"It's a wonderful way for anyone to give their garden a good framework and for new gardeners to gain confidence," said Richie Steffen, curator at the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden in Seattle, which launched the list in 2001.
Plants are chosen based on their easiness to grow, hardiness and resistance to disease and pests. The list includes perennials, bulbs, shrubs and trees, There are 850 in all, with 58 new selections for 2012.
This year's list organizes plant recommendations around a theme: "Made in the Shade!" The list includes new and previous picks, and solves the common gardening dilemma of which plants thrive in shade.
"People in the Northwest deal with a ton of shade, and we always get a lot of comments, questions and confusion about it," Steffen said. The "Made in the Shade!" list highlights 375 options for varying light levels.
One "shady" recommendation is the Eddie's White Wonder (Cornus) dogwood tree, which is a new addition to the GPP's general list. A regional selection, it is a hybrid and grows more upright and is less susceptible to disease than other varietals.
"It has a lovely layering of branches that really shows the blossoms," Steffen said. "It also has great fall color which is beautiful."
The maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes) is another local pick that is new to the GPP list.
The petite yet sturdy fern is a Northwest native and flourishes in both dry and shady conditions. It is particularly ideal for rockeries and under trees.
"It grows in the mountains and is drought-powered," Steffen said. In addition to resilience, it is "absolutely adorable."
A colorful pick that thrives at the Miller garden is the turk's cap lily (Lilium martagon). The purplish-pink flowers are small but abundant with up to 50 blooms per stalk.
"Some lily species can be really finicky, but this is one of the easiest to grow," Steffen said. It was commonly seen at the recent Northwest Flower & Garden Show and is readily available to consumers.
The Sagae hosta is a superstar of the "Made in the Shade!" list and a new pick for 2012. "We added a lot of hostas to the list this year," said Alex LaVilla, merchandise manager at Swansons Nursery.
Since the Great Plant Picks launch, LaVilla has served as one of 30 expert horticulturists who meet throughout the year to select plants based on exhaustive research and debate.
"Hostas are great for dry shade and a good garden accent because of their large foliage," LaVilla said.
The Sagae hosta is a standout thanks to its large, bluish-green leaves that are edged in gold, and pale lavender flowers that grow up to four feet tall.
While hostas are generally slug prone, the Sagae is slightly more immune.
"It's one of my favorites because it looks wonderful and is such a good grower," said Steffen, who has cultivated it for 15 years.
Those involved with the Great Plant Picks list hope that the picks help cultivate the inner gardener in everyone.
"You have to understand the dynamics of how a garden works. It's more than just decoration," LaVilla said. "If you develop a relationship with your garden, that's a really positive experience."
Elisabeth C. Miller Garden
In 1948, Elisabeth C. Miller purchased the five acres of land that would become the world-renowned botanical garden. Thousands of plants, including a collection of rare trees, populate the meticulously maintained garden. The Elisabeth Carey Miller Botanical Garden Trust was established in 1994 and oversees the garden and its education programs.
In addition to the Great Plant Picks, the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden offers occasional classes and lectures. Very limited public tours are offered, but are already booked for 2012. However, a few special tours will be offered to donors and through the Northwest Horticultural Society. Visit millergarden.org for more information.
Top plant picks for shade
• 2012: Eddie's White Wonder (Cornus) dogwood tree, light to open shade
• 2012: Maidenhair spleenwort fern (Asplenium trichomanes), light to deep shade
• 2012: Turk's cap lily (Lilium martagon), light to open shade
• 2012: Sagae hosta, light to open shade
• 2008: Sunset fern (Dryopteris lepidopoda), light to deep shade
• 2008: Dwarf mountain Elf laurel (Kalmia latifolia), light to open shade
• 2005: Dwarf Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa Gracilis), light to dappled shade
For the full list of 850 Great Plant Picks or to view the new 58 picks for 2012, visit greatplantpicks.org.
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