Do you know what the 2010 PPA Perennial Plant of the Year is? Baptisia australis! Finally, a big plant is elected Perennial of the Year. This decade, there has been significant hybridizing in this genus. The plants are not 10" tall and they don't necessarily fit into a cage easily, but they are worthy of our customer's plantings! The species is such a great plant for many reasons. The black seed pods through winter. The amazing flowers early in spring. The offspring of these American natives are fantastic as well. There was a huge increase in varieties in just the past five years. All with different attributes and flower colors. Two of them are new to us this year. All are garden worthy for those willing to plant big plants. And, it is also nice to see a group of plants that aren't developed to fit into cages! Here are two that are worthy;
Baptisia Midnight Prairieblues
This is much darker than any Baptisia I've seen. It has an upright habit with very long flowers. The major claim to fame for this plant is it's ability to rebloom. It has Baptisia tinctoria in it's bloodlines which is the only native species to rebloom. My recommendation for this plant is to plant it with friends alongside. It does have naked legs, so hiding them is a good idea.
Try using Schizachyrium 'Carousel' or Amsonia x 'Blue Ice' as the base plants around it.
Baptisia 'Screamin' Yellow'
This is quite the showstopper when in bloom. It is slow to establish, but well worth the wait. Bright "Screamin'" yellow flowers adorn the plant in early spring. Mixed with other Baptisia, it makes quite the display. It could also be used with Salvias and Geums for early season color combos. It grows a little shorter than other varieties maxing out at 24"-36".
Aster tataricus 'Jin-Dai'
This is not your mother's Aster. Large, bold foliage throughout the growing season is followed up by billowing pillars of purple flowers with yellow centers. This is a very tough and durable plant. And the name Jin Dai roughly translated from Japanese is "Stable Man". It is fitting of this plant, as I have used it to hold up the Panicum amarum 'Dewey Blue' in the garden. It is one of the last perennials to bloom in fall, extending your color a couple more weeks. Interplant with the Panicum, Solidago or Eupatorium for great effect. A couple years ago, I saw this with Asclepias incarnata, or swamp milkweed at the Holden Arboretum and realized once again, how great it is.
Caryopteris 'Summer Sorbet'
This is one of those plants where I wasn't quite sure if it was welcome in a discussion about perennials or if it was meant for the shrub discussion. I've decided it is a pseudo shrub, and should be properly placed in the non-woody category. It will have dieback. But who cares?!? It has phenomenal foliage and when in bloom, is quite nice as well. I didn't anticipate liking it with the blooms, but it was attractive even with the light blue flowers over the yellow and green variegated foliage. As with all Caryopteris, there is a reason we are challenged in where to categorize it. It is marginally hardy. But these would be fantastic container plants, and even if it is only semi-hardy, it is a great investment for the summer months!
This is a plant with some flower power. Blooming in spring, this variety can add a great deal of color in the perennial border. Mixed with Baptisia and Salvia create a great color contrast. One thing not to do, is to plant this with Knock Out roses. I tried. Pretty gaudy! After bloom, it has very nice pubescent foliage that stays clean all year. If there were Allium bulbs emerging from the base of this plant, the foliage of 'Fireball' would cover up the ugly foliage of Allium 'Purple Sensation' for instance.
Next week, we'll talk Echinacea! A common question always comes up about Echinacea. I remember the question from years ago in regards to Hosta. Can you guess? Do we really need another Echinacea? I think the discussion could go either way. While at a conference called Sustainable Solutions last Thursday, Roy Diblik spoke and asked this very question. We'll discuss the answer next posting however. I'm learning the art of the tease, and enjoying it. Until next time, have a great day, and enjoy the Indian summer that is upon us!