Ask a child to draw a flower and they will draw you a daisy: a central circular disk surrounded by a ring of petals. Daisies appear to be the simplest form of flower, but in fact they are a lot more complicated than they appear.
The central disk is composed of hundreds of tiny flowers, all packed closely together, and these are surrounded by a ring of “ray florets”, elongated petals each with a tiny flower at its base. All of these flowers make them a boon for wildlife, with pollinators able to sip from a vast number of little wells of nectar.
Their name originates from Old English “dæġes ēage”, via Middle English “dayesye”, meaning “day’s eye”, due to the lawn daisy’s habit of opening with the dawn and closing at dusk, which is also behind the saying “fresh as a daisy”, as they open fresh each morning.
In various cultures daisies are associated with childhood, childbirth, motherhood and play. They are given to congratulate new mothers and, when formed into daisy chains, will make the simplest and prettiest flower crowns. And of course you can pull off the petals one by one to find out whether or not your love is requited: “He loves me, he loves me not.”
But it is not just the lawn daisy, Bellis perennis, that takes the name. It is often used to refer to a number of plants with the same arrangement of disks and ray florets, mainly in the family Asteraceae, which itself was named after the star-shaped tears shed by the Greek Goddess Astraea, which she wept because there were so few stars in the sky.
This encompasses a great variety of plants that suit all sorts of situations in the garden, from cracks in paving, to the late summer border, to hanging baskets.
With their happy, sunny faces and huge value to wildlife right through into late summer, it is always worth finding a spot for a daisy.
Best for late colour
Aster novi-belgii ‘Winston Churchill’ (Michaelmas daisy)
As other plants fade, Michaelmas daisies get started, with masses of usually purple flowers with a yellow central disc. Flowering at Michaelmas, an old rhyme goes “The Michaelmas daisies, among dead weeds, Bloom for St Michael’s valorous deeds.” They are a boon for pollinators. ‘Winston Churchill’ is cerise red with shaggy petals. Available to buy from Claire Austin.
Best for a hot border
Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ (Black-eyed Susan)
Rudbeckias are in the Asteracea family and have a black central disk of florets with golden ray florets. They are late flowering perennials, bringing golden colour to the border just as many other flowers are packing up for the year. Tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions, but they do like plenty of sun. Available to buy from Burncoose Nurseries.
Best for late containers
Osteospermum jucundum (Cape or African daisy)
Big colourful daisy flowers, most often in shades of purple, orange and apricot, are carried above mid green leaves; they are prolific in late summer and autumn, so a good choice to fill hanging baskets now. Dead head and feed weekly to keep them flowering. Grow these tender or half hardy perennials as annuals or overwinter in a frost-free spot (plugs from Thompson Morgan).
Best for paving and walls
Erigeron karvinskianus (Mexican fleabane)
This pretty little daisy shoehorns itself into cracks in paving and walls and looks beautiful edging steps. The flowers open white and age to pinkish-purple. It self-seeds brilliantly, so a good way to get it to spread around is to just have a plant in a pot and wait for its seeds to find their own way. Alternatively, buy a packet of seeds, mix with compost, and push into the cracks where you would like it to grow. Available to buy from Crocus.
Best for lawns
Bellis perennis (Common daisy, lawn daisy)
Gardeners have always tried to eradicate daisies from lawns but that is changing – and with the rise of No Mow May daisies have become sought after. To introduce them, sow seed in spring or autumn either direct where you want them to grow (clear a patch of lawn and rough up the soil) or into a seed tray. If in a seed tray, prick them out and grow on into plug plants to plant out into the lawn. Available to buy from Wildflowers UK.
Gerbera jamesonii (Barberton daisy)
In recent years some hardy strains of gerbera have been produced, but mostly these big, colourful daisy flowers with succulent stems are grown as summer bedding plants or as flowering houseplants. Indoors they will need a cool, well ventilated spot, ideally on a sunny windowsill at between 10-20C. Given these conditions, they can flower all year, producing increasing numbers of flowers as they get older and larger. Available to buy from Dobies.
Best basket filler
Brachyscome ibiderifolia ‘Brachy Blue’ (Swan River daisy)
This lovely and understated daisy is brilliant in hanging baskets. It forms a fuzz of delicate, grey-green foliage peppered with tiny purple star-shaped flowers, and is beautiful as a foil to larger and more splashy flowers such as pelargoniums, fuchsias and petunias.
From Australia, it likes well drained soil and full sun. ‘Brachy Blue’ is an improved strain with a compact habit and flowers over a long period. Sow indoors in late winter or early spring. Available to buy from Chiltern Seeds.
Best for wildlife
Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ (Cone flower)
Late in the year the colours of the border mostly turn hot, to reds, oranges and yellows, but if you prefer cooler shades then echinacea – another member of the Asteraceae family – comes in shades of pink, purple and white (and a few oranges). The common name refers to the shape of the central disk of florets, which is more domed than in other daisies. Available to buy from Knoll Gardens.
Best for meadows
Leucanthemum vulgare (Ox-eye daisy, moon daisy)
Ox-eye daisy was once a common sight in hay meadows, but now that these are rare you are more likely to see them lighting up roadside verges with their big yellow and white daisy flowers. This is one wild flower that is as at home in the flower border as it is in the meadow. Buy seedlings to plant into a meadow, or to grow into plants for the borders. Buy yours from Sarah Raven.
Plants to grow with late-flowering daisies
There are lots of daisy-like flowers that bloom late in the year and make brilliant plants for the late summer border –echinacea, aster, rudbeckia and gaillardia among them. But a border filled with daisy-shaped flowers would look one-dimensional.
Use other late flowering plants such as Solidago virgaurea (golden rod, above), to create a cloud of smaller flowers to show them off against, while Salvia nemorosa ‘Ostfriesland’, below, will make a good contrast with its upright spikes of purple flowers. Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ produces an arching spray of crimson red flowers, below.
Other useful autumn flowering plants with contrasting shapes that look good among daisy flowers include phlox, penstemon, agastache and hardy sedums.