I am lucky enough to be permanently living in France now but prior to moving, six years ago, only got to spend a few weeks a year here. Each time we came across the garden was a jungle and it had practically nothing planted in it, so once the weeds were gone we had only soil to look at!
A good garden is all about the backbones; shrubs and perennials. These will be there year after year for you. Get the combination right and no matter how much time you get to spend at your French home, the garden will constantly look great for you. Once you’ve weeded it that is!
Unfortunately I can do nothing to stop the weeds growing but I can share my 10 favourite, no fuss, perennials with you. These all have wonderful foliage, lovely flowers and once in the ground will keep going year after year with next to no hassle.
Achemilla mollis (Lady’s mantle). French name: Alchémille mollis. From June to September a frothy haze of lime green flowers appear above apple green, scalloped leaves which look fabulous all season. This is the perfect ground cover plant, which looks stunning even after a rain shower when droplets of water caught in the leaves shine like quicksilver. Plant in full sun or partial shade and in humus-rich soil.
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy.’ This perennial has blue-green rosettes of succulent leaves. In summer tightly packed clusters of small star-like, pink flowers appear which, as autumn approaches, gradually turn to a coppery-red. In winter the dried flower heads add structure and colour to your garden. Plant in full sun and in moderately fertile, well-drained soil.
Bergenia cordifolia ‘Purpurea.’ With evergreen, large leathery leaves this is a great ground cover plant which will tolerate full sun or partial shade. In early spring spikes of pink, almost metallic flowers rise above the leaves. Bergenia will tolerate any soil and need no maintenance, perfect for just planting and leaving.
Liriope muscari ‘Super blue’. With their year round, blade-like leaves this perennial is yet another ground cover winner. As other flowers are fading in autumn, wand-like purple flowers appear, vibrant against their dark green foliage. Liriope prefers a shady spot and is perfect for planting under deciduous shrubs. Plant in partial to full shade, in well-drained soil.
Hemerocallis French name: Hémérocalle. Bright yellow to deep red-purple, whichever colour you choose Daylilies are the star of the garden in June when their stunning flowers open in late afternoon, lasting for just one day. Hemerocallis look fabulous planted in lavish drifts throughout your borders, even after flowering, the bright green strap-like leaves look wonderful. Plant in full sun and fertile, moist well-drained soil.
Astilbe. Candyfloss pink or white flowers appear above serrated dark green leaves from May to June. As the flowers dry they turn a russet colour which I always leave in place to add winter colour and structure. Plant in full sun or partial shade. Astilbe prefer moist soil and are ideal for planting in a bog garden or by the side of a pond or stream.
Heuchera. These perennials are all about the foliage. From rich plum to peachy pinks, from deep greens to zingy limes, Heuchera are available with foliage in a myriad of colours. As most are evergreen or semi-evergreen they are invaluable in the garden. From June – August sprays of fluffy flowers appear on wiry stems. Plant in full sun or partial shade and in moist or well-drained soil.
Hosta. The fabulously large, lush leaves of Hosta look stunning when used as ground cover. In autumn the green leaves gradually turn yellow creating the perfect autumn picture. Hosta prefer to be planted in the shade and in moist soil and look extra beautiful when planted with ferns and Solomons seal.
Iris sibirica. With grass-like foliage, these Iris contrast wonderfully with large-leaved perennials such as Hosta, Bergenia or next to a majestic Gunnera manicata. Their flamboyant, though elegant flowers, put on a stunning show from May to July, and are available in rich or pale purples, sunny yellows or subtle whites. Plant in full sun or partial shade, and in well-drained fertile soil.
Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost.’ I bought this Brunnera only last year for our garden and have totally fallen in love with it. In early Spring silver dusted heart-shaped leaves are topped by electric blue, forget-me-not like flowers. It is best planted in partial shade and in moist, well-drained soil. As ground cover it is simply stunning and the gorgeous blue flowers seem to last forever.
Whether you live permanently in France or just visit a few times a year these foliage perennials will put on a beautiful show whilst creating a good structure for you to plant annuals or bulbs between. They are all fully hardy so will make it through the cold French winters and are all readily available from the likes of Plantes et Jardins and Jardiland here in France.
If you have any favourite foliage perennials, please share them with us all by using the comment box below.