of thugs

I hesitated whether to recommend Japanese anemone (Anemone hupehensis/ Anemone x hybrida) because once you have it in your garden, it’s there for life. I decided to change my borders round – twice! On both occasions I had a professional gardener dig out the Japanese anemones. On both occasions the clump was back within the year.

Japanese anemones

Japanese anemones (Anemone x hybrida – possibly ‘September Charm’) So pretty. Such a thug.

However, it is very pretty and fuss-free. So I went online to see what anyone else had to say. The first site said that Japanese anemones ‘thrive in shade and cope with dry soil.’ Very much my experience!

Three lines later, the same post told me I must plant Japanese anemones in ‘moist… soil in light shade.’

Hello? Have we just contradicted ourselves?

Well, my Japanese anemones are in a dry, shady border, which I never water. We have around 26″ of rain a year, which is considered a ‘dry’ climate.

I trawled the websites of other horticultural organisations and plant sellers. Some said that Japanese anemones liked moist soil. Others that it needed well-drained soil. And others, of course, specified ‘moist, well drained’ soil. However, all agreed that once established, this is an exceptionally easy plant to grow.

There seems to be universal agreement that Japanese anemones won’t like very wet or boggy soil, especially in a cold winter.  So I think you could try Japanese anemones in any soil unless your garden is actually soggy.

‘September Charm’ has an RHS Award of Garden Merit and a good for pollinators badge. However, other sites said that Japanese anemones have very little pollen so they’re not good for pollinators. I’ve just seen two bees hard at work on my pink Japanese anemones.

One site even said it was ‘rabbit resistant.’ Well, it’s worth a try…

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16 comments on "5 resilient flowers that will thrive in the most difficult summers"

  1. RN says:

    Hi, Alexandra, only too grateful for plants like the Japanes Anemones,tough enough to withstand the Spanish Giant slug onslaught!I keep hearing they only eat the dead stuff,but thats along with eating all the newbies,too!!

    1. Quite agree re Japanese anemones. I do hope the Spanish slug doesn’t make it into this garden!

  2. David White says:

    The only way to get rid of Japanese anemones is to go through the soil with your bare fingers and laboriously find every single strand of the wiry roots and dispose of them. I’ve mostly decided to just live with them as in late August and September they do look amazing and they thrive on neglect.

    1. Totally with you on all points!

  3. Pippa Rubinstein says:

    Hi Alexandra. I love reading your blog – a bit of sanctuary in these times. I have all five plants including a small Oakleaf hydrangea. It produces the most beautiful and enormous flowers but gets very droopy. It’s in a shady place but I wonder if this is because it is too damp. Perhaps I should move it….

    1. There seem to be many reasons for hydrangeas drooping – they include trying to grow in an area with a lot of tree roots, being too dry and too much nitrogen in the fertiliser, but if yours is damp and if you’re not fertilising, then I’m puzzled (unless the shade is being caused by quite big trees). I’ve noticed a lot of flowers drooping this year especially early on. Sometimes it’s worth seeing what moving it will do, although it does like some shade. Sorry to sound so vague!

  4. ML Boden says:

    Will try your tip of Hydrangea Q under a try in mostly dry shade
    Have been looking for a solution since the rats’ nest was dug out !

  5. Kathy Maskell says:

    Hi Alexandra, in the photo above of your front garden (in the Nepeta section!) – what are the trees that you have either side of the entrance? Are they Amelanchier? Are they pleached or have you pruned them so they are not too deep (if you see what I mean)? I would like to do something similar in a friends front garden which is less than 2m deep (from front of house to road). Thanks and I love the blog btw. Kathy xxx

    1. Thank you! They are crab apples – Malus hupehensis, to be precise. They have that shape naturally, I just take off the branches I don’t want every winter, but it’s minimal pruning and even I can manage it (I haven’t so far needed anything more than a pruning saw).

  6. Cheryl says:

    I have a balcony and would like some tips on training plants

    1. I haven’t written anything about this, but I looked online to see if I could find you anything. This RHS post may be helpful: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=674 I think the basic principles are the same as for ordinary gardens – pick the right plant for the situation (eg sun or shade), and also check the height it will grow to. Then support smaller plants with ring supports in pots and climb trailing plants up low trellis. But bear the wind in mind – you don’t want to put in too high a trellis because when it is covered in plants, the wind can pull it down. I hope that helps.

  7. Melissa Trimingham says:

    Loved this sensible advice that also deals with contradictory growing information! Really well researched and useful….thank you

  8. Anja Schmalfuss says:

    Japanese anemones! I have some coming in from next door, from when they dug up a border. The plants seem to like it in my garden. I have actually planted it in dry shade in another part of the garden, and it struggles. A bit too dry I think, as it is near a hedge and under a Norwegian Maple (nb one of the worst trees to grow in an average garden, as shallow rooting and early leaf growth).

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