The toughest, longest lasting perennials in our garden are native wildflowers. When placed properly, I don’t think I exaggerate in predicting they will be with me for a lifetime. Many of my favorites are early spring woodland wildflowers such as bloodroot, trillium, Jack-in-the-pulpit, green dragon, mayapple, columbine and woodland phlox. These are mostly dormant now, but watch for them in woodland gardens and in the wild next year. Trillium starts the show, emerging in December, and Indian pink gives the finale in April.
Indian pink’s bright red tubular flowers attract hummingbirds and each plant matures to two feet tall by three feet wide. It is mild mannered, spreading nicely by seed as long as it is not mulched heavily.
For the sunny garden, plant purple coneflower. Its large pink daisy-like blossoms on three to four foot stems are striking in late spring and early summer and attract both bees and butterflies. We planted one purple coneflower in our front yard garden nearly 20 years ago and now have a multitude of plants. They multiply by clumping as well as from seed. The flowers cut nicely for use in arrangements. One cultivar that has performed well in our butterfly garden is ‘Kim’s Knee High’. This coneflower is shorter (knee high) and blooms for a longer season.
Another stellar native perennial for a sunny spot is oxeye sunflower, also known as Heliopsis. This plant, with abundant sunny yellow flowers, starts blooming in early spring and blooms into fall. It is bushy but only gets to 21/2 feet tall. Heliopsis attracts lots of pollinating insects.
I also recommend dwarf ironweed and narrowleaf sunflower for their value as pollinator plants and for their toughness and vivid colors. However, both spread aggressively and form large masses so are best used on larger properties or where you would like a mass of purple or yellow. Ironweed blooms mostly in the summer while the sunflower is at its peak in autumn.
All of the native perennials in this article have performed well for me. You may have to experiment to find the right ones for your yard. Most perennials do best in soil that is well drained and rich in organic matter. Mix in abundant mushroom compost or homemade compost to the soil prior to planting. Healthy soil pays dividends in the vigor of plants and in the ease of maintenance of the garden. Match the plants to the soil and light conditions in your yard.
These are just a few of the many native perennials that grace our yard. I am committed to trying new ones as well. This year I planted twinflower in our butterfly garden. It is low growing with violet flowers and is a larval food plant for buckeye butterflies. We have had a few caterpillars already! I’ll be able to comment on its longevity in a few years…….