I grew up in WNY near Buffalo.
Unfortunately, the gardening gene sort of skipped my generation, but I'm learning!
My grandparents lived right across the street from lake Erie and grew everything from flowers to grapes--grammy even had chickens and geese!
A sure bet would be your basic bulbs--daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, irises, etc. which could be planted in the fall. The only thing is that they are short lived, but you could stagger species with different bloom times so something is always coming up. I'd stay away from any kind of lily for now unless you want to combat the dreaded Japanese ladybug that is making it's way across from Europe and is in CT right now. See:
Another diehard is the hosta--not my favorite but it's dependable. My folks also had bleeding hearts which also are easy to care for--we had a bleeding heart bush that my husband mowed down and within 2 weeks it bounced back! My folks also had peonies along a property line that did well in a sunny location. However, my all time childhood favorite are the lilacs. My folks had the driveway lined on one side with them. I always looked forward to them in May, their scent so-o sweet. I am so happy we have one on our current property.
My new favorite is Sweet Woodruff--it's a pretty little plant along the lines of the smaller species of bleeding heart. I planted it last summer and this year it popped up as a perfect little mound with tiny white flowers:
We have tons of shade so I'm on my way to becoming an expert on shade tolerant plants!
Check out this website--it looks like Echinacea would be OK:
The above is a great site because you can determing your hardiness zone by plugging in your zipcode. On the site below you can plug in your zipcode to determine the AHS heat zone range:
Good luck with your garden--I'm hoping to get back to WNY sometime this spring/summer!
an artist in search of a medium...