Gardening

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The 2014 superstar perennial

Every year, the Perennial Plant Association designates a perennial plant that exhibits many good qualities that would make it a useful addition to a garden/landscape. The Association has been awarding this “Perennial of the Year” designation since 1990 and each year gardeners wait to learn what the special plant will be.

It might come as a surprise to many that the designated “Perennial of the Year” for 2014 is a grass, Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind.’ This superstar is a switch grass whose virtues include ease of culture, an upright habit, hardiness in USDA zones 4 to 10, no serious insect or disease and a golden fall color.

Panicum ‘Northwind’ is at home in a variety of situations; it can be an accent plant, a focal point or it can be mass-planted in a native or meadow garden. Deep roots make ‘Northwind’ very drought tolerant and it is seldom eaten by deer. While most switch grasses tend to arch over as they mature, ‘Northwind’ stays erect.  It is slow to spread so it needs division less often, but when it does, spring is the best time. It has slender,  steel-blue leaves that mature at about five feet, which is a useful size in most gardens.  As summer turns into fall, the foliage develops a haze of finely-textured flowers that rise above the foliage by a foot or two.  The flower panicles open a golden yellow that age to creamy beige.  Flower arrangers find the leaves and panicles useful in arrangements.

I have been a gardener long enough to know that plant choice is a lot of “to each his own,” but there is a lot to be said for a plant whose qualities are displayed throughout the season, or that offers resistance to common diseases or pests, or that has a long period of bloom. ‘Northwind’ is just such a plant.

The superstars of past years that have proven to be worthy of their gold stars are listed according to year.

Perennial Plant of the Year Index:
2013 Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’
2012 Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’
2011 Amsonia hubrichii
2010 Baptisia australis
2009 Hakonechloe macra “Aureola’
2008 Geranium ‘Rozanne’
2007 Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’
2006 Dianthus gratinanopolitanus ‘Feuerhexe’
2005 Helleborus xhybridus
2004 Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’
2003 Leucanthemum ‘Becky’
2002 Phlox ‘David’
2001 Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’
2000 Scabiosa columbaria ‘Butterfly Blue’
1999 Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’
1998 Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’
1997 Salvia ‘Mainacht’ (May Night)
1996 Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’
1995 Perovskia atriplicifolia
1994 Astilbe ‘Sprite’
1993 Veronica ‘Sunny Border Blue’
1992 Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’
1991 Heuchera micrantha ‘Palace Purple’
1990 Phlox stolonifera

This list is a great starting point for anyone planning a perennial or mixed border, as all of these winners meet the Perennial Plant Associations’ criteria:

  • suitable for a wide range of climate types
  • low maintenance
  • easily propagated – easily comes true from seed or vegetative propagation
  • exhibits multiple seasonal interest

If you are planning a perennial garden, visit established gardens for ideas.  Summer garden tours offer that opportunity, as does the gardens tended by the Master Gardeners of Albany, Rensselaer, and Schenectady counties. Your local Extension office has a myriad of factsheets on all aspects of perennial gardening so, be sure to add them to your resource list. And lastly, some general garden advice: do not take on more than you can manage so that your garden is always a source of enjoyment and pleasure.

Susan Pezzolla is Community Educator for  Cornell Cooperative Extension Albany County. To reach Sue call 765.3516 or email sep37@cornell.edu
 

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