You are here

  • Owen's Plant Picks

    Recommended wonderfully decorative, hardy and unfussy plants for most gardens.


Scabiosa Butterfly Blue

Although more commonly known as the 'Pincushion Flower' Scabiosa is a must have perennial flower for most gardens. Scabiosa are hardy and sun loving perennials which thrive in well drained soil conditions. Flowering for a long period, typically June-September, they produce wonderful and colourful displays in the garden border. They are a relatively low maintenance and troublefree plant, but regular dead-heading is recommended to optimise and prolong the flowering display. Dividing the clump every three years will also ensure reliable performance for many years.

Scabiosa are available in a range of colours including Blue, Pink, White and Purple. They are an excellent flower for attracting bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects. Typically Scabiosa are relatively short stemmed flowers, most growing to 300mm-400mm tall but some varieties including S. Perfecta can reach 600mm.

Scabiosa are best positioned near front of border, where their dispaly can be best enjoyed. They also make very good cut flowers.

Scabiosa Butterfly Blue is a very popular variety.



Pieris is a wonderful plant producing an abundant display of flowers in early spring but striking evergreen foliage throughout the year. In order to thrive, Pieris requires acidic growing conditions, in sites with lime-rich soils, ericaceous compost must be added to the soil to improve the growing conditions. Often slow growing, many varieties grow 1m – 2m tall but there are some giants capable of reaching 6m after 20 years but there are some dwarf varieties reaching 0.6 tall. Apart from acidic soil conditions, the plants will do well in sites with reasonable drainage and dappled shade with some shelter to protect it from direct sun and frost.

Pieris is an excellent choice for growing in a container and also an ideal companion for growing with Rhododendron, Azalea and Camellia.


Looking for a late but dramatic and lasting colourful display to fill the gaps left by faded summer blooms? The hardy Nerine is a good choice and the sparkling display in sunshine is guaranteed to impress. From the daffodil family, Nerine bulbs produce tall flowers bearing pink, red or white flowers. Although several groups are available, probably the best and most hardy for Irish gardens is Nerine bowdenii (Award of Garden Merit) AGM. The plants range in size from dwarf 15cm to tall 90cm, but 35cm is most popular and the pink flowers emerge in October and November. Nerines are easy to grow, tolerate poor soil but the plants prefer well drained soil and space to grow.


A colourful, easy to grow evergreen oriental shrub with a delightful summer flowering display but even more famous for its dramatic and vivid red and purple autumnal display. Although the leaves can be mistaken for bamboo and despite sometimes in books referred to as ‘Heavenly bamboo’ or ‘Sacred bamboo’, Nandina is not related to bamboo. The plants are widely found in Japan and other parts of Asia, making them ideal for a Japanese garden.

Nandina domestica is an upright (height and spread < 2.0m) growing shrub, producing tiny white flowers in summer which later develop into bright red berries (only after a hot summer).

Nandinas grow well in moist-well drained and slightly acidic soils and are best planted in a sunny or partial shade position, preferably sheltered from harsh winds or severe frosts. Nandinas planted as individual plants can look a little straggly, so better to plant them in small groups.


Armeria is a hardy unfussy coastal plant, growing well in exposed sites with poor soils. It is a very compact (height and spread 30cm) low growing and spreading evergreen plant. Armeria produces a compact tuft of grass-like leaves, topped with lots of small rounded flowers from May to September. The more popular variety Armeria maritima, commonly known as Sea Thrift, produces wonderful pink flowers. Armerias are also available in white.

They make excellent displays in low maintenance gardens, ideal for planting in gravel beds, or as edging plants at the front of planted borders or raised beds. Armerias can also be used effectively as underplanting displays to complement larger specimens in large containers. Armeria will not thrive growing in sites which are shaded or contain poor draining soil conditions.

A great plant for attracting pollinating insects to the garden.


Bergenia is a wonderful clump forming evergreen perennial with beautiful pink blooms (also available in white) in spring and summer, large lush green leaves which is why it is more commonly referred to as ‘elephant ears’ which turn various shades of red in the late autumn. Bergenias generally require little attention apart from cutting back faded blooms in winter and removing any damaged or decayed leaves in spring. An ideal plant for any border (sun or dappled shade conditions) they are particularly attractive near border edge and especially along sweeping curves.

After a few years, plants can become congested or leggy, simply divide and replant. Bergenias produce spring blooms followed by striking foliage hues during winter.


Camellias japonica are a very large group of mainly slow but tall growing evergreen varieties producing a wonderful array of flowers of various shapes and striking colours in reds, pinks, whites etc. Originating in Japan and Taiwan, they are very popular and when seen in full bloom, it is easy to see why. Producing a magnificent display from January to May, this highly respected regal looking shrub with vivid dark glossy green leaves, prefers a sheltered shaded position and requires ericaceous (acid) soil conditions and is otherwise very easy to grow.

The secret to successful flowering each year is to feed the plant with after flowering has completed and to continue monthly feed through the summer. Camellias are also an excellent plant choice for growing in containers.


Choisya ‘Aztec Pearl’ or to give its common name, Mexican Sundance, is a delightfully scented (flowers and foliage) and easy to grow popular evergreen shrub. Featuring glossy bright yellow leaves (turning pale green in winter) during the growing seasons and beautifully orange scented white flowers in abundance in late spring, Mexican Sundance is an ideal and versatile shrub for any sun or shaded garden border requiring a rounded shrub approx 1.5m high and 2.5m wide. If preferred this shrub can also be kept smaller (prune following flowering).

Choisya ternata is the green version of Mexican Sundance.


Mahonia is a wonderfully decorative, hardy and unfussy evergreen plant making it an excellent choice for most gardens. Of the many varieties available, Mahonia Charity is a striking year-round architectural shrub that is especially popular for the winter colour and fragrance. It grows up to 2m.

Mahonia is as tough as nails, growing well in any well-drained soil, in the sun but also in challenging spaces such shaded corners or north facing sites, where little else will grow. It’s striking elegant forms make it also a popular choice for centre stage in planted borders. In winter nothing compares to its championing of performance producing an abundance of vibrant and heavily scented yellow flowers later becoming blue grape like fruits which last a very long time. The tough spiky foliage also makes it ideal for use as a security screen.