Wild Asters and Golden Rods  originally posted to Flickr by Nicholas_T at https://flickr.com/photos/14922165@N00/20985764433 Photo has been resized and cropped.

Chaz's Ten Favourite Perennials

How did Chaz choose the plants to be featured in her Recommendations?

Asking me to choose only 10 favourite perennials is, well, like asking a mom which of her kids is her favourite. First of all, you love them all differently, so you can't possibly rank them. And, even if you could, that ranking probably changes from day to day, mood to mood, and there is never really only one answer. I tried. I really did. But I ended up with 15 instead of 10, and there are so many that should also be on this list. Here are my top 15 picks, in no particular order, because ranking them is pointless.

Asclepias tuberosa Milk Weed Butterfly Weed image credit Walters Gardens Inc

Butterfly Milk Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Butterfly milk week (also goes by the name of Butterfly weed) hardly needs any introduction any more. A few years ago you would have been hard pressed to find this plant, or even anyone who wanted to grow it. But, it's the darling of monarch butterfly support with good cause. The caterpillars need milkweed species to survive and grow to adulthood. The bonus is that this plant is also a prolific bloomer, with shockingly orange or red flowers and will re-bloom if you deadhead as they are spent. In late fall the seed heads also take on fall colours before they finally dry and release their seeds attached to floating feathers.

Gillenia trifoliata Bowman's Root image credit VanHof & Blokker

Bowman's Root (Gillenia trifoliata)

Gillenia, or Bowman's Root, is a terribly under used native plant that can add a different texture and colour, especially in a shady spot. This is such a dainty choice, as the blooms seem to float in the air above the foliage. Afterwards the red seed heads persist into winter.

Geum triflorum Avens image credit K. Chayka

Pairie Smoke (Guem Trifolorum Avens)

For those of us who are eternally on the search for something just a little bit different for our garden, there is the native Prairie Smoke - Guem triflorum. As the flowers turn to seed heads, they become silky and feathery plumes that resemble smoke close to the ground. It thrives in hot dry spots, or any well drained soil.

Delphinium hybrid Pagan Purples (New Millenium) Larkspur image credit Walters Gardens Inc

Pagan Purples Delphinium (aka Larkspur)

This plant is on the list for purely nostalgic reasons. I had purple delphinium flowers in my wedding bouquet more than 25 years ago. Every time I see this flower I remember how lucky I was to meet my husband and give thanks for his years of tolerance for my horticultural pursuits. Thanks Phil!

Hosta hybrid June Plantain Lily image credit Millgrove Perennials

June Hosta

This is exactly a case in point. Who could possibly choose just one hosta? While I do love June hosta - she's got lots of different yellow and chartreuse shades, and thick durable leaves, my love for June doesn't diminish my love for the other 100 or so hostas that we carry. One hosta is never enough, start a collection.

Lobelia siphilitica Blue Selection Cardinal Flower image credit Jelitto

Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)

I came across this plant for the first time in a client's garden. What is that? It took a certain amount of sleuthing, but I found out that there is a blue cousin to the better known red lobelia. Great blue lobelia, also native here in Southern Ontario, should be in any garden. It like its cousin, Great Blue Lobelia prefers a medium to wet soil and some shade. The lobelia tend to be fairly short lived perennials, with seeds lying dormant in the soil to fill in a spot suddenly left empty by some natural change, like a tree falling over. Have fun watching the bumble bees fight to get inside those flowers, and eat with their little bums hanging outside.

Achillea millefolium Terra Cotta Yarrow image credit Northcreek Nurseries

Terra Cotta Yarrow (Achillea millifolium)

Yarrow is a no nonsense easy care perennial that will slowly spread in your garden. The flat flower heads have a floating quality, and are a favourite for butterflies. I see a never ending parade of tiny carpenter bees mine (they are only about 3mm big!). I like the terra cotta because it combines a silvery foliage with the salmon pink to terra cotta flowers, but there are several other yarrow's available if you prefer a different colour.

Panicum virgatum Northwind Switch Grass image credit Photo credit: Walters Gardens Inc.

Northwind Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum)

True confession, I really can't tell all the cultivars of switch grass (Panicum) apart. But, it hardly matters, as they are all graceful and beautiful. Panicum is a warm season grass, so it sprouts a bit late in the spring. Every year I'm sure I've lost mine, and then suddenly realise - look it is alive. It is a host plant for the skipper and satyr butterflies. Do not cut them back in the winter, as they provide important shelter for small mammals (even bumble bees) and birds will come to feed on the seeds. Besides, they look great with a dusting of snow on them.

Aster novae-angliae New England Aster image credit Ontario Wild Flowers

New England Aster

This was an easy choice. Who could not love the pink and purple asters that grow up to 6 feet tall without any human intervention at all along our roadways late in the fall? They are one of the critically important late season nectar and pollen sources for our native insects and is a larval host plant for the pearl crescent butterfly. Although they prefer moist soil, they will grow almost anywhere. Just give them enough space, and perhaps plant something in front of them as they can get messy by the end of the season. You can also pinch back the stems in July to create a shorter fuller bloom.

Oenothera hybrid Cold Crick Evening Primrose image credit Millgrove Perennials

Cold Crick Evening Primrose (Oenothera)

This is a sterile selection of evening primrose that is well behaved in the garden, and won't self seed all over the place. After a long bloom with a profusion bright yellow flowers, the foliage provides great fall colour. It's best in a sunny location, and is quite drought tolerant after it is established.

Salvia nemorosa Caradonna Sage image credit Millgrove Perennials

Caradonna Sage (Salvia nemorosa)

With so many different garden sages on the market, how come I fall back on the old standard Caradonna? Because, simply, I like it best. Sage will re-bloom if you deadhead it, but with Caradonna, the dark purple stems persist even after the flowers are spent. Although the salvias are not native, they are certainly loved by all our nectar eating insects, and you'll have a great time watching them visit. Plant this one in full sun for best results.

Veronicastrum virginicum Culvers Root image credit Crocus

Culver's Root (Veronicastrum virginicum)

This is another plant that instantly caught my attention in a client's garden and is a little known native plant. With tall spikes of white flowers, it reminds me of a candelabra. Its a great choice for a rain garden, as it prefers moisture but is fairly tolerant of drought once established. It's going to need some space to reach it's 2m tall and 1.2m wide stature and is a long lived perennial.

Solidago canadensis Little Miss Sunshine Golden Rod image credit Jelitto

Little Miss Sunshine Golden Rod (Solidago canadensis)

I love golden rod. There is one for every garden, and to support insects we really need to grow more of them. There are entire ecosystems of insects that live only on our golden rods. In the fall, as all your other flowers are fading, go stand in a patch of golden rod. Watch all the different insects coming by to feed before the cold winter hits. If you aren't a fan of the somewhat thuggish wild Canada Goldenrod, then I encourage you to choose some other better behaved option. If you get push back from people telling you that these are weeds that cause hay fever, that's an opportunity to educate them that golden rod pollen is heavy and sticky, so it does not float in the air, and does not generally cause allergic responses. Leave the seed heads on in the fall and you'll be visited by chickadees and finches coming by for the seeds.

Stachys byzantina Silver Carpet Lambs Ears image credit Millgrove Perennials

Lamb's Ears (Stachys byzantina)

This is another plant for those who seek the weird and wonderful. The flowers have a definite other world attitude. The fuzzy leaves are a source of nesting materials for the wool carder bees, who come along and gather fibers. This is a fantastic ground cover for a sunny border, and will give a different silvery texture to the garden.

Hepatica acutiloba Sharp-loped Hepatica image credit Millgrove Perennials


Hepatica is one of the first woodland spring ephemeral flowers. It has almost evergreen leathery leaves, and will slowly spread to form a larger clump if given rich shady moist soil. Every year I look forward to seeing hepatica blooming after the long winter.

Shop Now