Each year the Perennial Plant Association, a trade group that works to educate gardeners on great performing perennial plants, selects their choice for Perennial Plant of the Year. Nepeta, ‘Walker’s Low’ received this award in 2007 by meeting all of the Association’s requirements for selection. The requirements cover perennial attributes that are down-to-earth, common ordinary and not for profit information. Any gardener shopping for an excellent perennial to add to their garden would benefit from looking over the list of Perennial Plants of the Year. The following criterion for being awarded the PPA award is used:
- Suitable for a wide range of climatic conditions
- Low Maintenance
- Pest and disease resistant
- Readily available in the year of release
- Multiple season interest or excellent foliage
- Easily propagated by asexual ( division or cuttings) or seed propagation
The limitless variety of regional climate conditions, elevations, available water and sunshine are factors that need to be considered before every Perennial Plant of the Year is embraced. Many of the awards have been given to perennials that prefer acidic soil or soil with a pH of less than 7.0 and some like the alkaline soils of the Rocky Mountains so this information needs to be known by a gardener before trying a new selection. The colder winters of the west needs to be addressed also. Most of the award winning perennials fit comfortably into the zone-five or a minus 20 degree F. lows, while the best perennials for the West need to be in the zone-four, minus 30 degrees F or a zone-three at a low of minus 40 degrees F.
The Perennial Plant Association’s goal, at its inception in 1990, was to bring awareness to gardeners of a variety of perennials. As a horticultural teaching tool the PPA is now a highly recognized resource for promoting perennial species in the green industry. The international trade organization is now 2,000 members strong and is composed mainly of growers, gardeners and home owners; plus retailers, landscape designers and educators. This huge group does the voting that introduces the next winning perennial. Click here to see a list of other past winners.
2015 Winner: Geranium cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’
‘Biokovo’ a partial shade groundcover, has excellent, glossy-green foliage in every season, even turning scarlet in fall through winter. Dainty white blooms flushed with rosy-pink centers bloom in late spring and continue sporadically all summer. ‘Biokovo’ is delicate appearing in every way reaching only ten-inches in height with a twelve-inch spread but really has an iron constitution.
2014 Winner: Panicum v. ‘Northwind’
Panicum, ‘Northwind’ is a blue leaved native grass that is easy to grow. Its common name is Switch grass from the sounds it makes when blowing in the wind. Panicum is a full sun perennial that grows in any soil from sand to clay and is drought tolerant when established. Panicum can reseed and spread by rhizomes. Zone-4 to 9
2013 Winner: Pollygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’
Polygonatum, ‘Variegatum’ is a shade groundcover that prefers moist woodland gardens. Its common name, Solomon’s Seal originates from a scar that remains on the rootstock. ‘Variegatum’ grows about eighteen–inches tall with white edged leaves that turn an attractive yellow in fall.
Moist woodland gardens are usually acidic.
Zone-3 to 8
2012 Winner: Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’
The name, ‘Jack Frost’ PP13859, describes the heart-shaped silvery white with green veins and edges of the leaves of this unique perennial. Grown mainly for its gorgeous clump forming or ground cover foliage that brightens a shady garden, ‘Jack Frost’ also has airy light-blue flowers with yellow centers that bloom in springtime. Maintenance is low, water requirements are medium and soil rich in organic are favored by this perennial. Jack Frost winter killed in my Idaho garden. Zone 3 to 8
2011 Winner: Amsonia hubrichtii
Amsonia Hubrichtii or Arkansas Blue Star is a southern native that thrives in full sun to partial shade and average to moist soils that drain well. The fine needle-like leaves form a two-foot mound that will be covered with clusters of light blue flowers in June and July. Amsonia’s fall color of brilliant yellow is an outstanding feature of this unique foliaged perennial. The name Arkansas Blue Star signals that this perennial is probably an acid soil lover. Zone 4 to 9
2010 Winner: Baptisia australis
Baptisia australis or Blue False Indigo, a North American native, is an upright shrub-like perennial that grows to three or four-feet in height. The showy indigo-blue spikes are held above the mounds of soft green leaves and bloom from mid to late spring. False Indigo performs best in well-drained soil and full sun or partial shade. Fall interest of black inflated seed pods are a bonus. Baptisia is an acidic soil perennial and dies prematurely in alkaline soils. Zone 3 to 9
2009 Winner: Baptisia australis
Hakonecloa, ‘Aurea’ is an ornamental decorative grass that looks like a golden waterfall. The grass is short, only one to two-feet. ‘Aurea’s foliage color is dictated by where it’s planted. In full sun the plant is yellow while in full shade the leaves are chartreuse. Halonechloa prefers moist, humus amended, rich, well drained soil like that of the mountains of Japan where it originated. Plant this bright colored grass as a specimen or patio container plant and let it cascade over the edge like a waterfall. Zone 5 to 9
2008 Winner: Geranium ‘Rozanne’
Non-stop flowering makes Geranium, ‘Rozanne’ PP12175, a must for any garden. ‘Rosanne’s saucer-shaped two-inch blooms of iridescent blue-violet with reddish-purple veining and a white radiant eye are dynamic in the garden. Add to this foliage that is slightly marbled with chartreuse shading and it’s easy to see why ‘Rozanne’ won the PPA award. Wild Geraniums are adaptable to a wide variety of growing conditions, soils, water or cold and require little care when established. Zone 4 to 9
2007 Winner: Nepeta f. ‘Walker’s Low’
Arching stems of lavender-blue flowers bloom most of the summer on Nepeta, ‘Walker’s Low’. Nepeta is an easy to grow perennial in a hot full-sun spot with well drained soil. Its needs are minimal, requiring only a shearing as the first flush of blooms dry to keep it re-blooming the rest of the season and into fall. Nepeta’s sweet minty nectar attracts butterflies, bees and repels deer. With its compact form of blue spikes, ‘Walker’s Low’ can be planted in any growing situation.
Zone 3 to 8.
Other Plant Awards:
The Perennial Plant Association’s intention of teaching the public about perennials was the first of its kind and now there are numerous copy-cat award programs around. A few of them are specifically for local areas and are usually done through Universities, Cooperative Extension Services or Botanic gardens. The awards and recommendations of both new and old perennials from these plant trails assist a gardener in making educated decisions without the worry of the results being a marketing technique.
The Daylilies, Hostas and Iris all have individual awards. The American Daylily Society chooses a Daylily each year to receive the Stout Silver Medal. The American Hosta grower’s assosication presents a Hosta of the Year award and The Iris Society gives the Dykes Medal.
Regional awards and recommendations of plants from all over the United States are also given to not only perennials but for trees, shrubs and annuals. The plants are tested to see how they perform in local regions like Athens Select for heat and humidity in Georgia and Texas Superstar™ testing done by Texas A&M Agriculture Program.
The Missouri Botanical gardens maintains a superb on line data base called plantfinder and includes Plants of Merit or MOBOT awards. The Plants of Merit are tested on seventy-nine acres of gardens and focuses on plants for the Midwest.
The MNLA or Minnesota Nursery and Landscape are project awards given to new potential, outstanding landscapers working towards careers in the green industry.
Oklahoma Proven Selections are tested by every Horticulture and landscape company in that state.
The American Garden Award is a North America popularity contest of flowers and is voted on by gardeners on Facebook.
All American Selections or the AAS tests new varieties such as the ‘Arizona Sun’ Gaillardia plus annuals and vegetables.
Closer to home in the Intermountain area, Colorado University and the Denver Botanic Gardens has two fine perennial testing and awards programs. The famous Plant Select Award is presented to plants that help, change or improve the environment. Water-wise plants are a big part of this program. Colorado also awards plants for longevity and survival in test gardens. This award is called the TOP award.
Utah’s Choice is a program that tests plants native to Utah and the best performers receive an award from the Intermountain Native Plant Growers Association.
All of these awards were kicked off initially by the Perennial Plant of the Year Award and they have certainly helped gardeners everywhere. I probably would never have tried the beautiful Nepeta because of its origins in the Catmint family that is noted for its spreading almost invasive abilities. Had it not been for the PPYA awards where I was introduced to Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ I would not be enjoying one of the finest Perennials available. I’m thankful to PPYA for their educational help.