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The Homeowners Column
Announcing 2013 perennial plant of the year
State Master Gardener Coordinator
This time of year there is a perpetual preponderance of prize parades. People just love to hand out awards or maybe we just love to party. The plant world is no different. Each year the Perennial Plant Association (PPA) announces its perennial plant of the year. The winners don't get a ceremony or statue but a place in our hearts and gardens.
Award winners are chosen by the members of the Perennial Plant Association for the plant's beauty, but also for its durability, suitability to a wide range of climate types, low maintenance, multiple seasonal interest, and easy growing nature.
The Perennial Plant of the Year for 2013 – drum roll please—is Variegated Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum'). I have been a fan of this plant for many years due to its beauty and low maintenance. It is one of those tried-and-true plants for a shaded garden. From full shade to almost full sun, Variegated Solomon's Seal grows on its merry way. In sunnier spots it does pretty well, if it has plenty of moisture. At a height of 18 to 24 inches tall it is perfect for mid to back of the garden.
Shady areas need some light colored plants to shake off the dull light of the shade. The variegated leaves of this Solomon's Seal have a subtle light beauty. The leaves are light green with white tips and margins. The oval shaped leaves are carried on upright, arching stems. Like beach cabanas they arch over their shorter shady companions. Leaves turn an attractive yellow in the autumn. Pairs of small, bell-shaped white flowers with green tips are borne on short pedicels from the leaf axils underneath the arching stems. The flowers are present in late spring and are sweetly fragrant . Bluish-black berries are sometimes present in the autumn.
Variegated Solomon 's Seal is a classic beauty for the shady woodland garden or the part-shade to full shade border. The arching stems and leaves make a nice counterpoint to the blobby habit of coral bells, hostas and bleeding hearts. It is a fabulous friend planted with past Perennial Plants of the Year such as Jack Frost Forget-Me-Not (Brunnera 'Jack Frost'), Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum 'Pictum') and Japanese Hakone Grass (Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'). Other good companions for Variegated Solomon's Seal include spring wildflowers of trillium or spring beauties and spring bulbs.
On the other end of the textural spectrum the dark green leathery leaves of the 2005 Perennial Plant of the Year™ Lenten Rose (Helleborus x hybridus) are a dramatic contrast to the light green and white leaves of Variegated Solomon's Seal. Lenten Rose is one of the first perennials to bloom in spring with buttercup-shaped flowers ranging in colors from pure white to dark plum.
There are no serious insect or disease problems with variegated Solomon's Seal. This is one tough plant and is very winter hardy. It does spread by rhizomes to form colonies, but not in a space invader kind of way. Plants may be divided in the spring or fall. I have divided them in mid- summer and I was amazed on how they continued to look perky. The white rhizomes should be planted just below the soil surface.
Variegated Solomon's Seal is a very easy perennial to grow and will enhance any shade area and flower arrangers will find the variegated foliage to be an attribute for spring floral arrangements.
A good place to start in garden design is to include radiantly robust Perennial Plants of the Year designated by The Perennial Plant Association. Check their website for pictures and more winners http://www.perennialplant.org/ Thanks to PPA for providing information.
Check out UI Extension's Stepping Stones to Perennial Garden Design for help in putting a pretty face on your landscape http://web.extension.illinois.edu/gardendesign/