Top 5 perennials for toughness and beauty

Black-eyed-Susan is a great example of a common name kids remember. (Maureen Gilmer/TNS)

Combined ShapeCaption
Black-eyed-Susan is a great example of a common name kids remember. (Maureen Gilmer/TNS)

They always called my grandmother Daisy, the favorite flower of a homestead farm girl. This is why daisies hold special meaning for me, and they may for others as well. The daisy is the easiest flower to identify for people of all ages, and when it comes to kids, no other is quite as charming in the hands of a child.

Mothers can be old and young, but no matter their age, all love flower gardens. When she’s too busy to tend the garden with kids and a job, or if she’s bedridden with just a view from the window, flowers are always welcome. In lieu of cut flowers that die quickly, consider some long lived perennial daisies she’ll recognize and enjoy for many years to come.

Busy moms lack the time and energy to make gardens. It’s a lot of shopping during the frenetic season of dads, grads and summer vacation. For this reason, moms who want a beautiful garden often go without. If dad and the kids plant flowers for her as a gift of life and love, they bring color into her everyday world this summer.

Perennials are the best gift value. Annuals come and go in a single season. A perennial is a plant that goes dormant for the winter and dies back, then comes to life in spring to grow bigger and better each year. Adding even more value is that perennial plants can be divided in the future into many new ones to spread around. That’s a task gardener Moms will relish after all the kids are all in school.

The key to successful gifting is for dad to select traditional favorites that have proved their mettle over a century here in America. Most are American natives; tough and beautiful. That means they won’t need coddling to look their best. All make good cut flowers (particularly shasta), to bring indoors for Grandma where she can enjoy them up close too.

For a more economical approach, select your perennials in quart pots for the lowest purchase price. This lets you buy the maximum number of plants for the money available. If you want more immediate color for presentation, increase to one gallon blooming individuals for older plants. Some upscale garden centers have “instant gratification” perennials in 2- or 5-gallon pots in full bloom. Though these are pricey, they create a big reveal drama in mom’s favorite flower bed makeover.

The five plants listed below are mostly North American natives often found among the prairie species and wildflowers. These are the original species, but breeders have created many named varieties that vary in size and flower color. The original retains all its natural toughness too often lost with horticultural strains. This super adapted resiliency includes resistance to diseases and pests that evolved on this continent over millennia. It’s like classic cars: old and original is always better.

All of these species can reach 3 to 4 feet in flower, so they become quite visually spectacular at maturity.


Purple coneflower

Large magenta pink blossoms followed by attractive seed pods that draw birds.


Blanket flower

Lower growing bright red and yellow flowers that really take the heat.


Bee balm

Lavender blossoms are the quintessential bee plant for spectacular color.


Black-eyed Susan

Old fashioned favorite with golden sunset tones and vigorous growth.


Shasta daisy

A snow white vigorous flowering perennial created in early 20th century California by Luther Burbank.

Clip this list and take it shopping so the garden center where staff will quickly round up your order. Throw in a few bags of compost for soil prep and mulch. Then the only dilemma you face is how to hide the work day from mom.


Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at