HITS ON THE Great Plant Picks website doubled last year to more than 2.1 million — proof that gardeners are flocking to this free program for expert guidance through the maze of plant choices. Which plants are dependable “good-doers” worth the space and time it takes to grow them? GPP describes and pictures more than 900 plants deemed capable of thriving in our climate.
GPP has revamped its Web page, too, boosting the color and improving the search function. A free public-outreach program of the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden, GPP is geared to gardeners west of the Cascades from Vancouver, B.C., to Eugene, Ore. The selection committee of keen horticulturists hails from every corner of this same geographical area.
You can count on all 900 picks meeting these practical criteria: Every plant must be hardy to USDA zones 7 and 8, long-lived, have more than a single season of interest, and be reasonably disease- and pest-resistant. Each plant chosen is vigorous (but not so vigorous it’ll spread about aggressively), easy to grow and widely available.
As the program enters its 13th year, GPP administrators Richie Steffen and Rick Peterson work to keep the program relevant. Themes dear to gardeners’ hearts are chosen to highlight picks through the years. This year’s “Plants That Make Scents” poster illustrates picks that waft fragrance around the garden.
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Steffen and Peterson keep the list fresh not only by adding new plants but also by retiring older ones that have dropped out of commerce. “It’s so frustrating if people can’t find the plants we recommend,” says Steffen, who encourages growers to produce enough of these “GPP Emeritus” plants to kick them back onto the active list.
Here’s a peek at picks debuting for 2014; all 43 new plants are at www.greatplantpicks.org/.
Bletilla striata: This is the first orchid to make the GPP list. “If you’re going to try to grow a ground orchid, start with this one,” advises Steffen. It needs full to part sun, supplemental water in summer and good drainage. It goes fully dormant in winter.
Heuchera ‘Green Spice’: If you’ve grown these useful foliage perennials, you know all are not created equal. Older cultivars, such as ‘Green Spice,’ performed best in five-year trials. This little beauty is evergreen, with attractive patterning on the leaves that’s subtle enough to blend well with other plants.
Primula denticulata: An early-April bloomer, this drumstick primrose sports lavender-pink flower balls atop foot-high stems. “It’s not too aggressive, but you will get some seedlings from it,” says Steffen.
Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum ‘Pink Beauty’: Not only does this viburnum have ethereally pink blossoms in spring, but it has vibrant fall color, too. The flowers come on white, turn rosy pink and stay pink through the summer. It grows in a graceful tiered shape to 10 feet tall, and can be limbed up into a small tree.
Sambucus nigra ‘Marginata’: Perfect for a shady spot, this elderberry has creamy, rose-scented flowers that match the variegation on its pretty leaves. If this gangly shrub grows too large for your garden, cut it way back every other year to keep it about 6 feet high.
Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’: More compact shrub than big bush, ‘Palibin’ is as fragrant as any full-sized lilac. It turns brilliant shades of yellow, apricot and purple in autumn.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.