When I designed the 10-acre garden around our home, I wanted to ‘bring the wildlife to the house’ by planting lots of the best perennials right up to the residence that would attract hummingbirds, songbirds and butterflies. I can report that the plan worked and we now enjoy many of all-the-above! But attracting the right kind of wildlife to your yard and garden requires that you plan your plant purchases carefully.
Here are some of my favourite perennials for this purpose. Not coincidentally all of these perennials are terrific garden performers that provide showy blossoms for an extended period of time.
Foxglove ‘Camelot Lavender’ [sp. digitalis] Zone 4
All foxgloves will attract hummingbirds to your garden, but not all of them will bloom as reliably in the second year and for as long as this variety! If you enjoy hummingbirds (and honey bees) you will surely enjoy the extremely floriferous nature of ‘Camelot Lavender’ – the look of traditional foxglove with the modern benefits of disease resistance and the earliest flowering foxglove that I have ever seen. Plant in well-drained, compost rich soil.
Purple Coneflower ‘Magnus’ [sp. Echinacea] Zone 3
I have been a fan of our native purple coneflower for years, but when I saw ‘Magnus’ perform in my own garden, I knew that I would have to share it with Canadian gardeners everywhere. ‘Magnus’ is an extremely winter hardy plant that matures to a relatively short 60 cm but makes up for its stature by blooming for eight weeks or more on extremely aggressive plants. A butterfly magnet too!
Blanket Flower ‘Arizona Sun’ [sp. Gaillardia] Zone 2
In a sunny position in the garden, you can’t keep this hardy perennial down. Showy, 3” wide single blooms feature mahogany red with bright yellow petal edges. Prefers well-drained, infertile soils (in other words, sand-based soils).
For partial sun/shade
Coral Bells ‘Marmalade’ [sp. Heuchera] Zone 4
The benefits of growing Coral Bells are becoming so widely known in Canada that I know some gardeners who have dedicated whole gardens to the species. They tolerate ½ day of shade, thrive in full sun, bloom for several weeks, lend themselves to cutting for indoor use and never seem to be bothered by insects or diseases. The chartreuse leaves of ‘Marmalade’ attract lots of attention during the entire growing season while the soft coloured flowers bloom for up to seven weeks. Great for hummingbirds.
Coral Bells ‘Palace Purple’ [sp. Heuchera] Zone 4
I grow a group of three ‘Palace Purple’ at the very front of my perennial border nearest the road. They attract so much attention there that it is not unusual for visitors to stop, stoop and look at the name on the tag. This popular Coral Bells variety is larger than average and maintains its deep, dark coloured foliage all summer long even in a sunny location. The flowers are equally dark – adding a sense of mystery to any garden.
Best for shade
Hosta ‘Guacamole’ [sp. Hosta] Zone 2
While ANY hosta that blooms will attract their share of hummingbirds, this larger-than-average hosta outperforms most perennial plants in the Canadian garden. ‘Guacamole’ matures quickly to its full 50 cm size, adds drama to a shady garden with its wide light green leaves and bears creamy white flowers for an excessive four to six weeks in June through July.
Bleeding Heart ‘Luxuriant’ [sp. Dicentra] Zone 2
I discovered this improvement to the traditional Bleeding Heart a number of years ago and have kept several growing near the forefront of my perennial border ever since. ‘Luxuriant’ blooms for such a long period of time you may wonder when it is going to run out of gas. Soft rose/pink blooms appear in mid-June and continue through September. A non-stop flowering perennial like this is hard to find. Combined with its winter hardiness, there is no equal in the shade garden.
There are, of course, many other ‘butterfly and hummingbird’ plants that you can grow in most any Canadian garden including Bee Balm [sp. Monarda], Butterfly weed [sp. Asclepias], joe-pye weed [sp. Eupatorium], Pincushion flower [sp. Scabiosa] and yarrow [sp. Achillea]. Those listed above are just favourites of mine.