Best Perennial Plants for a Hot, Dry, Sunny Border of Your Garden (for Low Maintenance Gardening)

I’m currently in the process of rethinking my front garden. Since we moved into the house two years ago, the front garden has essentially remained exactly as we found it. Basically, just laid to grass. However this is far from ideal. 

The lawn is gently sloping, while the garden faces south. This means I need to constantly mow the lawn all summer long, while both the grass and I slowly roast in the summer sun. So it’s time for a change. 

I am looking to create a low maintenance garden here; one that is filled with perennial plants that will keep on coming back year after year. Furthemore, these plants will need to be able to withstand the heat and dryness of a south-facing aspect which receives full sun for the vast majority of the day.

Understandably most plants simply can’t cope with these conditions. But at least a few can. So in this article I want to discuss what I’ve got growing now with a view to replanting my front beds very soon indeed.

Rudbeckia & Echinacea / Cone Flowers

Rudbeckia & Echinacea grow to a reasonable height and produce stunning displays of daisy-like flowers all summer long. They are therefore ideal for the middle or back of the border. While some varieties may be annuals, even these tend to self-seed reasonably freely, producing new seedlings by the following spring. 

The majority of echinaceas and rudbeckias, however, are perennials that will largely die back in winter, then explode back into growth the following spring. Their long flowering season (especially if dead-headed) combined to their drought-tolerance makes them a central part of my plan. 

Indeed, I grew a number of varieties from seed last year, and overwintered them in pots in my unheated greenhouse. By mid-February these plants are already bursting back through the earth and I am expecting them to flower this year. 

The fact that echinacea and rudbeckia may not flower until their second year does mean you’ll need to be patient if growing them from seed. Alternatively it is of course possible to purchase established plants from most garden centers, though these plants can be a little pricey in my opinion. 

Knifophia / Red Hot Pokers

My father grew Red Hot Pokers in our family garden when I was a child. I was a fan then, and I’m still a fan now. Their tall, multi-colored blooms look quite incredible, and just like echinacea these plants are also ideally suited to a hot, dry area of your garden.

Over the years a number of varieties have been bred by experts, and overall height can vary quite significantly between them. Whether you opt to grow from seed or buy established plants be sure to check the eventual height. 

Taller varieties may be best positioned towards the middle or back of your borders, while some shorter varieties that may only grow to 12-18” in height may need to be positioned towards the front if they aren’t to be swamped by larger plants. 

Unlike echinacea, the Knifophia I chose to grow from seed actually flowered in their very first year, so rather less patience is required to put on a real display. 

Berkheya purpurea 

Berkheya is a striking thistle-like plant that grows up to a meter in height. The flowers are daisy-like and a pale, “cottage-garden-like” mauve in color. 

The leaves are clothed in thick white hairs which give them a most unusual look. Of course, these hairs have evolved to help reduce transpiration – water loss to the surrounding area. 

I think that Berkheya are absolutely stunning plants and look fantastic as part of a dry, prairie-style garden like I am planning. 

As with many of the other plants included in this list, Berkheya purpurea is easy to grow from seed. My seeds were planted a little late in the season in my opinion, so the resulting plants have been given extra protection over the winter in my greenhouse. 

Like many of the perennial plants listed here, you’re unlikely to get flowers in the first year of growth, so consider buying established plants if you’re in a hurry for a stunning display. Alternatively, like me, plan to rework your border the following year, giving you plenty of opportunities to save money this year by growing Berkheya from seed. 

Delosperma / Ice Plant

Delosperma is a low-growing plant with thick fleshy leaves and stems that are excellent at retaining water. It flowers freely throughout the summer months, producing a profusion of small, gaudy purple flowers. Delosperma tends to work well when used as ground cover, helping to suppress weeds and therefore reducing your workload even more.

If there is a weakness to growing Delosperma it’s that the plants *can* succumb to particularly harsh winters. While they will tolerate temperatures just before freezing, too much below that and you may find that your Delosperma refuse to come back the next year.

Whether this *really* counts as a perennial plant is largely down to luck and growing conditions therefore. 

On the flipside, seed is available very cheaply and germinates incredibly quickly in my experience. The plants are super-simple to grow from seed on a warm windowsill, so replacing any plants lost to cold, wet winter weather shouldn’t be *too* arduous. 

Lavender

Lavender has so much going for it as a plant for dry, sunny spots that I’ve got literally dozens of small plants growing in my greenhouse right now. All of these have been grown from seed.

Of course, lavender is perhaps best-known for it’s amazing scent, which adds a whole new dimension to your garden. However alongside this lavender tends to be very popular with pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies, adding yet more interest.

Lastly, lavender can be used to create a low hedge, making it ideal for edging your sunny border. I’m growing several dwarf varieties at the moment for this very purpose. 

Larger varieties can be dotted around your borders where they’ll pretty much take care of themselves all season long when established. Like most of the other plants listed here, lavender is a perennial so it’s a case of “plant once and enjoy for years to come” – ideal for a low-maintenance garden.

Rosemary

The herb that so many of us use in cookery also makes an attractive, drought-tolerant perennial plant, perfectly suited to arid areas with low rainfall. Originally Mediterranean in origin, rosemary bushes can actually grow surprisingly large eventually, so some pruning in the future may be necessary.

Until then, however, just like lavender, your rosemary plants will add a delicious scent, especially if positioned in an area where you’ll be brushing past. Popping them near a garden path can therefore work very well.

Of course you can also nip out into the garden to snip off some leaves next time you’re cooking a roast dinner too! What’s not to love?

Grasses

There was a time when most of us simply thought of “grass” as the stuff that makes up our lawn. Over the years, however, ever more ornamental grasses have been introduced to the trade. These days there are more choices than ever before. 

Grasses tend to be very low maintenance. Once planted, many will continue to look after themselves for years. Many are very tough plants, including having good drought tolerance. The fact that so many different varieties are available also means a huge amount of diversity; consider planting a number of different ornamental grasses, with tough perennial flowers between. 

Whole books have been filled with all the various varieties of ornamental grasses so it would be unrealistic for us to cover them all here. All I’ll do is mention the handful of varieties that  I’m currently growing from seed, with a view to planting them in my “prairie” garden soon. 

My present list consists of Mexican Feather Grass (Stipa tenuissima) as a base to the design, Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) with it’s beautiful pink/purple tinge, and Tail Feathers (Pennisetum macrourum) for height and structure towards the back of the border.

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