The leaves have barely dropped on this year's Perennial Plant Association Plant of the Year (for those who already have forgotten, it was Baptisia australis), yet the garden world is already beginning to buzz about next year's choice.
What's the big deal?
For growers, it is a big deal because they have to start more than a year in advance growing enough plants to send to markets all over the country. When the Perennial Plant Association speaks, backyard growers stop and take notice. This is what we'll be seeing in our garden centers next year, and just as Vogue readers grow anxious to know the length of next season's hemlines, gardeners also keep up with the latest trends when it comes to what's growing.
The PPA is a prestigious organization that spends quite a lot of time deciding these things. Their members are distinguished horticulturalists, greenhouse growers and other professionals from the green industry who live, work and sleep plants. Basically, they know of which they speak, so when the PPA says this is a great plant, you can believe it.
So here it is, nearly two full months earlier than last year and well before the PPA plans to make the official announcement, I can reveal the 2011 Perennial Plant of the Year to be - drumroll please - Amsonia hubrichtii.
Don't worry. I'm not breaking any trade secrets here, nor am I the first to make this announcement. Walter's Gardens Inc., of Zeeland, Mich., first broke the news on their website back in January, even before we planted the first Baptisia in our gardens. It didn't take long for a few garden bloggers to pass the word along. In fact, in the Internet garden community, I'm sort of the last to know, but that's OK. We still have an entire winter to get through.
I'm excited about this plant. I've been growing it in my garden for about four years and each year it gets bigger and better. I may even have mentioned it in this column because right now, my Amsonia patch is in the corner of a daylily bed, and I keep threatening to move it. It also has a place in my heart because I nearly lost it one year when it was mistaken for a weed (by whom I won't reveal). It was pulled up and put on the compost pile, only to be rescued and replanted just in time. It didn't seem to mind the disturbance and not only bloomed, but continued to grow tall and wide the remainder of the season.
My Amsonia patch began began as two single stems in individual two-inch containers. They were given to us as gifts during a northern Ohio garden tour and they were new to us and our gardens. We were told its name, Amsonia, so it was quite a long time before I learned its common name, Arkansas Blue Star. Curious, I stuck the two slender stems with its soft needle-shaped leaves into the lily patch for lack of a better place, expecting it to be temporary.
The next spring, I was delighted to see those two stems had tripled in numbers over the winter, and in late May and early June, the prettiest little pale blue star-shaped flowers decorated the stems like Christmas ornaments. It was at that moment I fell in love with Amsonia.
As with most perennials, they bloom once during the season and then spend the rest of summer growing tall and wide. Five years later, those two plants are now the size of a well-established shrub and the daylilies just have to deal with it. Not only am I not moving this plant, but I plant to add more Amsonia to every corner of every lily patch, not to mention a few other places I have in mind throughout the perennial gardens.
I fell in love with this plant for its flowers but soon learned it has other virtues. The first show is the pale blue flowers against the dark green leaves in late spring, then the shrub-like formation of the well mannered stems throughout summer and production of long, slender seedpods all along the stems, and finally, before the plant dies back to the ground for winter, fall turns the foliage golden-yellow for an outstanding final exhibition.
This plant is practically maintenance free. I do little more than clean up a few weeds and watch to see what it's going to do next.
I haven't seen Amsonia in garden centers, but now that it has the PPA seal of approval, you can bet you'll be seeing more beginning next spring.