Wondering which perennials to add to your garden this spring? The choices are endless…where to begin?
I’d love to help narrow down your search to some extremely hardy and beautiful favourites I planted 20 years ago which are STILL thriving in my garden today. There is a plant suitable for every corner of your garden on this list.
Let’s get your PERENNIAL gardening adventures off to a good start shall we?!
This top 10 perennial favourites list took a lot of thoughtful consideration. Honestly, there are SO MANY plants I love having in my garden, but truly, these 10 perennials are all-stars in every way.
What makes these 10 Perennials ALL-STARS?
- They have returned year after year even after bad drought or heavy rain summers, -40 winter temperatures and even tent caterpillar assault! (EVERYTHING including leaves on the trees and shrubs were eaten that year)
- They require minimal maintenance and no extra attention once established.
- They are non-invasive and get along well with other plants.
- Every shady or sunny corner of your garden will be improved by their presence.
- They are both HARDY & BEAUTIFUL!
TOP 10 PERENNIALS
- PURPLE CONEFLOWER (Echinacea purpurea)
- CLEMATIS (macropetala ‘Bluebird’)
- LILIES (daylily and asiatic)
- HOSTAS (plantain lily)
- FEATHER REED GRASS (Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’)
- CREEPING THYME (Thymus praecox ‘Coccineus’)
- IRISES (Irideae)
- STONECROP (Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’)
- AUTUMN SUN CONEFLOWER (Rudbeckia nitida ‘Herbstsonne’)
- PRAIRIE CROCUS (Anemone patens or Pulsatilla patens)
1. PURPLE CONEFLOWER
SUN TO PARTIAL SHADE
height 3 to 4 feet – spread of 2 feet
You can see from the above picture that the flowers go through a variety of stages as the petals slowly unfurl from the bristly cone-shaped bud. It’s quite fascinating to watch the progression over several weeks!
They have lovely mauve twisted narrow petals that really do take their time unfolding from the bud stage.
Twenty years ago I ordered a full plug tray via mail order from Richters Herbs in Ontario. Those 72 tiny little plants, arrived sturdy and strong and I set to work immediately transplanting each into 4 inch pots.
They completely took over the south-facing front window in our little living room at the time as you can imagine, but I couldn’t have been happier! 😀
When threat of frost passed around May 24th in Manitoba, I planted them out in the newly dug bed along the north side of the vegetable garden. They have been divided and transplanted along the full length of that bed just this past year – reaching all the way to the greenhouse 20 feet away. You can read more about that flower bed in my previous post here.
This is a large mass planting. They share the space with a Nanking Cherry bush, Milkweed, Shasta Daisies, Herbstsonne rudbeckia and two pear trees.
There have been many years that I have not had the time to weed out the quack grass which made it’s way into their bed. They still manage to hold their own undaunted by the stiff competition. I made some great headway this past summer clearing out most of the grass and weeds and will be ready in springtime to complete the task. In the meantime, they couldn’t be less concerned.
You may already be aware that the species Echinacea purpurea (and also Echinacea angustifolia) are well known for their medicinal properties which help stave off the common cold and strengthen the immune system. With the amount of Purple Coneflower growing in my garden, I am pretty sure I have a ‘mini pharmaceutical’ supply ready to harvest at any moment should the mood strike me. When I do harvest and make a tincture from the roots I will share the whole process with you.
There are many hybrids that are available now that may also interest you, one named ‘Magnus’ has beautiful rose-coloured flowers. There is even a white version of Echinacea purpurea with a lovely scent named ‘Fragrant Angel’. To my eye, it looks very similar to a Shasta Daisy, but still retains the gorgeous cone-shaped bristly bud of the native species. I may be on the look-out for that one this spring to add to my garden!
2. CLEMATIS – ‘Bluebird’
height 10 to 15 feet – spread of 3 feet
This climber is one of my favourite perennials for its vigorous growth and reliable spring beauty each and every year. You can’t go wrong planting this vine in your northern garden – it’s delightful!
It blooms in early spring around the same time as the Lilac bushes are blooming.
If you have an arbor, or trellis somewhere that you want a vine to climb up quickly – you need look no further. I can’t recommend this lovely Clematis enough. Even when the flowers are done, the lush green growth has the ability to create a full screen or shady entryway into any secret garden your heart can imagine.
BONUS – once the flowers are done, they turn into fluffy decorative seed heads. I leave them on all summer and winter. I run my hands gently over the plant the following spring to lightly shake off the old fluffy seed heads and let the wind carry them away.
If you want more information about the ‘Bluebird’ Clematis, be sure to check out my Plant Profile for further planting details.
This vine will live 20+ years, so make sure you plant it by a strong support that will last as long as it does.
Psst…if you want more growing tips for any of these perennials its a free download you can get by clicking the button below. 💚
3. LILIES – daylily and asiatic
FULL SUN (asiatic) – SUN/PART SHADE (daylily)
height 2 to 6 feet – spread 12 inches (asiatic) – spread 24 – 36 inches (daylily)
I kind of cheated here…I snuck in two-for-one on this perennial. Daylilies are known as Hemerocallis and Asiatic lilies are Lilium asiaticum. They both have been in our garden for so long, and proven themselves hardy and beautiful in their own rights…and ‘Top 11’ just didn’t sound right.🤔
Asiatic and daylilies are very easy to grow for new gardeners and come in a phenomenal variety of colours: Bright orange, yellow and red or more pastel ranges in pink, plum and white.
Lance-shaped leaves of asiatics have sturdy upright stems making these beauties superb for mass plantings.
Daylilies, as the name implies, bloom for a day but they are so prolific that you will be enjoying them for weeks in your garden.
The orange daylilies you see in the above photograph were actually found growing in the wooded area of our property several years after we had moved in. I discovered them when one single flower managed to bloom in that overgrown place. I dug it out right away and transplanted it to a flower bed and it has spread wonderfully throughout our gardens ever since.
They have been in our garden for decades now – happily divided and shared with friends and family. For more details you can read my Lily Plant Profile.
4. HOSTAS – plantain lily
height 6 to 24 inches – spread of 15 to 30 inches
Hostas are one of the most popular foliage shade plants out there. They come in such a huge variety of leaf colours, size and shape that you could probably add a new one to your garden for 50 years and still not run out of choices.
The patterns, colour and shapes of their leaves are seemingly endless, and will grace your garden from early summer to fall – anywhere in Canada and northern climates across the globe.
Tall fragrant lavender blooms rise up from these plants in late summer adding another elegant level to their beauty and stature.
We have them around the pond, and other shade beds on our property. It grows well with Astilbe, Goatsbeard, Bergenia and ferns to name a few of its happy neighbours.
5. FEATHER REED GRASS (Calamagrostis acutiflora – ‘Karl Foerster’)
height 3 to 5 feet – spread 1.5 to 2.5 feet
This grass is a wonderful contrast against shrubs and perennials and will grow quite happily in Zone 2 and up – perfect for cold climate gardening.
The structure and movement of this grass is truly an enchanting addition to any perennial bed – and unlike most ‘grasses’ it will not outgrow its allotted space or become an invasive weed to deal with.
In late fall the plumes are graced with amber waving fronds that are delightful in the fall breezes and make a magnificent statement in any garden.
This grass has grown more beautiful each year since I planted it 18 years ago. I highly recommend this perennial. You can see in the above photograph that it looks quite lovely with the asiatic lilies, globe thistles and sedum in our front garden bed.
6. CREEPING THYME – Thymus praecox ‘Coccineus’
height 3 inches – spread…indefinite (what can I say? – it’s creepy!)
I absolutely LOVE this little creeper! You may have heard this referred to as ‘Mother of Thyme’, and you can find it in pink, lavender or red flowering hues.
I have grown this for nearly twenty years, moving and spreading it throughout many areas of my garden. On the edge of flower beds, rock walls, as well as between rock pavers to enhance pathways around the yard.
It is also a tasty little herb that can be thrown into stews and salads making itself not only useful in the kitchen – but also a delightful scented beauty growing amongst the flowers.
7. IRIS – Iris germanica – Bearded Iris
height 5 to 40 inches – spread 10 to 24 inches
Black, white, purple, pink, multi-coloured – WOW – if you want variety and endless choices in blooms, this is the perennial for you!
FUN FACT: ‘Iris’ is an ancient Greek word meaning ‘RAINBOW’
This is a perennial that grows from rhizomes.
The speckled purple iris you see in the above picture was planted in my garden about 16 years ago…I can’t even remember it’s name, but ‘Earl of Essex’ seems familiar. Now I have bearded irises growing around the pond, next to the vegetable garden and soon more to come next spring when I refurbish the two foundation beds at the front of the house.
I ordered it from Breck’s all those years ago (direct from Holland) and it arrived in the mail at spring planting time. The rhizomes were tucked in bags packed with sawdust. I didn’t know what I was doing, but followed the instructions…don’t plant too deep – well drained soil – keep the rhizome exposed on the surface so it doesn’t rot – in full sun.
A new gardener at the time, once planted…I stood back and looked at it and wondered. It kind of looked dead was my concern…if not for a little hint of green emerging at the base of the rhizome. Slowly, over the summer graceful sword-shaped leaves fanned up and out from the base – “It’s alive…IT’S ALIVE!
You may or may not get blooms the first year you plant…sometimes I have, sometimes I have not. For certain, you will see flowers in the following summer. They are so worth waiting for. I think they are one of the most beautiful flowers in the garden in fact. They don’t bloom for a long time, but the graceful leaves of the plant before and after blooming, certainly make up for that.
These perennials can be divided every 3 or 4 years when they become overcrowded. The overcrowded irises take on a circular cluster shape – so you will know when it’s time. The best time I found to divide them is actually right after they bloom. Dig them up and pull rhizomes apart from one another…they kind of fall into nice separate pieces of their own accord. Then before you replant just cut back the fans of leaves by about one-half. You’ll have so many plants once you begin dividing – great for making large plantings or sharing with friends and family.
I can tell you, after so many years of gardening on this one piece of property I usually have a handful of them and I approach my friends saying…”Please…take some!” 😀
8. STONECROP – Sedum – ‘Autumn Joy’
height 2 feet – spread 2 feet
This is truly one trustworthy plant!
I know, without a doubt, Autumn Joy will return each year without fail to my gardens.
This succulent plant looks great in any garden bed before and after its pink blooms burst forth in the summertime. In the fall, the blooms turn to a most befitting copper colour which lasts right up until the first snow flies. It doesn’t get any better than that!
In the summertime when the pink blooms are on the Autumn Joy, before the sun has risen high enough to warm them up, I see so many bees resting comfortably on the flower heads. Still dreamy and waiting for sunlight I gently stroke them on their soft little backs and say “Good morning!” I love bees…and they love Autumn Joy let me tell you!
You’ll want to plant these in full sun in moderately fertile soil. I’ve been happy to see they spread quite fast in the garden and dividing them to make large mass plantings is easily done.
It’s kind of fun to watch the changes this plant goes through in a summer. When the buds first appear on the plant they look like little broccoli plants…then slowly, over the summer the pink comes out…then it transforms again into a glorious copper colour just in time for fall.
They look quite nice with grasses, asters or rudbeckias of any sort. I have a large planting growing next to liatris in one part of my garden and the spikes contrast nicely with the umbrel shape of these sedums.
You’ll love these!
9. AUTUMN SUN CONEFLOWER – Rudbeckia nitida ‘Herbstsonne’
FULL PARTIAL SUN
height 4 to 6 feet – spread 3 to 4 feet
I look up to this plant…literally…I look UP to this plant – 6 feet tall!
I’m astounded by the height (4 to 6 feet) and strength of this plant to withstand any type of soil and weather conditions that come its way.
If you are looking for a back of the border beauty – this is your plant! It blooms in the fall – a vibrant ‘glow in the dark’ yellow that delights the eye when little other colour remains at that time of year.
It’s quite content in your average garden soil – nothing fancy for this guy…just give it LOTS of space and it will grow and spread happily over the years.
I have this planted in a slightly shady nook beside the garage, as well in a 20 foot flower bed along the northern edge of the vegetable garden. It grows up beside the greenhouse and shares the space with shasta daisies, purple coneflowers, milkweed and a couple of pear trees.
My husband really loves this plant – he’s transplanted it so many times around the yard when we’ve been building fences or other structures that requires shifting the Herbstsonne to a new position. Each and every time – it bounces back like nothing happened. I am so impressed and in love with this plant.
As you can imagine, being a Rudbeckia – it is visited quite frequently by bees and butterflies. Leaving the stalks up over the wintertime is also a good idea because the little chickadees seem to find something yummy in the dried bristly cones. Seeds they enjoy very much!
This is not a fast growing perennial, so really you will only need to divide this perhaps every 4 or 5 years.
I highly recommend this glowing giant for your garden – two thumbs up…WAY UP…👍🏼👍🏼
10. PRAIRIE CROCUS – Pulsatilla patens or Pasqueflower
SUN TO PARTIAL SHADE
height 1 to 2 feet – spread 2 feet
I have saved the BEST for last!
The Anemone patens is the crocus that grows natively (floral emblem of Manitoba) in our province and across the prairies. The crocus growing in my garden, is actually the Pulsatilla patens (floral emblem of South Dakota), and is one of the first blooms I see each spring in my own garden.
It has a very interesting habit – as you can see from the above picture it begins to bloom quite low to the ground well before the leaves have fully emerged. It will continue to stretch up and out to a height of almost 2 feet in fact!
One of the lovely characteristics of this spring blooming anemone is how soft and furry the leaves, stems and even buds are on this plant. It’s one of those ‘tactile’ beauties in the garden…you can’t help but reach down and stroke the soft leaves and admire the balance of strength and fragility it seems to personify.
A special fondness in my heart for this little purple crocus comes from knowing my Mom loved it very much. I remember a set of china coffee mugs we had growing up with beautifully painted prairie crocus flowers on them. A little china decorative cluster of prairie crocuses she had also rests in prominence on my book shelves. Is it any wonder I jumped for joy to see them available in our local garden centre so many years ago.
18 years later and they are still growing strong in my garden. I placed them at the front of the foundation bed tucked into the edge of the rock wall. Last summer I had to transplant them from that spot to the flower bed along the southern edge of the vegetable garden as I prepared to refurbish the overgrown foundation bed. I watered them carefully after that…made sure when I did transplant them that it was an overcast day so they wouldn’t be shocked by the heat of the day in their recovery period.
They looked very healthy and strong by fall…next spring I will be watching for them! I know you will each spring too if you include them in your growing perennial beds…you will delight in watching them bloom and reaching down for a gentle touch to appreciate the soft furry splendour they offer to your fingertips.
One final picture to share below shows you just how tall they grow and another little surprise they have – fluffy seed heads that add another delightful element to enjoy in our gardens. I will never be without them.
Top 10 Perennial Guide!
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