39 Best Perennials Flowers for Full Sun, Borders and Shade

39 Best Perennials Flowers for Full Sun, Borders and Shade

Perennials are such an extensive plant group that encompasses unimaginable diversity and countless species. You could be forgiven for finding the intricate world of perennial plants overwhelming, especially when trying to choose just the right species to grow in your own garden. But fear not! We’ve taken on the mammoth task of curating a list of the best flowering perennials for almost every imaginable environment. 

Here’s our guide to 39 of the best perennial flowers for sun, shade, spring, summer, and everything in between! 

What Are Perennial Plants?

What are perennial plants

Quite simply, perennials are plants which live longer than two years. This distinguishes them from annuals, which live for just a year, and from biennials, which have a two-year lifespan. Of course, there are huge variations in average lifespans amongst perennial plants, with some living for five years or less, whilst others can live for decades, and others still may live for hundreds of years. In fact, the word perennial literally means “through the years”. 

In the Northern hemisphere, most perennial plants are deciduous. They die back over winter, shedding their foliage and storing energy in underground bulbs and root systems before bursting back into life with new foliage and buds the following spring.

Evergreen perennials hold on to their foliage and soft stems all year round, whilst woody perennials retain persistent year-round growth in their woody stems above ground. 

There is a gargantuan diversity of perennial plants on our planet, ranging from tiny flowers to towering trees, edible food crops to poisonous plants, aquatic species and terrestrial species. They are spread across every imaginable landscape, from frozen tundras to tropical rainforests to arid deserts and everything in between. 

Whilst slightly more expensive to purchase initially, perennials offer a far greater return on your initial investment than annual plants. Enduring throughout the seasons, often for many years, you should only need to purchase a perennial once.

Most perennials are easily propagated or are efficient self-seeders, meaning they have the capacity to multiply almost exponentially once planted, soon filling your garden to bursting with their colour and vibrancy. 

Best Perennials for Long-Lasting Flowers

Best perennials for long-lasting flowers

Here’s our top pick of perennials that will keep your garden in bloom from early spring right through to late autumn!

Spring and Early Summer Bloomers

Spring and Early Summer Bloomers

Bleeding Heart is surely one of the most stunning spring-blooming perennials. Its bright fuchsia heart-shaped dangle elegantly from its woody stems, enveloping its central stamen. Not only do they provide a welcome pop of colour and an almost cartoon-like display to cheer up a cold early-season garden, but they are also shade-tolerant, meaning they can be grown almost anywhere.

Hellebore is an early flowering evergreen perennial which often bursts into bloom even before the final frost passes, perhaps even as early as January! These low-growing, fleshy foliaged plants offer a stunning range of richly coloured flowers ranging from shades of cream to deep maroon to almost black, creating a truly dazzling display in a bleak early spring garden.

Pigsqueak is an early-season showstopper, producing dense sprays of petite but punchy pink flowers perched atop deep crimson stems throughout spring and into early summer. Its broad, glossy green leaves and slow but steady spreading habit make it ideal for ground cover.

Primroses are a safe bet for early-season spring blooms, and better still, they generally have a long flowering period of around six weeks. Available in a huge array of colours, these compact perennials are ideal for pots, borders, and small gardens alike.

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Wood Phlox are a perfectly pretty early blooming perennial, producing an abundance of delicate flowers in shades of white, purple, and blue from mid-spring and into early summer. Their low-growing foliage is quick to spread, perfect for filling any gaps at the front of a border.

Summer Bloomers

Summer Bloomers

Producing cheerful, brightly coloured blooms all through the midst of summer, Coneflower is the ultimate long-lasting perennial. Available in a dizzying array of colours, from fiery oranges and yellows to neon pinks, coneflowers take their name from the central, slightly conical disks which jut out from the centre of their petals. Bees, birds, and butterflies will all flock to feast on the nectar from coneflowers.

Creeping Thyme is a low-growing, fast-spreading perennial that produces dense mats of tiny purple flowers all throughout summer. They make great additions to a rock garden, thriving in nutrient-poor substrates and quickly filling any cracks and crevices. They also look fantastic as part of a tapestry lawn, being not only low-growing and evergreen but also robust enough to withstand regular moving. 

Lavender is the quintessential summer blooming perennial of cottage gardens and herb gardens. Filling your outdoor space with its unmistakable perfume, its structural purple blooms will attract all manner of beneficial insects and pollinators all throughout summer.

If you’re looking for a summer flowering, low-maintenance wildflower for your garden, then Yarrow is the plant for you. Featuring dense sprays of tiny blossoms in all colours of the rainbow atop tall, slender stems, these native plants will attract bees, birds, and butterflies from May to August.

Salvia is a great choice for long-lasting blooms right throughout summer. Its fragrant violet spike-like flower heads and aromatic green foliage will attract plenty of hungry pollinators throughout the hottest months.

Late Summer and Autumn Bloomers

Late Summer and Autumn Bloomers

Bee Balm provides an almost unmatched display of endurance when it comes to flowering, often remaining in bloom from early summer to early autumn. As its name suggests, Bee Balm is a firm favourite of bees and other pollinators, who simply can’t resist its bright scarlet and fuchsia-coloured flowers and fragrant foliage.

Chrysanthemums are some of our most-beloved late-season perennial flowers. Most varieties flower from September onwards, with some varieties bursting into bloom as late as September! Known affectionately simply as ‘Mums’, these tongue-twisting perennials are available in almost every colour of the spectrum, and with a dizzying diversity of flower types to choose from.

Helenium are daisy-like, sun-loving perennials that will retain their flashy flowers and rich colours all throughout late summer and well into autumn. Displaying orange and red-hued petals framing a protruding pom-pom-like pistil, they bring more than a hint of warmth to a cool autumn garden. Helenium also provides much-needed nectar for insects as food supplies become scarce towards the end of summer.

For late summer blooms that often endure well into autumn, consider a perfectly pretty Penstemon plant. Offering delightful bell-shaped flowers with vivid hues, often with intricate contrasting patterns or two-toned designs, be sure to regularly deadhead your Penstemon to prolong its flowers.

Flowering from august onwards, Sedum is the optimum choice for robust, low-maintenance, late-summer beauty. Their tiny dusky pink flowers are arranged in dense, broccoli-like flower heads atop their fleshy foliage which retains moisture, meaning they rarely, if ever, need watering. Sedum can be grown almost anywhere, and really does thrive on neglect.

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Partial Shade 

Partial Shade

Some perennials bloom best when they have been somewhat shielded from the sun’s hottest rays. Here are some of the best perennials for partial shade. 

Astilbe is the perfect perennial plant for filling any partially shady spots in your garden. Blooming from late spring and all throughout summer, its delicate, whispery blossoms are available in a range of colours from pure white to blush pink to deep crimson. It will die back over winter before renewing its feathery foliage in spring, in shades ranging from lime green to blood red.

If you’re in need of a sun-shy plant to fill a partial shade position but don’t want to compromise on blooms, then why not plant a Hydrangea? Renowned for their brightly coloured, large spherical flowerheads and bushy green foliage, these perennial shrubs perform best in dappled shade, and often bloom from spring right through to autumn! When positioning your hydrangea, consider the pH level of the soil, since the blooms of some species will change colour depending on acidity! For pink-hued petals, use an alkaline substrate, and for blue-hued blooms, use an acidic substrate, whilst neutral soils will result in a purple hydrangea. 

Japanese Anemones are truly stunning late-blooming, shade-loving perennials with large, showy flowers that somewhat resemble orchids. Their fleshy petals are often deep or pale pink in colour, framing a central golden pistil. Plant your Japanese Anemone in partial shade as too much direct sun will scorch the leaves.

Rhododendron is ideal for a dappled or partial shade position in your garden, although you should avoid deep shade for these spectacular shrubs. Flowering in late spring and early summer, they offer enormous diversity in flower types and colours, and they are versatile too! They can be planted as a standalone feature or used to create privacy hedges. Rhododendrons are acid lovers, so grow them in ericaceous compost and add plenty of nutrient-rich organic matter for beautiful blooms. 

Solomon’s Seal is an utterly graceful perennial, perfect for creating a calming, tranquil outdoor space. Its delicate off-white and pale green bell-shaped flowers dangle elegantly from long, slender boughs, and its uniform foliage often displays a neat variegated white band at the border.

Full Shade 

Full Shade

It can be difficult finding a plant which not only blooms but thrives in full shade. Luckily, there are plenty of shade-loving perennials to choose from. Here are some of the best.

Creeping Myrtle is the perfect ground-cover flower for heavily shaded places in your garden. Its vine-like stems will spread steadily, offering almost geometrically shaped royal blue flowers throughout spring. Perhaps better known as Periwinkle, Creeping Myrtle lends its name to the blue colour of same the hue as its flowers.

Although they are typically prized for their foliage rather than their flowers, Hostas are well-known for their ability to thrive even with a near-total lack of sunlight. Producing elegant trumpet-shaped white flowers on tall stems throughout summer, they will provide year-round interest with their broad, flat leaves in all shades of green, often with intricate variegation patterns.

If timeless elegance and graceful beauty are what you look for in a perennial, the Lily of the Valley is the perfect plant to fill a heavily shaded spot. This woodland flower emits a delightfully sweet scent all throughout early summer, whilst its tiny snow-white, bell-shaped flowers dangle like delicate little charms from its stems. It’s easy to see how Lily of the Valley gained its affectionate nickname “the flower of fairies”.

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Lungwort makes a subtle yet stunning addition to any perennial planting scheme, not least because of the unusual speckled variegation pattern on their foliage which endures long after the flowers have faded. They offer petite, bell-shaped flowers in a spectrum of purple, pink, and blue tones.

Yellow Bleeding Hearts are closely related to their more well-known fuchsia and scarlet cousins, only they can withstand even heavier shade. Preferring a cool climate and a full shade position, they may enter a premature dormancy if exposed to too much sunlight. Yellow Bleeding Heart will produce plenty of fascinating flowers throughout late spring and into early summer.

Full Sun 

Full Sun

These sun-worshipping perennials just can’t get enough of those bright spots in your garden

Columbine is a fascinating sun-loving perennial whose complex and charismatic flowers are sure to catch your eye. Available in pinks, whites, reds, blues, and yellows, and with single or double-flowered petal arrangements, they bloom most prolifically in a full sun position.

Dahlias are some of our best-loved ornamental perennials. Extensive breeding and hybridisation of these wonderfully grandiose plants have created an overwhelming array of different dahlia types to choose from in all manner of colours, patterns, and petal arrangements, some as neat as a pin and others far more wild and naturalistic in appearance.

Daylillies are instantly recognisable for their upturned, oversized, bell-shaped flowers and protruding stamens laden with pollen. They are typically found in shades of orange, yellow, or peach, although some species display deep pink or purple petals. These effortlessly low-maintenance, high-impact perennials can be planted almost anywhere provided they receive six to eight hours of full sun each day.

If you’ve a full sun spot in your garden that you want to fill with a truly impressive perennial, why not opt for the ever-so-opulent Peony? Its ostentatious, ornate blooms will flourish in direct sun and are available in a colour to suit every colour scheme, from pure white to fiery orange and everything in between.

Shasta Daisies are real sun-worshippers, blooming prolifically all throughout summer and returning year after with their oversized, yet simple, daisy-like flowers. These perennials spread vigorously, so are best suited to a large border where they have plenty of room to ramble. Deadhead them regularly to prolong their blooming period. 

Tall Perennials for the Back of a Border

Tall Perennials for the back of a border

These perennials are sure to stand head and shoulders above the rest of your border plants with their impressive height.

Although they are technically a wildflower, the impressive stature and timeless beauty of Foxgloves means they are more commonly grown as ornamentals. Their tubular flowers are a haven for bees, moths, and butterflies, providing an abundance of nectar throughout the summer blooming season, and with an average height of around six feet, their vividly coloured flowers are sure to make a real impact in the border.

If it’s height you’re after, then surely the enchanting Hollyhock should be top of the list for planting in a perennial border. These beauties offer prolific, large, showy blooms encircling tall, upright stems, often exceeding six feet in height! Available in a whole rainbow spectrum of colours, they are a classic choice for cottage and informal-style gardens.

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If you’re looking for a tall, structural perennial with vivid blooms to boot, look no further than Lupins. Often reaching four feet or more in height, they tower over their neighbours in a busy border. Blooming throughout summer, they offer conical flowerheads densely studded with petals in shades of whites, pinks, peaches, blues, purples, or reds, depending on the species. After flowering, they will prolifically self-seed, so year upon year your lupins will return more abundant than before.

Ornamental Alliums are statuesque and architectural plants which are ideal for a formal perennial planting scheme. Their unique vivid purple pom-pom-like blooms perch atop tall, slender stems and will add not only height but also interest to the back of any border.

The Giant Himalayan Lily is one plant that really lives up to its name. This colossal perennial can easily exceed two meters in height! Its large white trumpet-shaped flowers perch atop tall, thick stems and are often adorned with hot pink streaks. A real showstopper, plant this giant in a sheltered position with loose, well-draining soil and partial shade.

Small Perennials for the Front of a Border

Small perennials for the front of a border

Not to be overshadowed by their taller neighbours, these small-but-mighty perennials will fill the gaps in the front of your borders 

Dianthus are a great low-going perennial with a modest height and cheerful flowers. Available in all shades of pink imaginable, they generally produce tightly arranged, frilly petals in a rose-like formation. Delicate and dainty, they rarely exceed 30 inches in height. 

Foamflower is a fantastic choice for the front of a border. With a maximum height of around 30 centimetres, their fine, white, feather-like flowers really do resemble tiny foam bubbles. Flowering throughout summer, they add a sense of softness and whimsy to the front of any border. 

Although there is an equally beautiful annual variety, perennial Forget-Me-Nots make a charming addition to the front of a border. Reaching just a few inches in height, they produce sprays of tiny pale purple and blue flowers from May through to October. Their spreading growth habit means they fill large areas quickly, and they are efficient self-seeders, meaning they will continue to reproduce year after year.

If you want a low-growing perennial which packs a colourful punch, then Heuchera is a great choice. Offering charmingly delicate, feather-like blush pink blossoms arranged around upright stems during late spring and early summer, Heuchera’s also provide year-round interest with their dramatic, richly coloured foliage in oxblood reds, golden oranges, and lime greens. The foliage rarely exceeds a few inches in height, whilst the slightly tall flowering stems are sparse enough not to block the view of other plants behind it.

Of course, this list barely even scratches the surface of the wealth of flowering perennials that you could grow in your garden. There are literally millions of perennials on the planet! But hopefully, we’ve helped you to make sense of the colossal and diverse world of perennials, so that you can get busy filling your garden with the perfect perennials for you!

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Emily Grice

Emily Grice

Em Grice is a content writer specialising in horticulture and botany who combines her respect for the natural world with her love for the written word. A regular contributor - with a First Class Honours BA in Politics and Sociology and MA in History - to a range of international publications and organisations, she is most at peace when pottering in her own little garden in the north of England

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