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Ideas for a native plant perennial garden

January 20, 2019

We created a garden bed last fall and would like some planting ideas. We want native perennials only, 3 or 4 season interest. The site is full to partial sun, we are in Ontario, Canada, Zone 6. Any ideas are welcome, it's pretty much a blank slate except for 2 dogwoods and a nest spruce I planted in the fall.

I attached a couple pictures and apologize they aren't the best, there is snow back there now.

Took this from a 2nd storey room. This is the bed as seen from straight on.

Down lower, Now this on the west side of the garden bed. Where the edging stops will be a little sitting area.

Comments (26)

  • Christopher C Nc

    The Wildflower Farms catalog in Canada would be a good thing for you to peruse. https://www.wildflowerfarm.com/

  • durkadurka4747

    ^ Along those lines I did just find this sample garden on a local website. What do you guys think of this? Anything you would add or substitute? The colours denote the season of interest.

  • Christopher C Nc

    That is far too busy for such a small perennial flower bed. I would limit the # of species to four to six. Grasses are good for the 3rd and 4th season of interest. Otherwise, how a plant dries, how much of it's structure will stand up to cold and snow is key to a long season of interest. Plant form is just as important as the flower.

  • violetsnapdragon

    Recommendation for spacing baptista is 4 feet apart--and there are six of them in this plan--is that going to work in your bed? I would maybe take that plan and, as Christopher suggested, use fewer varieties (the lupines would be the first to go--they tend to flop over) and shrink it down. Maybe three baptista, if you can fit them. Eliminate at least one plant of each of the colors in that design, taking care to include Spring, Summer and Fall bloomers.

  • einportlandor

    Contact your local Master Gardener office. I'm sure they can point you to lists of local natives that are appropriate for a home garden.

  • Skip1909

    What are the dimensions of the bed? Which exposure is the fence with the evergreens getting? South?

  • GardenHo_MI_Z5

    I think it’s a great package. Spaced out nice for each season.

    Although I personally would eliminate one or two of the yellows (not being my fav lol)....to make more room to mass more of the rest.

  • PRO
    Dig Doug's Designs

    one of many possible designs:

  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH

    As Skip asked, sun exposure? Bed dimensions? What are the dimensions of the sample garden? Also, I would question numbers of plants and spacing since it looks like the Baptisia has about the same spacing as the Tiarella, though Baptisia is a much larger plant.

    Some things to think about as far as goals:

    Do you want to feed caterpillars or birds or attract butterflies or do you want long bloom? Does the plan consider plant needs? For instance to my eye, pearly everlasting isn’t particularly ornamental and in my area likes a lot less moisture and more sun than Tiarella. Deadheading prolongs blooms, but then there aren’t seeds until after you stop deadheading.

    Do the plants have to actually be native to your part of Ontario or just to the continent? Are you OK with cultivars or selections of native plants or just the plain species?

    I don’t see anything in this particular garden that would provide winter interest or even late fall and early spring interest. How important is that to you? In my area the plants in the above garden would be of interest for about 5 or perhaps 6 months since they wouldn’t stand up to snow. Would you consider adding something like a pair of one of the small selections of winterberry hollies (Ilex verticillata) which has fruit through the fall until eaten by birds, usually around Christmas? Then you would have late season fruit and somewhat early season flowers from the serviceberry/Amalanchier. (Choose a small cultivar of Amalanchier as well since I have one that is a full-sized tree.)

    Would you consider adding something nonnative for really early season flowers such as some of the early bulbs? You already have one nonnative with your birds nest spruce (Picea abies/Norway spruce/).

  • cecily 7A

    Skip the rudbeckia and use more echinacea - IME pollinators prefer ech blooms and finches prefer ech seeds. Both echinacea and rudbeckia spread quite a bit; I think rudbeckia are more aggressive.

    Asclepias tuberosa has a short bloom season and monarchs don't lay eggs on it. If you want monarch cats, you need to grow common milkweed (the tall, coarse one).

  • Jay 6a Chicago

    The list of native perennials is overwhelming. You can look at the Prairie Moon site for plant ideas, and there are lots of videos about using native plants. Best to try to see just how many species there are before choosing plants. You can check most midwestern, northeastern natives on the Illinois Wildflowers site to learn their value to wildlife. Pictures of natives in Canada.

  • wildhaven

    Just want to note that I grow asclepias tuberosa and absolutely have monarch cats on it. The flowers do make for a nice punch of color even if monarchs aren't your main goal.

  • durkadurka4747

    Dimensions are about 20x8 ft. Southern exposure.

    Thanks for all the responses so far!

  • Jay 6a Chicago

    More pics for ideas.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    I would enlarge the bed......then you can accommodate a broader range or greater number of plants. And get rid of the in-and-out curves :-) They add nothing, create mowing issues and detract from the overall appearance. Just a gentle arc if you don't want a straight line.

  • durkadurka4747

    So we were thinking we will do wild strawberry along the edge and then a mixture of coneflower, black eyed susans, blazing star, aster and tall grass. Does that sound alright? Any special issues with those choices? Obviously this can change.

  • Cathy Kaufell

    Here's a nice seed/catalog doe native/prarie garden ideas.


  • Christopher C Nc

    Wild strawberry, if it is happy, will be a rampant runner and want to be a groundcover in the bed. That can be a good thing. The other plants can handle that. You just may have to do a little editing of the strawberry to give your flowers some elbow room when needed. Tall grass is too ambiguous. Need to know what grass before commenting.

  • durkadurka4747

    Indeed I'm a little concerned that the wild strawberry will get out of control. How much of an issue is that? Do they usually bear many strawberries? It would be nice to have a native plant with that added benefit.

  • Christopher C Nc

    It depends mostly on whether you want a neat mulched bed or a more natural looking one with a groundcover that won't need mulch so much when established. The strawberries aren't really edible though I do know of one sweet patch at Max Patch.

    It grows wild here. When the runners cross over a plant I like and hide it too much, I just pull them off the top so the other plant gets more light. The main thing is the bulk of the other plant needs to be above the strawberry foliage which is short. For me that is not a big problem because my garden is very much a native tall flower meadow in the growing season.

  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH

    The ones in my yard, as well as the ones where I grew up have wonderful flavor and are prolific, but take enormous amounts of patience to gather any quantity because each berry is about pea sized.

  • Jay 6a Chicago

    Durkadurka, I looked for pictures showing what you described for the taller plants. This is the closest I could find.

  • laceyvail

    I second what gardengal says about the shape of the bed; it isn't pleasing.

  • Amy (NE Ohio)

    Here are three great natives I didn't see mentioned yet. All three are fantastic for pollinators and are easy to grow.

    • Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum) - P. muticum is my favorite, but not native to Ontario. P. virginianum and P. verticillatum are though.
    • Bee Balm/Wild Bergamot (Monarda) - Monarda fistulosa 'Claire Grace' is my favorite
    • Goldenrod (Solidago) - Solidago 'Fireworks' is my favorite
  • sah67 (zone 5b - NY)

    I second Amy's suggestions! At my local native plant nursery, Pycnanthemum is the absolute star of the show when it comes to heavy pollinator traffic! It doesn't have the ornamental "wow" factor like some of the aforementioned options, but it's hard to beat in terms of attracting pollinators.

    One caveat is that P. muticum does need quite a bit more moisture than some of the other Pycnanthemum species.

    'Claire Grace' is also one of my favorite Monardas...it doesn't suffer from the mildew issues that plague M. didyma cultivars, handles dry conditions with no problem, and it's also less agressive of a spreader as well!

  • josephene_gw

    Sedum autumn joy, and yarrow give my garden interest. Great seedheads all winter here in z5.

  • sah67 (zone 5b - NY)

    Good choices, although the OP requested ideas for native perennials, so Sedum 'Autumn Joy" wouldn't fall into that category.

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