The Sun Gods of the Garden
It’s come to my attention that in the past few years I have been writing this article, I’ve never highlighted full-sun loving plants. Well, that is changing right now.
Fortunately, sun-loving plants are most of the plants that we see and purchase at nurseries, garden stands, and plant societies. From groundcovers, to annuals and perennials, to shrubs, flowering trees, and our shade trees. I’m going to focus on a few native perennials in this edition.
For a flowering perennial that can play the role of a groundcover and bloom the entire growing season, nothing beats Coreopsis verticillata or tickseed coreopsis. This species has numerous varieties that grow from one foot tall up to three feet tall. ‘Moonbeam’ is a common favorite and is in the smaller height range. It likes dry to moist soil and full sun, perfect for a rain garden, and it blooms all summer long.
Another star groundcover in my opinion is creeping phlox, or Phlox subulata. It’s only about six inches off the ground and likes soil on the dryer side. It stays evergreen and is great on sloped areas or in rock gardens and within the nooks of walls (if enough soil is present). Creeping phlox has numerous varieties that include a large range of colors.
Perhaps one of my favorite perennials of all time is black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia fulgida. Blooming from June all the way to October, it’s a stunning contribution to the full-sun garden. It likes dry to moist soils, so it’s another candidate for the rain garden. Again, there are many varieties to choose from, but ‘Goldsturm’ is a favorite among gardeners. Goldsturm reaches two feet in height. Other varieties can reach taller, so make sure to read that plant label!
If you are looking for an ornamental grass that enjoys the sun’s rays, look no further than the native switch grass, Panicum virgatum. Again, many varieties are available so pay attention to the nursery label. Switch grass can grow anywhere from three feet to six feet tall. The blooms come out from July through October, and can even be attractive during the winter months, especially with a light dusting of snow on them. They tolerate dry and moist soils which is perfect for the rain garden (I’m sensing a theme here). They are great for erosion control along slopes, too. A favorite cultivar is ‘Shenandoah’ which grows to three feet and displays a deeper red color.
Let’s talk about butterfly milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa. The orange color of this native plant reminds me of a perfect summer sunset late in the season. It blooms from May through July and grows up to three feet tall. It also grows in both dry and moist soils. Of course, it attracts butterflies, including the beautiful Monarch. A mass of this perennial creates a stunning effect in the garden, and you won’t be longing to see any pollinators because they are sure to be everywhere.
I think I’ll end with a native plant that adds color to your garden through October, New England aster, Aster nova-angliae. This fall-blooming plant puts on a show with its purple daisy-like flowers on a four-foot to six-foot tall shrub-like plant. It likes moist soil with plenty of sun. Aster also attracts butterflies including the Monarch during its migration south.
I hope these sun-loving perennials give you ideas for your garden. For impact, make sure to place them in mass (I like to plant in odd numbers: three, five, seven…). Don’t forget, fall is an ideal time to plant, and it’s just around the corner!
Enjoy the sun, and let’s garden together.
Eric W. Wahl is Landscape Architect at Pennoni Associates, and President of the Delaware Native Plant Society.