Top 5 Perennials of the West

Black Eyed Susan Daisies. A summer field of daisies. Shallow DOF with focus on centre flower. State flower of Maryland.
The black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta) is the state flower of Maryland.

­There is perhaps nothing more delightful than the first signs of spring. No matter where you live, winter can be a drag on the psyche. Once the first green buds of a new year arrive, the cycle begins, and everything can seem fresh and shiny again. You can fill your g­arden area with annuals, perennials, shrubs, herbs and even trees. You can organize plants and flowers based on color combinations, aromas or insect and bird preferences. Sometimes, you just like the flowers. That is often the case with perennials.

Perennials are a favorite of gardeners because they grow from year to year, instead of living out the complete lifecycle in one shot like annuals. As the seasons go by, perennials can gain more strength and even outlive some shrubs [source: Botanica's Pocket Annuals & Perennials].


Perennials can be used in a variety of ways to spice up your garden. Let your creativity roam free as you plan for and create new locations for your plants. Perennials can be used:

  • as borders along houses, outbuildings or trees
  • in large or small basic gardens
  • in container gardens (pots, tubs or window boxes)
  • in cut flower arrangements
  • as groundcover
  • in woodland or rock gardens

In this article, we're headed west. We'll take a look at the top five perennials to grow along the coast and in the Western states. The USDA Hardiness Zone Map zones these areas as 3-9. Depending on exactly where you are, you should check the zone map closely to see what will work best for you. But most likely, you won't have any problems growing our perennials of choice: Columbines, asters, poppies, dianthus and Black-eyed Susans/coneflowers. Read on to learn about each of these fascinating flowers.

5. Asters

Flowery background with colorful asters
Asters serve as the symbol for the 20th wedding anniversary.

­ You can find just about any shape or size of aster since the genus offers more than 250 species to choose from. Want something to grow tall? Want to grow miniatures? The variety of asters will allow you to find exactly what you need.

In general, aster flower heads are daisy-like, producing long, thin petals with a yellow center. Other asters have smaller, massed or compact flower heads. They come in a variety of colors, such as purple, pink, blue, violet and white. There are so man­y types of asters that it would be impossible to list them all. Here are some more common asters you can work with if you are searching for specificity:


  • California aster (Aster chilensis)
  • Oregon aster (Aster oregonensis)
  • Eaton's aster (Aster eatonii)
  • Italian aster (Aster amellus)
  • Goldilocks aster (Aster linosyris)
  • White Wood aster (Aster divaricatus)

Asters tend to prefer moist soil, so if you live in a dry climate, be sure to keep them well watered. The tall varieties also have a tendency to bend or break in strong winds, which can be easily remedied by staking. Asters will go wild in direct sun, but may need some shade in hot climates. If your asters get out of control, go ahead and divide them every few years. You can propagate using this type of division or share the extra plants with your fellow gardeners. Asters are a perfect plant for a butterfly garden, as their many varieties will attract an equal variety of butterflies [sources: Botanica's Pocket Annuals & Perennials; Lamb, Chambers and Allen].

4. Poppies

Red poppies on spring meadow and strongly polarized blue sky
Poppies are self-seeding, so you can expect them to spread throughout your garden.

­Californians love their poppies. In fact, each year Lancaster, California, is home to the California Poppy Festival. Poppies can die off after one year in certain climates, classifying them as annuals. But many in the Papaver genius, especially those that grow in the West, are considered perennials.

There are around 50 species of poppies to ch­oose from. Most have gorgeous cupped petals that reach for the skies as they open. Standing on long, hairy stems, most poppies will do just fine with little water. This makes them an excellent option for drought-prone locations. Poppies are self-seeding, so expect them to wander around the garden. These beautiful flowers can produce blooms that stretch up to 7 inches (17.78 cm) across and vary with single, semi-double or double flowers. The blooms come in a variety of colors, such as red, pink, white or purple, or they may be a blend of multiple colors. Some common poppies are:


  • California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
  • Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale)
  • Iceland poppy (Papaver cruceum)
  • Papaver atlanticum

Poppies have been a standard part of gardens all over the world for thousands of years. T­hey have been found in the ruins of ancient Egypt and are often referenced in folklore. In Greek mythology, Demeter was the goddess of agriculture and fertility. Farmers believed the poppy to be her favorite flower, so they planted poppies around their fields for good luck. This resulted in the aptly named corn poppy, which was planted around cornfields to honor Demeter [source: National Garden Bureau, Inc.]

3. Columbines

Columbine, field flowers
Columbines were thought to resemble a cluster of doves, so they were named for the Latin "columba."

­Columbines were thought to resemble a cluster of doves, so they were named for the Latin columba. These fascinating flowers are an eye-catching treat. They have long spurs to store nectar, making them an attractant for hummingbirds, hawk moths and bumblebees. Research shows th­at columbines have developed these unusually long nectar spurs in order to accommodate their pollinators [source: ScienceDaily]. Columbines are immensely popular due to their unique features.

Columbines tend to grow in clumps, so it helps to add smaller groundcover around the plants to keep them from looking awkward. Some varieties of columbines include:


  • Van Houtte's columbine (Aquilegia eximia)
  • Western/Crimson columbine (Aquilegia Formosa)
  • Golden columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha)
  • Granny's Bonnets (Aquilegia vulgaris)
  • Dark columbine (Aquilegia atrata)

Columbines can grow quite tall, so staking and wind-protection are recommended. They prefer light soil that is well drained and they like plenty of sunshine. You can grow your own columbines from seed or divide the clumps for propagation. As with poppies, columbines will readily self-seed.

2. Dianthus

Dianthus flowers (sweet william). Red and Pink flowers, some with white edging
Dianthus (carnations) are one of the top 10 flowers used in constructing floats for parades.

­You will probably know one dianthus right off the bat: carnations. Carnations are affordable bouquets at the local florist, but they also make for hardy perennials right in your own yard. The Dianthus genus branches out into more than 300 species. Dianthus is considered to be one of the most popular garden flowers, and rightly so. They come in a seemingly endless variety of colors, including two-toned hues, strea­ks and bicolor.

There are many old-fashioned pinks or newer hybrids to choose from. Don't be fooled into thinking that carnations are the only way to go. Here are some additional dianthus flowers to try:


  • Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus)
  • Garden or Cottage Pink (Dianthus plumarius)
  • Chinese Pink/Indian Pink (Dianthus chinensis)
  • Dianthus Perpetual-flowering Carnations

Dianthus can be marginally or full-frost hardy, so check with your local garden service to find out what will work best for your climate. The tall varieties will need staking to protect them from strong winds, but generally these are extremely easy to care for. They enjoy sunny locations with slightly alkaline, well-drained soil.

1. Black-Eyed Susans and Coneflowers

Black Eyed Susan Daisies. A summer field of daisies. Shallow DOF with focus on centre flower. State flower of Maryland.
The black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta) is the state flower of Maryland.

­Coneflowers get their name from the fact that they look like, well, cones. With petals splayed back, they display long, nectar-filled centers that make them the perfect flowers for a butterfly garden. Black-eyed Susans don't let their middles stick out as far, which is the best way to tell these look-alikes apart.

Black-eyed Susans and coneflowers are usually bright yello­w with long, thin petals. You can slightly mix up the coloring by selecting varieties that have rust, green, black or purple cones, or rays of color splashing out from the center. Varieties include:


  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
  • Black-eyed Susan/Orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida)
  • Cutleaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata)
  • Sweet coneflower (Rudbeckia subtomentosa)
  • Rudbeckia nitida "Herbstsonne"

Rudbeckia flowers prefer moisture-retentive soil with partial shade or full ­sun. If you like tall flowers in your garden, Black-eyed Susans and coneflowers make an excellent choice. Most varieties of these hardy flowers grow more than 4 feet (1.2192 m) tall. These daisy-like beauties will light up your garden as they reach high into the sky.

As with all hobbies, once you get the hang of perennial gardening, you'll become more comfortable with adding new varieties. But for the moment, you have at five perennials to start with -- so gather your gloves and start digging.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

More Great Links

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