Choosing plants for traditional gardens

A garden that changes with the seasons is a lovely addition to a period home. Here, horticultural experts share some of their favourite plants for a traditional scheme

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While there are no rules to say what you can and can't plant in a traditional garden, there are some specimens that look so at home surrounding a cottage or a country farmhouse. What's more, many of our favourite plants have perfectly adapted to the British climate, making them sensible options over exotic breeds that are destined to fail after a light frost.

Meadow style planting is as popular as ever – perhaps even more so in recent years as we are rallied to make our gardens havens for wildlife once again. Cowslip, buttercups, yarrow, ox-eye daisies, grasses and other wildflowers will create a range of colours and textures. Or, if you are the practical kind, make sure you reserve at least a little section of your plot for a kitchen garden where you can grow your own and dream of a life of self sufficiency.

However, when it comes to creating perfectly curated borders, hanging baskets or tubs, there are some plants that the archetypal English country garden would never be without. We asked some of the country's horticultural experts to pick their favourite plants for traditional schemes.

Cyclamen persicum

Family: Primulaceae


The Persian cyclamen is a small plant that blooms with romantic, heart shaped leaves and upswept petals in a warming range of colours from white through to soft pinks and vivid magentas. It can be planted in the garden for some autumnal colour and grown indoors as a houseplant.


To grow as a houseplant, place the potted Cyclamen persicum in a cool area where it will catch the bright light but be kept out of cold draughts. It will also thrive as a planted container outdoors.


When kept indoors, this pretty plant will usually bloom from November until March or April.

plants for traditional gardening cyclamen persicum

Cyclamen persicum is picked by Steve Guy, head of horticulture at Dobbies Garden Centres (0131 561 6406)

Top tips for care of Persian cyclamen

Dead-head regularly to encourage new and continuous flower growth by tugging sharply at the dead foliage.

‘Diggory’ snow drop

Family: Amaryllidaceae


‘Diggory’ is one of the easiest specialist snowdrops to recognise. Rather than the petals being smooth and glossy, they are puckered and crumpled, a little like taffeta, expanding with a strong curve to resemble a Chinese-lantern, dangling from a slim stalk. The edges of the leaves curve back on themselves for a pleated effect.


While taller than the common snowdrop, it is still a fairly small bulb and should be planted near the front of a border or in a raised bed where its handsome globes can be admired. Plant bulbs in late summer or buy ‘in the green’ in early spring.

Snowdrops like a rich, well-drained but moisture retentive soil with good light in the growing season and summer shade and should not be allowed to dry out completely. They don’t do well in permanent containers so plant them into open soil and give them the occasional feed of general purpose fertiliser or tomato food while they are growing and a mulch of compost or leaf mould in autumn.


From the middle of January, snowdrops are flowering their socks off, providing a fabulous winter spectacle which peaks in February.

plants for traditional gardens snow drop diggory

Snow Drop ‘Diggory’ is available to buy from Ashworth Nurseries

Top tips for care of snow drops

Always put snowdrops where you can see them from the house. They look best as part of a mixed planting scheme, so team them with mauve Crocus tommasinianus, small evergreen ferns, cyclamen and cheerful yellow aconites. They also look good with grasses or under colourful shrubs and trees such as dogwoods and witch hazel.

‘Olivia Rose Austin’ Rose

Family: Rosaceae


David named this new rose for 2014 after his granddaughter, so it had to be something rather special! The soft pink, rosette blooms are of beautiful Old Rose formation and have a lovely, strong fragrance with delicious fruity tints. It is also exceptionally healthy.


A vigorous, multi-purpose shrub, it is ideal for formal plantings, mixed borders or for growing in a large pot. It will also form a fragrant, floriferous hedge. Approximately 3ft high by 2½ft wide. It’s available as a bare root between November and April or in a pot all year round.


Repeat flowers in fragrant flushes from late June until the first frosts. When in flower, the entire plant is cloaked in bloom right to the ground.

plants for traditional gardens olivia rose austin

Top tips for planting roses

For real wow factor, where space permits, plant in groups of three or more. The individual plants will then grow together to form one dense shrub, creating a more continuous display and making a definite statement in the border.

Dahlia ‘Andy Murray’

Family: Asteraceae


This new single flowered dahlia was launched in celebration of Andy Murray’s Wimbledon victory. It is such a winner due to its unusual combination of large nectar-rich golden centres, warm honey and apricot blended petals, and intense bronze-black foliage. Some yellow dahlia varieties can be a little too shocking to blend into a planting scheme, but this one is a delight.


A well branched, bushy dahlia that will reach approximately 80cm/1m, and with such deliciously dark foliage, it looks great near the front of a border. Alternatively plant in a handsome pot on the patio. Grow dahlias from rooted cuttings or tubers under glass in April and plant out after the last frosts in early June.


From July onwards, long blooming dahlias are building themselves up to knock your floral socks off throughout summer and well into autumn. Feed often with dilute tomato feed.


Top tips for looking after dahlias

Never plant out without protection in place. Their juicy shoots are too tempting for every slug and snail in your garden. Place squeezed citrus rinds around the garden in early spring. These will draw out the first battalion. At planting time use copper rings or surround plants with slug deterring mulches or organic pellets. Nip shoot tips to encourage a bushy habit. Water generously.

Choisya ‘Aztec Gold’

Family: Rutaceae


This relatively new introduction to this genus of hardy evergreen shrubs has attractive, golden foliage with slender, pointed leaves that are rich burnished gold at the tips and greenish/yellow shade towards the base, maturing to green in winter. The colour of young and old leaves varies, giving the plant an additional layer of interest. ‘Aztec Gold’ was developed by Hillier plantsman Alan Postill by crossing ‘Aztec Pearl’ for its leaf shape with ‘Sundance’ for its foliage colour. It has a Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit.


It prefers a reasonably fertile, well-drained soil and is happy in sun or partial shade. Suitable for planting in the garden or in a patio pot, it reaches a height and spread of about 1.2 x 1.2m.


In spring and early summer, clusters of almond-scented white flowers appear and then occasionally, if conditions suit, more will come along in the autumn. Add these to the wonderful depth of foliage colour and you have an all-round winner.

Choisya aztec gold plants for traditional gardens

Choisya ‘Aztec Gold’ Mexican Orange Blossom is available to buy from Wyvale garden centres

Top tips for choisya care

If you plant in a sunny spot the end of the shoots will be a rich golden yellow and the main part of the plant will remain greener in colour. If you have a shady spot then the plants overall colour will be more lime than golden. It’s also great for attracting bees to your garden.


Family: Plantaginaceae


This is a collection of four new hebes that have been specially selected for their compact habits and stunning dark foliage through the winter and spring months. The foliage has led to their being named after classic red wines: ‘Merlot Memories’, ‘Ruby Port’, ‘ Claret Crush’ and ‘Burgundy Blush’.


These compact plants look great in a patio pot but will also enhance any border where they will grow to approx 60cm by 60cm. They were selected by a team of specialists at the Worcestershire nursery where they are propagated from cuttings. These hebes are best grown in sun or part shade where they will thrive.


The dark foliage of the cooler months fades to a mid green just before the summer show of flowers arrives in June, making these plants with year round interest.

New zealand hebe plants for traditional gardens

Buy various Hebe breeds from Crocus

Top Tips for growing hebes

Protect young plants from frosts and give them a light trim after flowering to help maintain their lovely habits. With four plants to choose from you can create your own wine collection in the garden!

Erysimum 'Bowles's Mauve'


Family: Brassicaceae


Also called Wallflower ’Bowles's Mauve’, this bushy evergreen perennial has narrow, dark grey-green leaves and produces fragrant rich mauve flowers in profuse quantities over a long flowering season. 


This stunning plant grows to a height of 75cm with a 60cm spread. It is perfect for rock gardens and raised beds with well drained, poor to moderate fertile soil. Full sun and some winter protection is essential.


From February through to July this handsome woody shrub hosts a beautiful and floriferous display of 2cm mauve flowers.

Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve' flower

Find Erysimum 'Bowles's Mauve' flowers at Burford 


Top Tips for growing erysimum  

Trim lightly after flowering to prevent the plants becoming ‘leggy’ and take cuttings from May to July to raise new plants.

Cistus x obtusifolius ‘Thrive’

Family: Cistaceae


Cistus ‘Thrive’ ' is a sensational hardy compact form of the ‘Sun Rose’ bred by Hillier Nurseries in Hampshire, which is really easy to grow. The grey-green evergreen leaves have a delightful honey fragrance – most noticeable on hot sunny days and when crushed. It is really well suited for growing in coastal areas, as the leaves are tolerant of salt spray.

It works well planted with other golden foliage plants or with contrasting blues and purples.


Plant in any good, well drained soil in full sun. It will grow happily either in a container or in a border, and reach a height and spread of 1m x 1.5m. Little pruning of aftercare is required but they will benefit from a light trim every other year.


Masses of pure white flowers are produced throughout summer and will attract bees and butterflies. 

Cistus thrive flower

Chris Webb, Head of Plants at Primrose online garden centre, chooses Cistus 'Thrive'

 Top tips for Cistus 'Thrive' companion plants

The white flowers and green leaves are a perfect companion for many other plants, but look particularly good grown with hardy geraniums, such as ‘Rozanne’. As an evergreen, it provides year-round interest and is an ideal foil for shorter blue and purple perennials, including aster, and hardy salvia. 

Petunia Easy Wave Burgundy Star

Family: Solanaceae


Wave Petunias have been bred to give outstanding garden results. The stunning bi-colour Burgundy Star was introduced in 2016. Its flowers are medium size giving a multiflora look and it is well-suited to wet weather. Petunia Wave Burgundy Star has a trailing habit and is at home in hanging baskets and patio containers but it also has good spread and offers excellent ground cover in beds and borders.


Ensure they are moist before planting, prepare the area with compost and fertiliser and then water again.

Petunia wave burgundy star

Top tips 

Remove dead heads during the season to promote continuous flowering. Plant with other colours from the Wave family to give a rippling effect through your borders.

Rosa Roald Dahl

Family: Rosaceae

This beautiful peach coloured, fragrant rose is a tribute to Roald’s first major success as a children’s author with James and the Giant Peach. A percentage of sales from every rose sold is donated to Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity.  

A charismatic rose that will be a valuable addition to any garden, ideal for planting in the middle or back of a border or in a large pot. It matures into an attractive, rounded and bushy shrub with few thorns. It will grow to approximately 4ft high by 3ft wide. It is available to order as a bare root rose (delivered between November and April) or in a pot all year round.

‘Roald Dahl’ is a remarkably free-flowering variety. The young buds are soft orange-red, the red reminiscent of the blush found on an actual peach. The cupped rosette blooms are produced almost continuously, repeat flowering through the season. They have a lovely tea fragrance.

Rosa Roald Dahl

Rosa Roald Dahl is available from David Austin Roses

Top tips for caring for roses

Once planted in your garden keep your rose well watered, particularly until established. Don’t forget to dead-head the spent blooms during the summer as this will encourage even more flowers!

Cosmos 'Xanthos'

Family: Asteraceae


This easy-to-grow annual produces blooms of unique butter-yellow from June through to the first autumn frosts. It does well even in poor soils and dry summers, and is perfect in cottage gardens and informal borders.


Sow seed indoors in trays in March and April or outdoors direct in the flowering position in April or May. A sunny, warm spot is ideal for cosmos.

Cosmos Xanthos

Cosmos 'Xanthos' is available from Mr Fothergill's 

Top tips for caring for cosmos

This makes a delightful cut flower, complemented by delicate, ferny foliage. Remove dead heads from plants regularly to prolong the flowering season. At just 60cm tall, 'Xanthos' is also great for larger patio pots. 

Chrysanthemum carinatum 'Rainbow'

Family: Asteraceae


The petals of this flower feature a mix of deep, saturated colours running into paler bands, a little reminiscent of tie-dye fabrics.


Either sow in pots under cover from mid April and plant out after the May frosts, or sow directly into the ground in late April. Cover the seeds with a light layer of soil, and keep the bed moist while the seedlings establish, then thin them to about a foot apart.


Rainbow will grow to 60cm and can flower from late June until the first frosts of autumn. It has strong stems and is a good cut flower for when you want something bold, fruity and with a funky, 1970s vibe!

Chrysanthemum rainbow

Chosen by Benjamin Reynard of Higgledy Garden

Top tips for caring for chrysanthemum

To enjoy many flushes of flowers, cut the stems above a leaf node, or deadhead them when they have ‘gone over’.

Erigeron 'Profusion'


Family Asteraceae


A small, perennial plant. It is one of those 'excellent value for money plants'. You will never be without this plant, as it seeds itself around.


Plant in sunnier, better drained spots.


In a south-facing spot, it starts into full flower by late March and just keeps going right through until the frosts start. Individually the small, daisy-like flowers look like ones that you’ll find in the lawn, although white on the front and red on the reverse of the petals, but in the mass each clump produces they look absolutely spectacular. 

erigeron profusion flowers

Erigeron 'Profusion' is the choice of Nick Hamilton, owner of Barnsdale Gardens

Top tip

Don’t be too vigorous in removing the seedlings, as this plant will find its own best place, irrespective of where you initially put it!

Read more to make the most of your garden: