By Dean Nernberg
With so many beautiful options, choosing native plants can be an overwhelming experience, especially for novice gardeners. To help narrow the field, here are a few of my personal favourites.
Purple coneflower (echinacea)
There are many echinacea species, like E. purpurea, E. pallida and E. angustifolia, plus many horticultural varieties that offer a rainbow of colours, from purple and white to orange, red or yellow. They are very sturdy and hardy plants that add beautiful late summer and fall colour. They grow very well from seed to a height of 500 to 800 mm (19 to 31 in.).
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Black-eyed Susan is one of those flowers that is a must for most sunny gardens. It produces a profusion of yellow flowers that add a lot of fall colour when little else is flowering. They are prolific seed producers and grow well from seed to a height of 400-700 mm (16 to 27.5 in.). There are also many horticultural varieties as well with different flower sizes, shapes, and colours.
There are many Liatris species. Some are particularly attractive to monarch butterflies, such as New England or Eastern blazingstar (L. scariosa) and rough blazingstar (L. aspera). Other favourites include the dense (L. spicata), meadow (L. ligulistylis), and dotted (L. punctata) blazingstars. They produce clusters of stalks with flowers covering much of the spike.
Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Although this species is not native to most of Canada, it has considerable potential for gardening. It is a mid-sized plant that produces umbels (clusters) of beautiful orange flowers. Butterfly milkweed is not invasive, like some other milkweeds, and is very attractive to monarch butterflies for nectar and as a food source for their caterpillars.
Marsh milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
Marsh milkweed is a larger flower (up to 1 m [3 ft] or higher) and prefers soils with a little more moisture, as the name implies. The flower is an umbel, like dill, has a deep rose colour and would be attractive to butterflies.
Blanket flowers (Gaillardia)
Blanket flower is another species that should be a mainstay of most sunny gardens. It is a shorter plant (200 to 450 mm [8 to 18 in.]) and produces a profusion of beautiful orange flowers in the mid-summer, after the spring flowers are finished and before many of the fall flowers have started to bloom.
Although most Penstemon species are smaller than the other flowers recommended,
they produce beautiful tubular bell-like flowers. The colours of the flowers can be very striking. Most beardtongues prefer sunny locations with good soil moisture drainage, although there are some exceptions that grow in more moist and shady conditions.
Gentians are also a smaller plant and can be a little more difficult to grow, but they are worth the effort. The colours of the tubular flowers can be spectacular, especially the ones that are a vivid indigo blue.