January 8, 2012

Maine Gardener: Lacking the wow, maybe, but tried and trusty

By TOM ATWELL

The plants of the year for 2012 seem to be hard-working lunch-pail types -- plants that will get the job done, but won't cause you to stand back in awe.

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Knock Out roses

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ColorGuard yucca

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The Cary Awards, Perennial Plant Association, All-America Selections and All-American Rose Selections come out with plant recommendations every year. This year, it looks like all four groups decided that they weren't going to take any chances. These plants will thrive and look good, but people driving by aren't going to stop their cars and stare.

The Cary Award winners this year are the Knock Out Rose and Adam's Needle, or Yucca filamentosa.

The Knock Out Rose is an outstanding plant, don't get me wrong. But the first Knock Out came out in 2000, won the All-America Rose Selection award that year, and has been selling wonderfully ever since.

There now are seven different varieties of Knock Out Rose -- the original red-pink single rose; Double Knock Out, pink; Pink Knock Out, a paler single pink; Rainbow Knock Out, with coral petals and a yellow center; Blushing Knock Out, with pale pink flowers that fade to white; and Sunny Knock Out, which starts yellow and fades to cream.

These are wonderfully disease-resistant 4-foot, sure-to-bloom roses, but it just seems as though everybody already has discovered them.

The yucca is a small evergreen sub-shrub that produces 7-foot flower spikes in June and July. Although it is hardy to Zone 4, which includes most of Maine, it looks like a spiky desert plant. The yucca your grandmother grew had gone out of favor until a few years ago, when varieties with variegated leaves started appearing.

Varieties that the Cary Award mentions specifically include ColorGuard, which has a brilliant yellow center and "whose sword-like leaves are tinged with red and gold in winter," and Gold Edge, whose leaves are rimmed with gold. All of the yuccas have wiry threads at the leaf edges, which is where the name filamentosa comes from.

Yuccas perform best in full sun, but can stand about four hours of shade each day.

The Perennial Plant Association picks one plant as Plant of the Year, and this year, it's Brunnera macrophylla Jack Frost. Brunnera is sometimes called false forget-me-not, because its baby blue spring flowers resemble those of forget-me-nots, Myosotis scorpiodes, which is a self-seeding annual.

The Jack Frost variety is noted for its larger silvery white leaves with green veins and a green rim on the edges, which gives it some interest after the flowers have gone by. It grows 12 to 15 inches tall and is hardy to Zone 3, which covers all of Maine.

Brunnera thrives in shady areas with plenty of moisture, but will stand a few hours of morning sun. It can be used in the front of shade borders, mixed with hostas or ferns or used in a container. And it has the added attraction of being resistant to deer.

All-American Selections picked four plants to recommend this year.

The bedding plant winner is Salvia Summer Jewel Pink, sister to the previous winner Summer Jewel Red. It is a compact plant, with a high bloom count and will bloom earlier than most salvias. And the pink will attract hummingbirds.

The AAS flower winner is the ornamental pepper Black Olive, which AAS describes as being "a standout, especially in Southern gardens where heat was a major presence during the 2011 trials." Maybe I'm being negative, but to me that translates to "not so good in Northern gardens." Anyway, it has purple foliage and purple blooms, with fruits that move from green to red as the season progresses.

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Additional Photos

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A yellow Grandiflora rose

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The Faerie watermelon has yellow skin with thin stripes and sweet pink flesh.

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Pepper Cayennetta

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Brunnera Jack Frost

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