Oscar Night is still a week away, but gardeners don't have to wait that long to find out who the new stars in the garden will be this year. Several organizations have already announced their winners.
'Zahara Starlight Rose' zinnia has been named as a bedding plant award winner by All-American Selections. When I first saw this photo in a seed catalog, I knew I had to have these zinnias, even before I knew they had been chosen as an AAS winner. You know I love zinnias, and this new rose and white bicolored flower has captured my heart. Some of its other winning characteristics, according to AAS:
- proven resistence to fungal leaf spot and powdery mildew
- heat and drought tolerant
- "a perfect plant for the novice or experienced gardener because it is so undemanding with a maximum number of blooms." (AAS)
- Height and width: 12-14 inches
Another AAS winner is this Gaillardia F1 'Mesa Yellow.' It's touted as the first hybrid blanket flower with a "controlled plant habit and prolific flowering." In other words, it does not get "tall, loose and floppy." Other traits:
- has a neat, mounded growing habit, but can also cascade down the sides of containers
- wind and rain resistant
- blooms earlier than other cultivars
- Height: 16-18 inches
- Width: 20-22 inches
- easy to grow
- heat tolerant
- flowers all season
- flower color: pastel shades of peach, yellow, and light orange
- Height: 11.75 inches
- Width: 7.75 inches
In the Cool Season Plant category, this viola took the top award. 'Endurio Sky Blue Martien' is described as having "sky-blue" blooms, though the photo looks lavender to me. Characteristics:
- flowers throughout the winter in the South; provides two-season color in the North
- spreading, mounding habit
- Height: 6 inches
- Width: 12 inches
For more information on these four plants as well as the complete list of winners, check out the AAS website. I am starstruck, for sure--I've already ordered seeds for the first three flowers, and I'll be looking for these lovely little violas in the garden center in a few weeks.
And now for the grand finale, the most coveted prize of all--the 2010 Perennial Plant Association's Plant of the Year. The envelope, please . . .
And the winner is . . . Baptisia australis! No award ceremony was necessary to convince me of this plant's winning ways. As soon as I saw masses of these at the Lurie Garden during last year's Spring Fling, I had to have this native plant in my garden. Luckily, I found one last summer at a local nursery, and although it will be awhile before it looks as full as this one at the Lurie, I'm looking forward to seeing those striking violet-blue blossoms this spring.
What do judges look for in choosing the Plant of the Year? Its beauty is important, of course, but also "its durability, suitability to a wide range of climate types, low maintenance, multiple season interest, and easy growing nature."* Baptisia, also known as false blue indigo, has all that and more:
- besides blue, other cultivars are available that produce yellow flowers or white (the native Illinois wild indigo, Baptisia alba)
- takes a few years to reach a 4 x 4 size, but is long-lived
- spring bloomer, good companion with spring bulbs
- after blooming, produces decorative seed pods suitable for dried arrangements
- hardy in zones 3-9
- "Once established, baptisia is one tough cookie with its drought tolerance and adaptability."*
My garden certainly won't win any awards; in fact, as I've admitted before, it's quite a modest garden compared to so many others I've seen on other gardening blogs. But I hope by summer's end to have some of these award-winners taking the spotlight in my garden this year.
* Images (other than the baptisia) and information taken from AAS website. Quotes taken from the gardening column published in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and written by Sandra Mason, the horticulture educator with our local Extension Office and a lively, knowledgeable instructor for several of the Master Gardener classes I'm currently taking.