The must-have flowers and plants for gardens in 2021

Blue harebells growing in my garden.

Blue harebells look dainty in the garden growing in drifts - Credit: Liz Murton

Springtime is joyful for gardeners. Blossom frills once bare trees. Tulips and daffodils dance in vibrant-coloured drifts. Over wintered plants make their way out into the sun for hardening off. And, hooray, garden centres come into their own. Choosing which flowers to pop in your hanging basket, which annuals to seed amongst the perennials, or just what to squeeze onto that patch of earth at the back of the bed is a difficult task. There's just too much choice - it really is like being a kid in a sweetie shop.

Here five top gardeners share highlights we should all be considering...

1. If it’s cheery, bright and sunny shrubs you’re after this year, Caroline Peecock says you can’t go wrong with a forsythia.  

'My favourite variety is the forsythia spectabilis. It’s a lovely yellow colour and the beauty of it is that you can plant it at any time of year - but it’s flowering now during and is incredibly easy to grow," she says. 

Forsythias are known for being reliable, easy to take care of and eye-catching. Their peak bloom season is from March to April, and they should be pruned between May and June. It is recommended forsythias are planted in the sun or partial shade, in moist but well-drained soiled.  

'My top tip for gardeners – which a lot of people forget – is to make sure you water your plants every day, and make sure you’re keeping your ground moist," Caroline adds.

2. Sara Eley loves flowers so much that three varieties make it into her top spot.  

Most Read

'My favourite at the moment is either a primrose (primula vulgaris), or one of two camellias. I love the alba simplex variety, while the E.G. Waterhouse is another beautiful one. The E.G. Waterhouse is the most amazing double pink – it’s absolutely perfectly formed.'

Primroses are small, perennial woodland flowers that can bloom anywhere from as early as late December until May, whereas alba simplex and E.G Waterhouse camellias flower between March and April. 

'Primroses can be planted pretty much anywhere in your garden - camellias however need neutral soil, and to be planted in the shade ideally. My general tip though, for whatever plant you’re growing, is to feed them – whether that’s mulch or any form of compost.' 

3. Hardy exotic trees are the way to go, according to expert Andrew Brogan. He’s a big fan of palm trees that are able to thrive in Britain’s climate, with his favourites being trachycarpus fortunei and trachycarpus wagnerianus

'The trachycarpus fortunei is a hardy palm from the Himalayas, and is relatively easy to grow. It’s a beautiful palm tree that doesn’t mind the shade, and is actually a woodland palm, strangely enough. People always think of putting palms on the beach, but we actually have 125 large palms in my garden, backing onto an ancient woodland.' 

For anyone hoping to grow their own exotics, Andrew suggests planting them in a bit of shelter. 'They are hardy, but they’ll still want a little bit of shelter. The trachycarpus fortunei doesn’t like the wind, whereas the trachycarpus wagnerianus doesn’t mind it.'

In terms of general gardening, Andrew is a big fan of making your own compost, regardless of what you’re growing. 'I tend to find that the compost available in the shop is so poor quality now that it’s definitely worth making your own. Save your vegetable peelings, lawn cuttings and twigs and mix them up. It’s so satisfying and you’ve now got your own free compost.'

4. Holder of the national campanula collection, it's no surprise what Sue Wooster's favourite blooms are. 'It has to be our native harebell, campanula rotundifolia, which is a beautiful wild flower but equally at home in the mixed border, container or naturalising in long grass.'

Harebells can commonly be found growing on heathland, along wood margins and at the coast. 

'I love its graceful vivid-blue nodding bells, held on slender wiry stems. Bees and hoverflies particularly love it, which is all the more reason to include harebells in the garden. I also love the fact that so many gardeners have fond memories of harebells, which often evoke happy times in childhood.'

Harebells germinate from fresh seed sown in August, or alternatively started off as the days lengthen in March. 'When seedlings are large enough to handle, prick out into a cluster of three or four seedlings into plug-size modules, then transplant into pockets in the lawn, border or a large clay pot. Best grown in well-drained soil in sun or part shade, harebells will reward gardeners with a mass of iridescent-blue bells in high summer. Deadhead regularly but leave the last flush of flowers to go to seed,' Sue adds. 

For general garden maintenance, Sue suggests keeping a small pair of scissors with you whenever you walk around the garden. 'Use them to snip off faded flowers or, later in the season, to gather seedheads.'

5. Darren Rice's favourite bloom is the long-flowering perennial knautia macedonica. 'Related to the scabious family, they have beautiful burgundy, pin cushion flowers. Butterflies absolutely love them,' he explains.  

Perennial seeds should be shown in spring - alternatively, plant an established plant in spring or autumn. 'They will happily grow in any well-drained soil in a mostly sunny position,' he adds.  

'My top tip for planting perennials is to try planting them in threes - this will give a more solid effect in the border, as single plants often just get lost.'