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Near the top of my list of plants I wouldn't garden without is baptisia (Baptisia australis and cultivars, zones 3 to 9). It sometimes goes by 'false indigo' because Native Americans used it to make a blue dye. Its blue spires point to the heavens this time of year, and it grows well in average to poor soil, in full sun to part shade, because it's in the pea family (which means it makes its own nitrogen), and has a taproot (which means it's best to plant it in one spot permanently).
Lots of exciting new colors are available now too. This one is called 'Twilite Prairieblues', and its flowers are purple, yellow at the base, while its foliage turns a steely blue that makes it gorgeous even when it's done blooming. At 3 to 4 feet high and wide, baptisias make handy stand-ins for shrubs during the growing season in lean sites that won't support shrubs.
Another of my favorites I haven't yet planted is the garden classic gas plant (Dictamnus albus, zones 3 to 8), so named because it supposedly gives off an oil that makes a tiny spark if ignited. It flowers pink to white in early summer and, like baptisia, would much prefer not to be moved once it's planted. Gas plant is an investment plant — it rarely looks great in pots at the nursery, and it'll take a year or two to grow to size in your garden, but it pays off once it does. Give it full sun to light shade and average soil. Gas plant grows to 3 feet tall and wide, takes moderate drought once it settles in, and requires careful handling, because the oils in its leaves and flowers can irritate skin.
Finally, if it's a more casual spike you're after, there's always one of my favorites: 'Walker's Low' catmint (Nepeta x faassenii 'Walker's Low', zones 4 to 8). I mentioned it in our article on weed-smothering ground covers, it's blooming right now in my garden, and it's still one of my all-time favorites. Sweetly scented foliage and clear lavender flowers are trademarks, and it thrives in lean soil and sun. This "cat" grows to about 3 feet high and wide, and it's wise to give it that much space to spread out, because it may shade out other, less competitive plants.
Great design plants