The winter months are sometimes very difficult for a horticulture enthusiast. There is nothing for us to grow and we can’t go outdoors and do much in our garden beds, so we start to get a bit of cabin fever. However, there is always something to do in January for our gardens because the plant catalogs have begun to arrive. Hooray! We can start planning our gardens for the next season. A great listing of plants to utilize in your garden would include the All American Selections and the Perennial Plant of the Year.
In 2017, All-America Selections (AAS) celebrates 83 years as "the only non-profit plant trialing organization in North America", according to their website. AAS is unbiased on their plant recommendations because all proceeds go into the trials and promoting AAS winners. Each year the group works with many judges and trial garden sites across the country. These judges are professional horticulturists who volunteer their time to evaluate plants for their growth, flowering or fruiting, and how well they adapt to different environmental conditions. Often times, Universities and public gardens are potential judging sites, which keeps the results impartial.
Selection as an AAS award winner recognizes a flower or vegetable for significant achievements, proven to be superior to all other similar plants on the market. Often AAS winners, such as 'Celebrity' tomato or 'Sensation' Cosmos, become long-term standards in the gardening industry due to their excellent characteristics. The All-America Selection program is a good way to test new cultivars throughout North America and enable gardeners to trust the plants they purchase will perform well in their gardens.
Each year AAS chooses multiple annuals, perennials, and vegetables to be All-America Selections. For 2017, one perennial plant was chosen called 'Twizzle Purple' Penstemon. Penstemon are great plants for any garden; they grow tall and upright, and have flowers similar to snapdragons because they are in the same plant family. 'Twizzle Purple' is a new penstemon with vibrant purple flowers. The judges liked the upright habit of the plant and the overall great flowering performance. This penstemon grows up to 35 inches high and is a great pollinator attracting plant.
Perennial Plant of the Year
Another plant program worth watching is the Perennial Plant Association (PPA) Plant of the Year. PPA is a professional horticulture trade organization - made up of growers, retailers, landscapers, educators and others in the herbaceous perennial industry - dedicated to improving the perennial plant industry by providing education to enhance the production, promotion and utilization of perennial plants. Each year PPA selects and promotes the Perennial Plant of the Year. Selection of plants is simple; PPA members nominate plants for consideration and then vote for the best plant, usually with three or four plants on the ballot.
Plants are nominated based on several criteria, such as suitability to a wide range of climatic conditions, multiple seasons of ornamental interest, low maintenance, pest resistance, availability, and ease of propagation. Past winners include ‘David’ phlox, ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reedgrass and ‘Goldsturm’ rudbeckia, all landscape staples due to their great attributes!
This year's winner is another great pollinator plant - butterfly milkweed; chosen as the 2017 Perennial Plant of the year to “celebrate an excellent plant known for its ability to support insects and birds and serve as the primary caterpillar food for a beloved North American native butterfly”. That butterfly would be the Monarch butterfly.
Monarchs have been decreasing in their population over the past few years due to many different factors, but lack of food is one. Milkweed is the primary source of food for Monarch butterflies and that plant is now reduced in our environment due to the way that we garden and the fact that people regard milkweeds as weeds. Planting pollinator plants will help with the populations.
Butterfly milkweed is a native plant with small, bright orange colored flowers that are held in bunches throughout the plant. This is not the common milkweed that most people find to be a weed, although it is another great pollinator plant. Butterfly milkweed is a unique and interesting plant that will attract many pollinators to your garden. It grows 2-3 feet tall and wide. Butterfly milkweed plants are a great addition to any landscape, but especially in a prairie, native grass area, or naturalized planting.