Bright ideas for the garden

  • By Sarah Jackson Herald Writer
  • Thursday, February 24, 2011 12:01am
  • Life

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, just when you’re sure you know about all the best plants, new ones come along, like shotweed in spring.

You wonder, however: Will these new-fangled plants grow here in the weather-weird maritime Northwest?

The Great Plant Picks program, and the esteemed cadre of plant experts who make it happen through constant evaluation and debate, is now in its 11th year of answering just that question: “What really grows well here without a lot of fuss?”

This week at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show, plant lovers can pick up complimentary postcards of this year’s 61 new picks for 2011 as well as free posters of the program’s top “fun in the sun” plants, gathered from 11 years of picks.

This year’s selections include a variety of perennials, bulbs, shrubs, vines and trees, including nine species tulips.

Though some of the tulips are showy and could easily be mistaken for the hybrids commonly sold at nurseries in the fall, others are wispy and short, but still enchanting.

Lilac Wonder, for example, features 4-inch star-shaped flowers with bright yellow throats and purple-pink petals.

Tulipa humilis violacea, meanwhile, shows off brilliant pinkish purple flowers in spring.

All of the species tulips perennialize, meaning they come back every year, which is not the case for most of the tulips sold today. Only certain hybrids produce flowers after their first or second year.

Of the 61 picks for 2011, there are also a few groups of plants, including four bleeding hearts, also known as dicentra; four sedums; three actaea, known also as bugbane; three hydrangea; three hybrid roses; and three baptisia, also known as indigo.

GPP program manager Rick Peterson, when pressed to name his top pick from the 2011 list, named Zauschneria septentrionalis Select Mattole, the first-ever California fuchsia added to the list.

Select Mattole, a deciduous plant, not only attracts hummingbirds with its flowers, which persist from summer to fall, but it is tolerant of our wet, cold winters.

It goes well with the aforementioned species tulips as well as sedums and other dryland garden plants.

“It fits very well with this year’s theme, sun and drought tolerant, and has handsome silver foliage and late-blooming red-orange flowers,” he said. “It is a cool plant.”

The Puget Sound region, though not usually sweltering in summer, boasts one of the driest summer climates in the country, rivaling Arizona. Waterwise plants also can save gardeners time and resources.

That’s why the GPP program put together a list of more than 275 stunner trees, shrubs and perennials that are tolerant of sun and drought once established.

Even with 800 plants already approved by the program overall, there are still many areas of the horticultural world GPP is testing at gardens in the maritime Northwest, Peterson said.

That includes heuchera — with new varieties coming out all the time — plus solid options for clematis and dwarf rhododendron lovers.

“Other groups of plants we have yet to really review are hostas, irises and daylilies,” Peterson said. “We still have much work to be done.”

Each plant selected by GPP is featured in printed materials and on the project’s website,, with photos and details about its outstanding qualities, culture, growing habits and hardiness.

The Great Plant Picks program — based at the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden in Shoreline — has been publishing its plant recommendations exclusively for the maritime Northwest since 2001.

Miller, an avid gardener who died in 1994, left her world-class garden in trust.

It is now home to the GPP program and many GPP plants. Every year it is opened to the public for a limited number of tours, which are already booked for 2011.

Great Plant Picks 2011
Perennials and bulbs
Actaea racemosa (black bugbane)
Actaea simplex Black Negligee (bugbane)
Actaea simplex Hillside Black Beauty (bugbane)
Artemisia lactiflora Guizhou (white mugwort)
Artemisia versicolor Sea Foam (curlicue sage)
Baptisia Carolina Moonlight (yellow wild indigo)
Baptisia Purple Smoke (wild indigo)
Baptisia australis (blue wild indigo)
Camassia cusickii (Cusick’s quamash)
Chionochloa rubra (red tussock grass)
Coreopsis verticillata Zagreb (threadleaf coreopsis)
Dicentra Bacchanal (bleeding heart)
Dicentra King of Hearts (fern-leaf bleeding heart)
Dicentra Langtrees (bleeding heart)
Dicentra Luxuriant (fringed bleeding heart)
Disporopsis pernyi Bill Baker (evergreen Solomon’s seal)
Dracocephalum grandiflorum (dragon’s head)
Penstemon Garnet (penstemon)
Penstemon Razzle Dazzle (penstemon)
Phlomis tuberose (tuberous Jerusalem sage)
Sedum spurium Green Mantle (two-row stonecrop)
Sedum spurium Pearly Pink (two-row stonecrop)
Sedum spurium Salmoneum (two-row stonecrop)
Sedum spurium White Carpet (two-row stonecrop)
Sesleria autumnalis (autumn moor grass)
Tulipa humilis (species tulip)
Tulipa humilis var. puchella (species tulip)
Tulipa humilis Violacea (species tulip)
Tulipa linifolia Batalinii (species tulip)
Tulipa saxatilis Lilac Wonder (species tulip)
Tulipa saxatilis Bakeri (species tulip)
Tulipa sylvestris (species tulip)
Tulipa tarda (species tulip)
Tulipa turkestanica (species tulip)
Zauschneria septentrionalis Select Mattole (California fuchsia)

Shrubs and vines
Camellia sasanqua Setsugekka (autumn camellia)
Clematis Rooguchi (Rooguchi clematis)
Clematis armandii (evergreen clematis)
Daphne × transatlantica Blafra Eternal Fragrance (hybrid daphne)
Hydrangea paniculata Grandiflora (panicle hydrangea)
Hydrangea paniculata Limelight (panicle hydrangea)
Hydrangea paniculata Tardiva (panicle hydrangea)
Ilex crenata Green Island (Japanese holly)
Ilex crenata Northern Beauty (Japanese holly)
Physocarpus opulifolius Center Glow (purple-leaf ninebark)
Physocarpus opulifolius Mindia Coppertina (purple-leaf ninebark)
Pyracantha Mohave (firethorn)
Rosa Ausleap Sweet Juliet (shrub rose)
Rosa Ausmas Graham Thomas (shrub rose)
Rosa Darlow’s Enigma (hybrid musk rambling rose)
Solanum crispum Glasnevin (Chilean potato vine)
Viburnum carlesii Aurora (Korean spice viburnum)

Trees and conifers
Acer palmatum dissectum Red Dragon (red laceleaf Japanese maple)
Acer palmatum dissectum Viridis (green laceleaf Japanese maple)
Chamaecyparis nootkatensis Van den Akker (narrow Alaskan yellow cedar)
Chamaecyparis obtusa Filicoides Compacta (dwarf hinoki cypress)
Chamaecyparis obtusa Nana Lutea (golden dwarf hinoki cypress)
Cornus kousa Miss Satomi (red flowering Chinese dogwood)
Fargesia angustissima (bamboo)
Pinus flexilis Vanderwolf’s Pyramid (limber pine)
Sorbus alnifolia (Korean mountain ash)

Learn more
What: The Northwest Flower & Garden Show, featuring display gardens, educational seminars, retail sales and activities for kids, also features a booth by the Great Plant Picks program. Pick up free postcards and posters while supplies last at the show.

When: Continues today through Sunday. Hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., except Sunday, when the show closes at 6 p.m.

Where: Washington State Convention & Trade Center, 800 Convention Place, downtown Seattle.

Cost: Admission is $20 at the door, $5 for ages 12 to 17, and free for ages 11 and younger.

Information: See or call 253-756-2121.

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