The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Announcing 2014 Perennial Plant of the Year

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

This time of year produces 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. Another important attribute in my mind is their longevity in the nursery trade translates into ease of purchase. I don't have to do a "Where's Waldo" search to find them.

The Perennial Plant of the Year™ for 2014 is – drum roll please— 'Northwind' switchgrass (Panicum virgatum 'Northwind'). I have admired this one for over 15 years. I have always loved the airy, fine texture of our native switchgrass, but this one has great steel blue colored leaves and gets a gold star for good garden behavior.

I received a small plant of 'Northwind' at a program I attended that was presented by its developer Roy Diblik. He had selected 'Northwind' from a population of switchgrass he raised using wild collected seed from plants growing along railroad tracks in South Elgin, Illinois. In July 1983, he noticed that one plant had wider leaves and a very upright growth habit, unlike the typical arching form of switchgrass. He gradually built up stock. In 1992, when Northwind Perennial Farm opened, he introduced his new progeny and named it 'Northwind'. Yet another example of a new cultivar developed by an observant gardener.

Switchgrass performs best in full sun, but will tolerate light shade. It is adaptable to almost any soil and its deep prairie roots make 'Northwind' remarkably drought tolerant, once established. And like most ornamental grasses, 'Northwind' is seldom eaten by deer.

'Northwind' switchgrass is a durable, steadfast selection for a full sun garden. It makes a great backdrop for other plants or use as a screen for unsightly views. 'Northwind' is a friendly neighbor with its upright growth. It combines well with other garden plants including asters, coneflowers and fall blooming sedum for low maintenance combinations.

'Northwind' is a warm season perennial grass, so it waits to wake up in late spring. It spreads slowly to form erect clumps of slender, steel blue leaves about five feet tall. In late summer, the leaves are topped by a haze of showy, finely textured flower panicles that rise to six or even seven feet. As the growing season ends, the leaves take on a golden fall color.

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 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

Join me for my presentation on native grasses and sedges in the landscape and many other programs on Saturday February 8th for UI Extension's Gardening Insights at Richland Community College in Decatur. or phone 217-877-6042.

Vermilion County Master Gardeners invite you to their Garden Day Workshop and Spring Festival Saturday, March 8 from 8:00 AM - 4:00 PM at CrossRoads Christian Church (3613 North Vermilion, Danville, IL). Learn about cooking with herbs and Illinois fossilized forest. Garden book author Janet Macunovich will present "Design a Garden with 8 Months of Non-Stop Color". Shop among great garden vendors. Preregistration cost is $20 (includes lunch and a tote bag filled with goodies). To register or phone UI Extension 217-442-8615.

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