Some plants are not only attractive when they flower, they also provide many months of interest once they set seed. Sparkling with frost in late autumn and winter, crisp seedheads provide texture, form and sound – and can be as attractive as any piece of sculpture or hard landscaping. Here’s our favourites…
As they age, the seed heads of taller grasses become papery and transparent producing a shimmering form that can be stunning swaying in the November breeze. Good specimens include bronze Chasmanthium latifolium, or spangle grass; Stipa gigantea, which waves its feathery flags for more than nine months of the year; and the warming ochre tones and spires of Molinia ‘Skyracer’.
Offering big and bright blooms during the summer months, daisies can be just as pleasing over winter as they begin to die back. The cone-shaped heads of rudbekias, in particular, offer structure and height in the border and, mixed with golden ornamental grasses in naturalistic schemes, can really dazzle. Catch the pom pom seed heads of ligularia tipped with frost on a sunny winter morning and you’re in for a real treat.
Meaty stemmed and rubber leaved sedums can remain dormant for a good portion of the year, but are stand out specimens in late summer and autumn. They are also one of the few flowers that keep their colour – even after a frost. In the right position, in a sunny spot at the front of the border, they will clump nicely and not flop. In some ways, they perform better the poorer the soil. Try ‘Herbstfreude’ or ‘Matrona’ for long lasting colour.
Another garden design stalwart that’s a magnet for a range of pollinators, and beloved by goldfinches (and florists!). This native biennial remains in tact throughout the winter – though its spiky seed heads and leaves will turn brown. Although it looks quite plain on the roadside verge, it is statuesque at the back of a border, especially teamed with grasses or late-flowering verbena bonariensis.
What’s not to like about these lollipop heads? Their skeletons remain well into winter and while they all have their charms, ‘Schubertii’ is my favourite. It looks like a firework with its starburst flowers on stems of differing lengths. The seed heads also make great Christmas decorations, sprayed with gold or silver.
The serrated, sword-shaped leaves and robust flower heads of eryngiums make perfect winter sculptures. Ripening before the first frost, the prickly heads fade from blue and purple to brown and silver as the season progresses. Best of all they continue to provide food for a wide range of insects, birds and small animals when there’s little else around. Try ‘Physic Purple’ or ‘Silver Ghost’.
The pearly, papery ovals of Lunaria annua are a sight and sound to behold on a frosty morning, silhouetted against the sunrise, and the silver seedpods will remain on the plant throughout October and November. It likes fertile, moist soil and a sunny spot – and will self-seed readily if happy. So, if you’re leaving it for the seed heads, keep one eye on the ground for multiplying offspring!