Powerhouse Plants

501 Top Performers for Multi-Season Beauty

Author: Graham Rice

Pictures: Judy White

Publisher: Timber Press

Review: Harriot Lane Fox

Setting aside the fridge-magnet jargonese – “multi-season beauty”, I ask you – this is the sort of book every keen gardener should have in their library.

Graham Rice is a plantsman, a Chelsea Flower Show judge, a prolific author and editor in chief of the mammoth RHS Encyclopaedia of Perennials.  Not for him the crash and burn brigade of plants, flowering madly then fading into border-blocking nonentities. His 501 are spread across 62 species (and, yes, it does matter exactly which one you choose)

While recommending the obvious all-rounders like Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’ he also encourages us to see the value in subtler plants: fresh green spring shoots and foliage rosettes that cling like a modesty patch to bare winter earth providing the perfect foil to emerging spring bulbs (Meconopsis paniculata ‘Gingernut’),  and to attractive new twigs, autumn colour, and groovy bark (Acer pensylvanicum). This is garden design in 4D, showing plant partnerships that swap and change through the year like relationships in a 1960s commune.


It would have been lovely to see more pictures tracking single plants through the seasons. An at-a-glance chart of what does what when would be useful too.

Five Powerhouse Plants for Winter and Beyond:

Bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby’
Deep ruby wine foliage in winter (compact and not too dense, so won’t block early dwarf bulbs); reddish pink flowers in spring; and rich green summer foliage with red tints.

Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’
Strappy, translucent green leaves with blood-red tips, turn completely red in autumn, then coppery in winter.

Hamamelis ×intermedia ‘Pallida’
Fragrant winter flowers never damaged by snow give way to bold foliage, which turns bright and buttery in the autumn.

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’
Huge white flowers mature to green, then stay like a garden ghost, tawny or bleached white through winter.

Rubus occidentalis
Jet black raspberries in midsummer; elegantly arching white stems underpainted with pinkish red through the winter