Gardening for beginners: Plant types explained

Gardening for beginners: Plant types explained

Most gardens contain a mix of different plants, including perennials, annuals, shrubs and trees - they all bring something different to the garden, ensuring that it looks good all year round.

But it can be confusing when starting out - what's a perennial anyway?!

Find out about the different types of plant, and how they grow, in our simple guide:


Annuals complete their entire life cycle in one year. That means they grow from seed, flower make more seeds, then dying – all in one year. They produce masses of bright, showy flowers in summer. 

There are two types:

  • Hardy annuals can withstand the cold, so you can sow them outdoors in spring – March or April are the usual times.
  • Half-hardy annuals cannot survive the cold, so they are generally sown indoors in spring and planted out in May or June. They include cosmos and zinnias.


Biennials take two years to complete their life cycle – they are sown in one year and flower and die in the next. They often flower in late spring, before annuals and perennials get going. The most common biennial in our gardens is the foxglove.


Perennials live for three years or more. They can flower for several months in summer. 

There are two types:

  • Hardy perennials - these can survive the winter and are left in the ground all year round. Don’t be alarmed when they seem to ‘disappear’ in winter – it’s just their way of getting through the cold weather. Their foliage dies back but the roots remain dormant underground. New shoots then appear in spring. Popular perennials include cranesbills, hostas and peonies.
  • Half-hardy perennials cannot cope with the cold and need to be brought indoors for winter. It’s best to grow this type of plant in a pot, so that you can move it around easily. 

Bedding plants

Bedding plants are planted temporarily in flower beds or borders, pots or window boxes, giving a display of flowers for a few months. Bedding plants are often half-hardy annuals or tender perennials, but can also be bulbs or shrubs. Popular bedding plants include  geraniums, begonias, petunias and pansies


Bulbs are underground storage organs. Confusingly, spring bulbs are planted in autumn while summer-flowering bulbs are planted in spring! They include a wide range of popular garden plants including daffodils, tulips, bluebells, crocus, irises and dahlias.


Climbers grow upwards, and need support in the form of a trellis, arch, fence or wall. Popular climbers include clematis, honeysuckle, wisteria and jasmine. They take up very little room so are especially useful in small gardens. 


Shrubs, such as roses and lavender, have woody branches but no trunk (unlike a tree). They can be deciduous (they lose their leaves in winter), evergreen (they keep their leaves year-round) or semi-evergreen (they keep their leaves in mild winters). Shrubs can last for many years, offering flowers, attractive foliage, colourful autumn leaves or berries. Evergreen types can be used as topiary where you can Clio them into attractive shapes.

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