Arts and Entertainment

What makes a plant a Great Plant Pick?

Each year at this time the Elisabeth Carey Miller Botanical Garden (in Seattle) releases the list of Great Plant Picks. If you plan on heading to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show this week, you’ll be able to see many of these plants on display and pick up information on them. If not, you can check out for photos and information on the selections for this year and past years.

The selection criteria for these plants is quite rigorous. All Great Plant Picks plants must be hardy in USDA zones 7 and 8 which means they’ll survive in temperatures ranging from zero to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. They must be long lived, vigorous and easy to grow by a gardener of average means and experience. The plants must be reasonably disease- and pest-resistant, have long season or preferably multiple seasons of interest and be available from at least two retail sources in Canada and the United States. They must also be adaptable to a variety of soil and fertility conditions and not require excessive moisture (unless they’re an aquatic plant). They cannot be invasive or overly vigorous in colonizing the garden or larger environment.

Perennials should not require staking, continuous deadheading or frequent division. Trees and shrubs should require little pruning and nominal training to achieve their best form (excluding plants used for hedges.) Bulbs should persist in the garden, without being lifted for at least three years. Variegated plants should be stable and not revert. The criteria stated in this and the preceding paragraph is from the Great Plant Picks booklet provided by request from the Elisabeth Miller Charitable Foundation. You can pick up your own copy at the Great Plant Picks display at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, Feb. 20-24.

Here are a few picks that caught my interest. Tulipa clusiana (Lady Tulip) has a narrow silhouette. Stems and petals are yellow, but each petal has splashes of orange as if someone painted a wide stripe onto each one. Begonia grandis subsp. Evansiana (Hardy Begonia) is very sweet with palest pink flowers. The best thing is, it returns to grow and bloom year after year. Amaryllis belladonna (Naked Ladies) is hardy in our area. Flowers are fuchsia pink. That should be a fun one to try out in our gardens. Carpinus japonica (Japanese hornbeam) has wonderfully pleated leaves. It promises to grow slowly but will eventually become 30 feet high by 25 feet wide. Carpinus japonica is noted more for its rounded growth, pleated leaves, hop-like brown fruiting catkins and ease of care, rather than for its fall color.

The committee that tests and selects the plants also compiles a list of small collections of related plants. This year’s collections are: candelabra primulas, two-row stonecrops, Clematis Montana cultivars, mophead hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) and sugar maples (Acer saccharum). The primula collection has blossoms of white, pink, red, yellow, gold and purple. For those of us who end up collecting certain families of plants the five suggestions given would give us each a good start on a whole family of temptations to plant and enjoy. Sounds like you may want to take checkbooks and credit cards along with you when you visit the Great Plant Picks booth at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show.

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