by Candy Venning
Last month I shared a list of favourite shade plants and now it’s sunny gardens’ turn. Though many of these plants are large or a bit wild and woolly, adding a low stone wall, a background hedge, structures like obelisks or arbours all create a more organized look. A garden full of native plants can be formal or tidy, it’s a matter of design, not the plants themselves.
Native Ontario Plants for Sunny Gardens
Agastache foeniculum / Giant hyssop –long and leggy, it benefits from the ‘Chelsea chop’ to keep it compact. Self-seeds but not aggressive. Attracts many native bees and insects, bonus the birds will come for the seeds.
Asclepias tuberosa / Butterfly weed – gorgeous burnt orange flowers and the larval host plant for the Monarch butterfly, well behaved perennial. Not to be confused with common milkweed, which if grown in good, rich soil, can spread aggressively (so if you want common milkweed grow it in dry clay amongst grasses, not in your well-watered loose soil).
Black eyed Susan / Rudbeckia hirta – tends to be overlooked as somewhat common but grows easily, flowers, lasts a long time and the seedheads feed Cardinals, Goldfinches, Buntings and other winter birds.
Boneset / Eupatorium perfoliatum – white flowers that attract butterflies, a good plant to add ‘fluffiness’ to gardens.
Columbine / Aquilegia canadensis – Featured on both my sun & my shade list. Easily grown from seed, early unique flowers attract hummingbirds. Cut back foliage when it starts to turn yellow.
Coreopsis lanceolata / Lance-leaved Coreopsis – a traditional looking, daisy-like, yellow, ‘airy’ flower.
Geranium maculatum / Wild Geranium / Cranesbill – looking nothing like annual Geraniums but with wonderfully scented leaves, they are a low growing, drought tolerant workhorse useful in some part of every garden.
Heliopsis helianthoides / False Sunflower – considered a ‘keystone plant’ because of the vast number of pollinators who are attracted to its 6’ tall yellow blooms. Floppy and rumbunctious, grow if you have difficult soil and space.
Joe-Pye Weed / Eupatorium maculatum – 6’ tall but not floppy and has those lovely umbels that butterflies adore.
Liatris aspera / Rough Blazing Star – Unusual ‘spikes’ of fluffy purple flowers that attract many butterflies.
Monarda didyma or Monarda fistulosa – Bee Balm / Wild bergamot. A must-have, easy care perennial especially if you love bumblebees, hummingbirds or the smell of Bergamot used in Earl Grey tea.
Showy Goldenrod / Solidago speciosa – not an allergen as commonly believed and not to be confused with common Goldenrod (which can be aggressive in its spread). A ‘keystone’ species due to the massive number of pollinators it supports, every garden should have some.
Swamp Milkweed / Asclepias incarnata – With a name like that you might be tempted to skip it, but please reconsider, its one of my absolute favourites, fragrant, tall but not floppy and attracting amazing butterflies.
Symphyotrichum nova-angliae / New England Aster – blue and long lasting for those late-to-the-party pollinators and any Aster is great for extending the garden into those final days try also; Symphyotrichum oolentangiense, Sky Blue Aster.
NON Native Perennials for sunny places
Japanese Iris – striking blue flowers with gorgeous grassy foliage making up for its relatively short bloom time.
Liatris, if you can’t find the native version, don’t worry and do grow any liatris. Prepare to be amazed as it’s a butterfly super-magnet.
Phlox – easy care, blends well with native plants, attracts pollinators and can smell wonderful (depending on variety).
Peony – Choose a single and you will have flowers that don’t droop to the ground, and you’ll have busy bees spinning through the pollen filled centres (they can’t get to the middle on double peonies) and I think they look better.
Salvia / Sage – the annual, the perennial, the culinary or the ornamental; any Sage that creates a flower will bring in bees and sometimes hummingbirds.
Easy Annuals for pollinators and people
Alyssum – for its fragrance and ability to attract pollinators while staying tight and compact, especially along edges.
Calendula – so easy to grow, a herb often used in salves and creams but also a really cheerful flower.
Dahlias – choose the singles with accessible centers such as Bishop of Llandaff, also has fabulous dark foliage. The bees cannot get to the center of double or dinnerplate varieties like ‘Café au Lait’ but try a bit of both, some for you to cut and bring in and some for the bees and butterflies.
Nicotiana – tall white and fragrant, an evening bloomer that brings in fascinating Hummingbird moths.
Sunflowers – easy to grow from seed but likely to be eaten by squirrels. If the stem and flowers survive until fall there will be grateful birds at your ‘natural birdfeeder’.
Verbena bonariensis –hard to find in a garden center but easy enough to grow from seed. Tall and graceful, adding air and delight to sunny beds as well as butterflies galore!