PLANT fashions come and go, as do colourful materials like sky blue fences and glass gravel. But one stalwart has remained where others have fallen by the wayside: the humble conifer.

In the past two years plant sales in general have been in decline, but conifers have maintained the same sales figures since 2001.

Some say the conifer is back in fashion, having been prominent in many show gardens at this year's major flower shows, including Malvern. Indeed, they are easy to grow and, planted in the autumn, offer a way to add something new and interesting at a traditionally quiet time.

There are 630 different species of conifer, including pines, spruces, cedars, larches, cypresses, firs, yews and junipers - ranging from dwarf shrubs to magnificent trees.

Most are evergreen, with foliage that consists of needle-like or scale-like leaves, though the larch and cypress drop their leaves in autumn.

They can be tall, round or prostrate, acting as good ground cover and come in a rainbow of colours, from greens and yellows, to oranges, blues and purples. Some have variegated foliage which changes colour with the season.

Jon Tate, of the Association of British Conifer Growers, says: "Conifers are hardy and easy to care for. Most require only a little watering, making them an ideal choice in the light of summer water shortages and drought orders.

"They do need watering in, but the seasonally wet autumn weather should do the job for you."

Conifers can bring gorgeous colour and exciting form to the garden all year round, whether as a backdrop, a stand alone feature or in a border with other plants.

To celebrate National Conifer Week (which runs from October 1-8) and demonstrate how conifers can be used in the 21st century, three mixed-plant conifer borders have been designed by Andrew Fisher Tomlin, chairman of the Society of Garden Designers.

Fisher Tomlin says that yew hedges combined with grasses such as Calamagrostis x acutifolia Karl Foerster and Miscanthus sinensis provide a great contrasting foliage look.

Other good plant partners include white Japanese anemones which sparkle against the silver grey foliage of Juniperus chinensis variegata. Or try Pinus mugo Mops, which is a great foil for a mixed border of tulips.

Other general tips include: Match conifer foliage colours to herbaceous flower colours for easy combining.

Remember to space plants apart to allow for adequate growing space - even dwarf conifers need space to grow.

If you're worried about drought, remember that conifers can cope with relatively dry soils so are great drought busters.

Conifer hedges can be very smart and provide a good green backdrop but they need frequent trimming and regular feeding.

Combine tall Italian pencil cypress with lavenders and herbs for that cool Mediterranean look.

Use groups of dwarf conifers to highlight areas of the garden - blues and silvers are great in winter, golds and greens are spring colours.

Many conifers make great ground cover - plants like Juniperus horizontalis smother weeds and help keep moisture in the soil.

When selecting conifers distinguish between slow-growing' and true dwarf' varieties before buying.

PLEASE NOTE The transmission date for the new BBC Two series, Open Gardens, in which Gardeners' World presenter Carol Klein helps amateur gardeners open up their gardens to the public, has changed to Monday, October 9.