Published in the Toronto Star – March 25, 2017
What is the perfect flowering plant for your garden?
If I were to list the attributes of the ‘perfect’ flowering plants in our gardens the list might look something like this:
- They would be truly perennial. Wrought iron winter hardy.
- They would attract honey bees and other pollinators.
- They would be fragrant.
- You could cut the flowers to bring them indoors.
- They would flower for a long time, providing the very best value of all.
While no plant of this description exists some plants come very close! Here is my list of the top 8 flowering plants that come closest to ‘perfect’ (a 5 out of 5):
1. Veronica. 4 out of 5. I love veronica. I have about 30 of them in my garden, mostly blue. Some I have grown for more than 10 years, they are that reliable. Honey bees and native bees love it. I can cut it and bring it indoors. After they flower in early summer, I cut them back by 2/3 and watch them re-flower later in August. The only thing missing is fragrance. Of the 10 popular varieties listed in this year’s Sheridan Nurseries catalogue, they range in height from 15 cm to 70cm.
- 2. Pincushion Flower [Scabiosa]. 3 ½ out of 5. The variety Butterfly Blue was the perennial plant of the year in 2000 and butterflies do love it. It blooms for such a long period of time that it can actually bloom itself to death. Which is why I recommend that you cut it back after 8 weeks of blooming, just to give the poor dear a rest. It is a winner! 50 cm high. Loves sun.
- Joe Pye Weed [eupatorium] 4 out of 5. Who thought it was a good idea to call this plant a weed? It is a totally reliable performer in the sun and winter hardy. Butterflies, hummingbirds and bees love it. It flowers its head off from early August through October. I grow the variety ‘Little Joe’, which grows to 120 cm and is fragrant. Cut them and bring them indoors but they drop a lot of detros. Related to the native ‘butterfly weed’. Which is a weed.
- Hosta. 3 ½ out of 5. There are over 7,000 hosta varieties.. one of them MUST be perfect for you, right? Sheridan Nurseries, in Toronto, lists over 70 varieties and I grow about 30 different varieties in my garden. For fragrance and great foliage, try Blue Mouse Ears (15 cm). Minuteman also attracts hummers (grows to 60 cm) and Sagae is one of the toughest, best flowering hostas on the market. I recommend it for planting around the roots of large trees, where it competes well. Hosta flowers are amazing. They are very winter hardy and attract pollinators. Hardy up to zone 2.
- 5. Coral Bells [heuchera] 3 out of 5. The mid-summer flowers on Coral Bells are amazing: they last for up to 6 weeks, you can cut them and they attract butterflies and hummingbirds. My favourite varieties are ‘Amber Waves’ (a show stopper), ‘Marmalade’ (a more appropriately named plant there has never been), Palace Purple (very purple and deserving of royalty). Hardy to zone 5 (Barrie).
- Bee Balm. [monarda] Almost 5 out of 5. I had to put this on the list: the original Bee Balm is a native plant but there are many hybrids that have been introduced since the Europeans first set foot on Canadian soil. Most varieties grow to about 70 cm, all are very winter hardy, bloom for up to 6 weeks, attract butterflies and hummingbirds, you can cut them for use indoors AND the varieties ‘Rose’ and Grand Parade’ are fragrant. Sold! Hardy to zone 3.
- Black-Eyed Susan 4 out of 5 [rudbeckia] Do you know a Susan that you would like to give a black eye? No need to be violent, just hand her this plant. ‘Goldstrum’ and ‘hirta’ attract butterflies, all varieties last a long time in a vase, bloom for up to 12 weeks (3 months!) and are winter hardy to zone 4 (Montreal/Ottawa). Black-eyed Susan is a boon to low-maintenance gardeners as all you have to do is weed them. They do not have a scent. I will forgive Susan for that and promise not to give her a black-eye as she is a winner in my books! Loves the sun and grows to 80 cm or more. Zone 4.
- Yarrow [achillea] 3 ½ out of 5. A butterfly magnet, very winter hardy (zone 2/Edmonton) and the flowers are great when cut and brought indoors. While it is not fragrant and it can take over a corner of the garden, it blooms for up to 12 weeks and is perfect for golfers or sailors or anyone who just wants colour in their garden that they can ignore while they do something other than gardening.