“True North” Cold Climate Perennials for Carefree Canadian Gardens
Perennial plants are an essential part of any low-maintenance flower garden. The right plant, placed in the right location, will thrive year after year with very little care. Canadians gardening in regions with short growing seasons and brutally cold winters might be a bit more challenged to find beautiful flowering perennial selections tolerant of their harsh conditions - but they do exist!
Here are a couple of hints for identifying perennials that are truly adapted to cold climates:
Look for plants with the word canadensis in the botanical name (these are usually species native to Canada).
When you see “Arctic” or “alpine” in the common name that's also a clue to the plant's origin. It tells you that the plant is native to the Artic or to cool, mountainous, alpine regions.
Plants with the species name siberica, or with “Siberia” in the common name, are often natives of Siberia and are potentially good choices for Canadian gardeners.
To make things easy, here are five gorgeous perennials that grow and flower with greater vigor in cold climates than in warm ones:
This dainty native plant grows in forests throughout Canada, but is equally at home in gardens where it lights up the understory with red and yellow flowers each spring. Columbine often seeds itself (without being pesky), forming verdant glades with its soft knee-high foliage. This is one of the few shade perennials that hummingbirds flock to.
Monkshood, an upright perennial with the darkest purple-blue flowers imaginable, is a “true northerner” that thrives in cooler climates. In fact, many species are native to cool, mountainous regions in the northern hemisphere. The bold stalks of purple flowers add a distinct vertical line to the garden. Caution is needed when planting this in areas where children, pets, or livestock might have access. All parts of monkshood are extremely poisonous. Wear gloves when planting or pruning. If using for a cut flower arrangement, locate the bouquet where it won't come into direct contact with pets or people.
Like an old friend, hostas are a plant that never disappoints. Though hostas have intriguing trumpet-like flowers, they are even better known for their foliage, especially the many varieties with frosty blue tones that seem right at home under Canadian skies. Hostas thrive in the cool temperatures of northern latitudes, where they are often massed under the filtered shade of large hardwoods.
The description for this plant contains multiple clues of its love for cold climates. The common name containing “alpine” implies that it hails from cold mountainous regions. It also implies that it grows well in rocky terrain, making it a great choice for a rock garden—or anywhere on the Canadian Shield, the giant mass of exposed rock that covers half of the country. Alpine rockcress grows in a tidy low mound about 30cm tall (12”) tall and wide and is covered with delicate white flowers in early summer.
Arctic Campion (Lychnis alpina)
Also known as alpine campion, this species has a similar storyline as the previous one—an excellent choice for tundra-like conditions, whether in a Toronto rock garden or a backyard in Fort McMurray. Hardy all the way down to zone 1, Arctic campion has unique moss-like foliage just a few centimeters (inches) high and tufts of pinkish-red flowers that rise above in summer.