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The 7 Best Perennials for a Low Maintenance Garden

This is a big one, Friends! Today I am sharing what I consider to be the best perennials. These are my top favourite plants in category – perennial, flowering shrub, evergreen shrub, ornamental tree etc. I am deep in designing our landscape right now (a project that will be implemented over the next few years) and these are the first plants that I will be adding to our property because they are versatile and give so much visual interest with not too much maintenance. There are SO MANY MORE plants that I love but I wanted to share these favourites and the reasons why I think they are so great. All of these plants will come back each year without being planted again.

Groundcover – Vinca

  • Latin name: Vinca
  • Zones: 4-9
  • Requirements: Partial Shade

Vinca minor is a deep green groundcover with a delicate glossy leaf. There is also Vinca major which has a larger leaf and flower but is better suited to warmer climates than where I live (southern Ontario). Vinca minor grows to about 6″ – 10″ high and forms a beautiful and dense cover on the ground – all tangled about with itself. It is a favourite for me because it is a broadleaf evergreen so it has interest year round and even has a lovely purple flower in the spring. It is tolerant of more shady conditions with just some morning sun being the ideal condition for it. It requires little to no maintenance but it can spread beyond the area where you have planted it and take over if it is very happy. Planting it under and around larger plant varieties like shrubs and trees (as opposed to perennials) so that it won’t overtake is best.

Best Perennial – Russian Sage

  • Latin name: Perovskia
  • Zones: 4-9
  • Requirements: Full Sun
Russian Sage mass planted (shown is a first year planting)

Russian sage is a beautiful purple perennial that grows to create a really full plant that is about 3′ high. I consider this one of the best perennials for really massed out colour. There are many varieties of Russian sage and they differ in that they will grow to different heights and come in slightly different shades of purple. I love Russian sage because it flowers for such a long time and because of the way it flowers – it produces small flowers along the whole stem as opposed to just a singular large bloom. This makes it a very dramatic plant to look at, especially when planted in a mass. It will produce flowers in the mid summer and continue until frost when it turns dried out and grey but maintains its form throughout the winter so you still have something to look at in your garden. Aside from the once annual cut back in the spring it requires nearly no maintenance. As a big bonus, it is a great pollinator and bees love it! It has a lovely scent and reminds me of lavender but is easier to grow and maintain in our climate.

Best Perennial Grass – Fountain Grass

  • Latin name: Pennisetum
  • Zones: 5-9
  • Requirements: Sun
Little Bunny Fountain Grass – image via Proven Winners

Of all the ornamental grasses I definitely find fountain grass to be the most adorable…isn’t that how we all pick grasses!? The little tufts it produces in the fall are just so whimsical and fluffy. There are many varieties to choose from and they will differ in their size and colour but in general they all have a very similar look and perform similarly in the landscape. ‘Hameln’ has always been my favourite variety as it gets to be about 2′-3′ tall and wide and produces lots of fluffy tufts, it has a very compact and full form. Early in the season grasses will be primarily green but they look their best in the fall when they flower and will remain looking great throughout the winter – they will no longer be ‘alive’ but the dried out tufts look lovely in the winter landscape.

Best Perennial Shrub – Hydrangea

  • Latin name: Hydrangea
  • Zones: 4-8 (differs for each variety though)
  • Requirements: Part Sun to Full Sun

I have talked about hydrangea so much on here and my Instagram and it is because I truly find them to be the most abundant and show stopping shrub. They are definitely, in my opinion, the best perennial shrub. Again, there are so many varieties but the 3 main broad types of hydrangea are: Hydrangea arborescens, Hydrangea paniculata, and Hydrangea macrophylla. Hydrangea arborescens are the big white ball hydrangea, Hydrangea paniculata are the hydrangea with a more conical shaped bloom, and Hydrangea macrophylla are the blue, pink, and purple varieties with the darker green leaves. In our climate I prefer the first two varieties.

My favourite Hydrangea arborescens is called ‘Incrediball’ by Proven Winners. It produces tons of white blooms but has fairly strong stems. The one downside to Hydrangea arborescens is that their blooms get very heavy so they can flop later in the season or with a heavy rain. My favourite hydrangea of all is a type of Hydrangea paniculata called ‘Little Lime’. It is a dwarf variety that grows to be about 3’0″ x3’0″ and has tons of white blooms in the summer. In the fall they change to soft pink and green, then dark pink and then dry out to be brown and they look beautiful dried on the stems all winter. The images above are of a mass of ‘Little Lime’ that I planted at my sister’s house – it is beautiful all year round! The non-dwarf variety of this is called ‘Limelight’ which gets to be about 6’+ tall and there is an even smaller variety called ‘Bobo’. These 3 varieties are reliable and my personal choices but there are so many other to explore if you are looking to add hydrangea to your property.

Best Perennial Evergreen Shrub – Boxwood

  • Latin name: Buxus
  • Zones: 4-9
  • Requirements: Partial shade to full sun (preferred)
A boxwood hedge enclosing a rose garden

Boxwood is a great material for creating low hedges in a garden. It should always be planted or a row or a sculpted cluster. It is a broadleaf evergreen so it looks the same all throughout the year which is why it is such a staple. Boxwood is tolerant of some shade but prefers full sun conditions and when nicely pruned it just gives a complete and polished look to a garden. When you look it up online it will talk about it reaching heights of 20’+, another day I will talk about the sizing of plants and how these size estimates can be misleading when dealing with maintained plants, but in general I visualize boxwood being trimmed annually to be kept at about 2′-4′ in height.

Best Perennial Hedging Material – Beech

  • Latin name: Fagus sylvatica
  • Zones: 5-9
  • Requirements: Partial shade to full sun
Dawyck Green Beech – image via Connon Nurseries

I am currently considering quite a few options for providing a privacy screen in our backyard and beech is by far my favourite. Fagus Sylvatica ‘Dawyk Purple’ and Fagus Sylvatica ‘Dawyk Green’ are columnar varieties and grow to make a beautiful hedge. Beech have a more tight and tidy form than cedar which is the most popular hedging material where I am located. They have a rich glossy leaf in the summer and in the fall it turns brown but it does not fall off in the winter, making them a good hedge material all year round. Beech will need annual pruning to keep it the size you desire on your property.

Best Perennial Ornamental Tree – Serviceberry

  • Latin name: Amelanchier
  • Zones: 4-9
  • Requirements: Partial shade to full sun (min 4 hours sun/day)
Hydrangea arborescens in front of the house with serviceberry trees in the planter

Serviceberry is another versatile tree because it is low maintenance and tolerant of a range of light conditions from partial shade to full sun. It is a native tree to Canada and actually produces an edible berry that is used in pies and jams! Birds also love it which is always a plus in my book. In the spring it has a lovely white flower (not overly showy but noticeable) and in the fall it has a bright orange-red leaf. It is most commonly available in a ‘clump’ or multi-stem form but can be found as a standard with just 1 trunk. It is not an overly large tree and if maintained in a residential garden will likely get to about 15′ in time but if allowed to grow more freely, on the edge of a forest for example, it can get much bigger than that over time.

To illustrate how much I truly believe these to be the best perennials, here is the ‘work-in-progress’ plan that I am currently working on for our own house. As you can see, it features just about all of them! I’m looking forward to implementing this planting plan over the next year or so.

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