By Marty Ross
Hardy perennial plants are the heart of beautiful Midwestern gardens. In wave after wave of bloom, from bright early-spring days through frosty fall weather, perennial flowers put on a fabulous show. These reliable plants settle into gardens, and sail through the challenges of the seasons in the Midwest. Plus, they get bigger and better every year.
In steamy summer temperatures, daylilies (Hemerocallis) are the stars of the garden. Modern hybrids produce dozens of flowers on sturdy stems. Better yet, if you plant early-, mid-, and late-season blooming cultivars -- or modern reblooming daylilies -- you can count on blooms for two months or more. Daylilies flourish in sun. They look great with other perennials, and in front of boxwoods, yews, and other evergreen shrubs. They tolerate drought surprisingly well, and grow to impressive proportions in just a couple of years.
Native Midwestern prairie flowers -- and their colorful, long-blooming hybrids -- give our landscapes their distinctive cultural identity. They are especially well adapted to the challenging conditions in Midwestern gardens: This is where they’re from.
Coneflowers (Echinacea) have earned their popularity as one of the most gardenworthy natives. These classic prairie flowers bloom for up to two months in summer. Their flashy flowers attract monarch and swallowtail butterflies. Long after the flowers fade, chickadees and bright-yellow goldfinches perch on your coneflowers and pick the seeds from their dark heads.
Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia), bee balm (Monarda), and phlox all shine brightly in sunny perennial gardens in the Midwest. These plants bloom prolifically. They’re tall, so they’re good choices for the backs of flowerbeds. For dramatic effect, plant some right up front too. Bee balm and black-eyed Susans are both pretty in naturalistic garden meadows, but they adapt to flowerpots.
Perennial flowers keep your garden lively all season long. Asters and goldenrod (Solidago) bloom in late summer and fall, and both attract lots of butterflies. Of course chrysanthemums, with their dark-green leaves and mounds of blooms, are valuable fall-blooming perennials. They’re easy to grow in a flowerbed, but also spectacular in pots. Best of all, asters, goldenrod, mums, and other perennial flowers are tough enough to take the biting cold of a Midwestern winter. And they come back strong when winter turns to spring.