Yarrow (Achillea spp.) — Yarrow is a garden stalwart that won’t bat an eye if the weather turns dry. Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) blooms from early to late summer. Along with the white-flowered species, pictured, there are cultivars with orange-red (‘Paprika’) and magenta pink (‘Cerise Queen’) flowers. Clump-forming golden yarrow (A. filipendulina) is less aggressive and blooms from early summer to early fall. Yarrow grows 1–3 feet tall and is hardy in Zones 3–9.
Threadleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata) — This drought-tolerant perennial boasts handsome mounds of lacy foliage topped by small but plentiful golden yellow flowers. Although the peak bloom season is in early summer, coreopsis continues to flower until fall if deadheaded. ‘Moonbeam’, pictured, is the best-known cultivar. Newer selections come with pink or red flowers. Threadleaf coreopsis sometimes self-seeds but not to the point of becoming a pest. It grows 18–24 inches tall and is hardy from Zones 3–8.
Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum) — With bright white petals surrounding yellow centers, Shastas have the classic daisy form that delights kids and adults alike. Growing 1–3 feet tall with an upright habit, Shasta daisies bloom in early summer and often rebloom later in the season if deadheaded. Either way, they deliver a bright punch of color in sun or part shade. Shasta daisies grow 2–3 feet and are hardy in Zones 4–8.
Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.) — Although it prefers sun, daylily will take a fair amount of shade and still bloom. Grassy foliage and a range of flower colors including yellow, gold, pink, red, and orange guarantee a fan club for this feisty perennial. Heights range from 10–40 inches, and plants are rugged enough to withstand occasional trampling from pets and children. Daylilies are hardy in Zones 3–9.
Stonecrop (Sedum spectabile) — This fast-growing, drought-tolerant perennial is practically foolproof — as long as it has sunlight and well-drained soil. It withstands heat, humidity, and wind. And it shows off large broccoli-like blooms for an extended period in late summer and early fall. ‘Autumn Joy’, pictured, is a popular hybrid sedum with pink flowerheads maturing to rust. It grows 18–24 inches tall and is hardy in Zones 3–8.
Good to Know: Leave sedum flowerheads in place for winter interest; they look great topped with snow. Cut them down to the ground in early spring to make room for new growth.
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida) — If you can grow only one perennial in your sunny garden, this is it. Black-eyed Susan is a rough-and-tumble prairie plant that prefers sun but takes part shade. It tolerates both wet and dry soils, and it’s not bothered by heat or wind. The large golden blooms, adorned with dark-brown centers, appear from midsummer to frost. ‘Goldsturm’, pictured, is a popular cultivar with a more compact, mounded shape. Black-eyed Susan grows 2–3 feet tall and is hardy in Zones 5–9.
Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) — Another plucky prairie plant, purple coneflower’s trademark is a prominent rusty cone surrounded by bright petals. In addition to light purple flowers, there are varieties with white, yellow, orange, or tomato-red flowers available. Although it prefers full sun, purple coneflower can take a fair amount of shade. Purple coneflower grows 2–3 feet tall and is hardy in Zones 3–8.
Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) — The flowers on Russian sage are tiny but plentiful. Massed on long stems, they top off lacy gray-green foliage in mid to late summer. Like sedum, it tolerates heat, wind, drought, and even poor soil (as long as it is well drained). All it really needs is sunlight. Russian sage grows 2–5 feet tall, depending on cultivar, and is hardy in Zones 3–9.
Good to Know: Use it as a backdrop for shorter plants. The stairstep arrangement will look attractive, and the foreground plants will help keep taller Russian sage from sprawling.
Helen’s flower (Helenium autumnale) — This underappreciated species deserves more attention. And attention is what your garden will get in mid to late summer when Helen’s flower delivers its hot-colored flowers, ranging from orange to yellow to rusty red to brown, depending on cultivar. Originally a flower of wet meadows, Helen’s flower also does well in ordinary soils. It grows 3–6 feet tall and is hardy in Zones 3–8.
Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) — Once shunned because it was erroneously blamed for causing hay fever, goldenrod has regained its luster. The golden yellow flower plumes look like exploding fireworks in late summer to early fall. This plant actually does better in poor soil. While some goldenrod species reach 4–6 feet, the arching stems on modern varieties are a more garden-friendly 1–3 feet tall. Goldenrod is hardy in Zones 5–9.
Good to Know: Goldenrod is a natural companion for purple asters and white boltonia. The combination looks great, and all three plants prefer the same growing conditions.
Perennials come back year after year. When you choose an easygoing one that’s right for your climate, you’re practically guaranteed success.