Clay soils present a challenge to the gardener, since it can retain water and tends toward the alkaline. Gardeners must decide if they want to amend the soil by adding components like sand and organic matter, grow gardens in raised beds that sit atop the soil or give in to the soil and choose plants from those that tolerate or even thrive in the clay. And some will thrive, for if a plant doesn't mind clay's properties, it receives from the clay many nutrients. Clay is the most fertile of the basic soil types.
While most plants like to grow in a neutral to acid pH soil environment, lilacs like a pH range from neutral to a bit alkaline, qualifying the perennial shrub for clay soils. It doesn't like to sit in water, though, so make sure your planting site drains.
Traditional lilac varieties take up room and can even serve as a screen, which for gardeners wanting to avoid frequent gardening activities in clay soil, can be a plus. Shrubs can grow up to 20 feet wide. Newer varieties can keep the lilac in a smaller space, so gardeners without room should still consider the plant, especially given some of its other positive qualities. These qualities include fragrance, usefulness as a cut flower, hardiness, ease of growing and attractiveness to butterflies and hummingbirds.
While the plant can bloom in the colour lilac, varieties that bloom in white, reddish-pink and purple are available, too.
Honeysuckle is another fragrant flowering perennial that attracts birds and butterflies. It is typically a vine, though shrub varieties are available, these growing to about 9 feet high, depending on variety. Vines can grow rampantly, climbing over 20 feet, which, for a gardener avoiding work with clay, isn't such a bad thing. However, some honeysuckle varieties are considered invasive. Make sure you check with your local county extension agent to find out if any honeysuckle types are prohibited in your area.
As you might suspect, given that some varieties can be considered invasive, honeysuckles are easy to grow and, given sun, flower easily. If you want to prune honeysuckle, do so before their annual growth spurt, for flowers bloom on new wood. Colours available include white, pink, yellow and scarlet. Some varieties can bloom all season long, decorating a stretch of fence admirably. After flowering, some honeysuckles produce red berries that birds eat.
Heleniums belong to the daisy family and produces sunny yellow, orange or reddish flowers. The petals radiate out in traditional daisy fashion, and the centres are prominent. Another hardy perennial, heleniums like sun, grow up to 5 feet tall and can be used as a source of cut flowers. These flowers are attractive to birds and butterflies, but resist deer, blooming in summer and fall.. Heleniums like the moisture of clay.