Here are our top picks for the best perennials that do well in a sunny garden. They can withstand longer hours of sunshine and the drying effects that may accompany it better than some other sun-lovers. Sunny gardens tend to be one of the easiest to fill with perennials although this is not an exact science so you need to consider hours of direct sunlight per day. We will consider full sun to mean 6+ hours of direct sun, however this doesn’t actually mean plants must be in bright light every moment of the day, only most of the day. So lather on the SPF 30 and let’s get started!
1. Summer or Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘David’) – Zone 3
Summer Phlox make superb cut flowers and attract butterflies and maybe even the occasional hummingbird to the sunny border. ‘David’, the 2002 Perennial Plant of the Year, stands out as one of the best due to its exceptionally large flower heads and excellent mildew resistant green foliage. We’re talking pure white here – not watered down creamy white! This selection adds sparkle and is a wonderful addition to the white garden which is associated with elegance, peace and romance. The best white gardens have pure white flowers spread throughout greens creating a natural look and feel; best appreciated in the twilight.
2. Pink Thrift (Armeria maritima Dusseldorf Pride) – Zone 2
An absolute work horse in the rock garden or anywhere it’s expected to perform under strong sun and minimal water (with the exception of standing water); even tolerant of seaside conditions and road salt. Easy-to-grow and still considered one of the best pink forms available. Its small, mounding form brings fine and delicate texture to the garden and looks best when mass planted. The grassy tufts remain blue-green all season, while the rosy-magenta, ball-shaped flower heads perched at the end of the stems add whimsy and colour over several weeks. Best of all, it’s a relatively low maintenance perennial.
3. Silver Brocade Artemisia (Artemisia stelleriana Silver Brocade) – Zone 2
You may find this perennial sold as ‘Boughton Silver’ – it’s low-growing and compact. When you read through some Design Ideas on this website, you’ll no doubt see references made to adding texture and foliage colour which allows the eye to appreciate each colour change. ‘Silver Brocade’ handles this job with ease. It has a lacy look with scalloped, fragrant silvery-white foliage. It’s very versatile and can be used in hanging baskets, mixed containers, as a groundcover and for edging. It might benefit from a trimming in spring and again in midsummer but its maintenance needs are small compared to its garden appeal and uses. Deer and rabbit resistant too!
4. Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Snowcap’) – Zone 4
‘Snow Cap’ tolerates tolerates wind, rain, etc. better due to its short stature,. There are other compact forms available today but this is considered the best with single white daisy-like flowers featuring a bright, sunny yellow button centre. This won’t let you down in the bloom department either. It will provide you with constant blooming from early summer right through to early fall especially if you deadhead during the season. Maybe play a little he/she loves me, he/she loves me not? Let’s not forget that ‘Snow Cap’ will attract butterflies to your garden and looks amazing in mixed containers and when mass planted. Outstanding performer in the sun!
5. Thread-leaved Coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’) – Zone 4
There aren’t too many experienced gardeners who won’t recognize this plant but it deserves its high rating as one of the best all time perennials due to its ability to handle long periods of sun, heat and drought-like conditions, its flower power which provides non-stop blooms all summer (may repeat until frost) and its delicate, needle-like foliage that adds great texture to the garden. As the 1992 Perennial Plant of the Year, it offers lovely pale yellow flowers that blend well with pastel colour schemes. You can’t go wrong with ‘Moonbeam’.
6. Blazing Star (Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’) – Zone 2
Blazing Star (a.k.a. Gayfeather) is a North American Native plant that can reach 5 feet tall. This selection is an excellent compact variety more suited for the smaller garden and in mixed containers. The showy tall flower spikes are comprised of small, fluffy, mauve florets flowering from the top down and are very popular as cut flowers in the commercial trade. This is a tough, drought tolerant perennial that’s also easy to grow and naturalize.
7. Dwarf English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia Blue Cushion) – Zone 4
What is a sunny garden without Lavender? Grown as a scented herb for years, it makes a wonderful addition to any sunny location that provides good drainage. This particular variety is one of the shortest forms so does well for edging but especially in a rock garden where it appreciates lots of sun. Unlike some other compact varieties, ‘Blue Cushion’ forms a uniform, compact mound of fragrant, grey-green foliage smothered in deep violet-blue flower spikes from early to late summer. Flower spikes lighten to pale blue as they mature. Repeat blooming may last into fall if you deadhead on a regular basis. One of the very best!
8. Goldsturm Coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’) – Zone 3
This perennial deserves its place in our Top 10 list of Best Perennials for Sunny Gardens. It is probably the most used landscape plant for low-maintenance gardens where heat and humidity take their toll. It’s excellent where you won’t have to tend to its needs on a regular basis and looks great with Ornamental Grasses and Stonecrop. ‘Goldsturm’ provides a long season of bloom producing flowers that are golden-yellow and daisy-like with dark brown, button centres. The flowers dry to form seed-heads that provide food for birds and add interest to the winter garden. Also included in the ten Best Perennials of All Time for good reason!
9. Perennial Sage (Salvia x sylvestris May Night) – Zone 3
Do deer and rabbits like to visit your garden? If so, ‘May Night’ will not be be on their menu so will be left undisturbed. Perennial Salvia are very sturdy and provide a colourful show in any sunny garden. This award winner produces the darkest, deep indigo-violet flower spikes we’ve seen and offers outstanding heat and drought tolerance which is an important consideration in most sunny gardens. Easy to grow, reliably returning year after year, excellent as a cut flower and is a butterfly and hummingbird magnet. You’ll get more flower power if deadheaded regularly. Definitely a perennial to enjoy for years to come!
10. Autumn Stonecrop (Sedum Autumn Joy) – Zone 2
A sunny garden can add months of colour if you add the award winner and most popular Stonecrop, ‘Autumn Joy’, to the mix. You may see this being sold as ‘Herbstfreude’ which technically is its correct name but being difficult to pronounce at the best of times, let’s go with ‘Autumn Joy’ shall we? This is one of the taller varieties that are late-bloomers featuring huge clusters of dusty-pink flowers that age to bronzy-red and looking very much like heads of broccoli. The leaves are green and succulent. It does best in a garden that provides long hours of sunshine or it could become leggy and topple over so definitely belongs here. Tried and true!
11. Not included in the Top 10 plants for Sunny Gardens because they are already included in Top 10 Perennials of All Time are Yarrow (Achillea ‘Moonshine’) and Purple Coneflower (Echinacea ‘Magnus’).