AFTER 14 YEARS, at least 30 committee meetings, and 955 plants awarded Great Plant Pick status, what’s left for 2015?
Plenty, it turns out, with 30 new plants added to the roster of Great Plant Picks, and a poster celebrating plants that best stand up to springtime weather in our corner of the country.
The 22 horticulturists who sort through and choose the finest plants for our climate have a seemingly endless knowledge of flora, from old favorites to newly introduced hotshots. They donate their time and expertise to create this ever-growing list of outstanding plants for Northwest gardens. GPP committee members travel to Seattle for two meetings a year from as far away as Bowen Island, B.C. That’d be Shrubs Committee member Angelina Seah, one of the newest contributors.
Only plants that are reliably hardy, readily available, long-lived, adaptable and have a long season of interest need apply. They can’t be invasive or overly thirsty, and must be reasonably disease- and pest-resistant.
And just like a library where you can find all the best books, not just the newest ones, GPP stresses plants that are proven do-gooders.
“We’ve been going for 14 years now, and the committee members are getting over the new and the sexy and coming back to the tried and true workhorses,” says Richie Steffen, curator of the Miller Botanical Garden and a driving force in GPP. Which explains Achillea ‘Moonshine,’ that familiar yellow yarrow, making the 2015 GPP list, along with a clematis and a couple of hydrangeas.
Steffen’s favorite plants on the 2015 list are two erythroniums (AKA dog-tooth violets or avalanche lilies), which he describes as the most gorgeous of our spring-blooming native bulbs. Delicate, yet easy to grow, both E. oregonum and E. revolutum have beautiful leaves mottled the color of chocolate. Another early bloomer on this year’s list is Eranthis hyemalis, a winter aconite with yellow flowers that pop open in February.
And the award for drought tolerance goes to . . . Hebe pinguifolia ‘Pagei,’ a dwarf evergreen shrub with silvery gray leaves and white flowers in spring. This tidy little hebe works for low hedging and is great in containers and rock gardens.
Actaea rubra is a versatile native perennial that grows about 3 feet tall and thrives in dry shade, that most difficult of conditions. It made the list for its brilliant red berries that come on in summer and last through autumn.
The clematis on the list is a beauty, as you’d expect from a plant named ‘Princess Diana.’ The tulip-shaped flowers are upward-facing and intensely pink, on a plant both compact and vigorous.
A brand new plant on the list is an update to one of my favorite species, a wildly contorted shrub known as Harry Lauder’s walking stick. Corylus avellana ‘Red Dragon’ was released last year by Oregon State University. It’s noteworthy for burgundy colored leaves that retain their deep, dark color all summer.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Reach her at email@example.com.