Best plants for people who hate weeding? Five beautiful (and low-maintenance) flowers to grow in gravel or sand

Sarah Price shares with Tilly Ware five plants which are low-maintenance hardy-perennials that will grow in sand or gravel.

When Tilly Ware visited Sarah Price at The Chain, her home near Abergavenny, Wales, she found that the Chelsea Flower Show gold-medallist’s garden is as experimental as it was beautiful.

Sarah’s plans for the two-acre site are still ongoing, but the walled garden has already seen huge transformation. Annuals and dahlias were soon dismissed as they’d need far too much maintenance: ‘In order to look good, it needed much more regular care: the seed bank was huge with a lot of weeds’.

The solution? Sarah removed the first eight inches of topsoil and filled it with recycled sand, gravel and shingle, a weed-free substrate that could grow the sun-loving perennials she desired.

It might sound drastic, but gravel gardening is becoming very fashionable. Our gardening editor Tiffany Daneff reports that a friend replanted her tennis court as a gravel garden, and found that it’s a great way of managing a dry area with shallow soil and dry conditions. The plants are used to tough conditions, and don’t need watering.

With that in mind, here are five of the finest plants that Sarah Price has used at The Chain:

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Cupid’s Dart (Catananche caerulea)

Cupid’s Dart (Catananche caerulea) 

Known as Cupid’s dart, this weaving lavender daisy has erect stems that knit beautifully through other dry-loving plants, such as Stachys byzantina and Lychnis coronaria. The papery petals are lilac with a deep-purple centre and a smattering of yellow stamens. It is a herbaceous perennial, but often treated as an annual, with a long flowering season followed by wonderful seedheads. It’s best planted in groups, as the basal foliage is quite small.

£7.99 potted from Waitrose

Candelabrum sage (Salvia candelabrum)

Salvia candelabrum

A woody, shrubby salvia from Spain that must be grown hard to keep it compact. Vibrant purple flowers have a lighter-mauve hood, with a middle lobe sporting strong white lines to guide bees inside. These are held in whorls on tall stems like a candelabra above aromatic, silvery foliage. Hardy enough to withstand light frost and happiest with space for good air flow.

Available from Kelways

Horse Fennel (Seseli hippomarathrum)

Horse Fennel (Seseli hippomarathrum)

A fetching umbellifer with profuse white clusters that are tinged with pink before ageing to purple. Glaucous, finely dissected foliage creates a feathery mound that thrives on sunny, sandy soils. A short-lived hardy perennial that combines beautifully with grasses, flowering from midsummer through to autumn.

£7.50 from Beth Chatto

Geranium pratense ‘Midnight Reiter’

The hardy meadow cranesbill, aka Geranium pratense ‘Midnight Reiter’

An unusual and useful geranium with dark leaves, toning beautifully with purplish sea kale in Sarah Price’s garden. The finely divided, plum-purple foliage is topped with abundant lilac-blue flowers that zing out against their inky background. Relatively small, reaching about 8in tall, it requires very little maintenance.

£12.95 from Gardening Express

Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea)

Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea)

From the carrot family Apiaceae, the golden alexander is a short-lived American perennial a bit like Queen Anne’s lace, with large heads of tiny, brilliant yellow flowers. It is one of the best early-spring nectar sources for pollinators and keeps its deep-purple seedheads through the summer, before lush green foliage turns red and orange in the autumn. It will seed about and form large colonies in open spaces.

£16.99 potted from Waitrose