It is nice to have your selections confirmed by a national organization. Affirmation always feels good.

The Perennial Plant Association’s Plant of the Year of 2019 is Stachys “Hummelo,” a great choice for Maine gardens even though it is neither native to nor bred in the United States.

Several years ago my wife, Nancy, purchased “Hummelo” along with a number of small plants from Bluestone Perennials, an Ohio mail-order company, and it has performed wonderfully in our driveway garden ever since. It is a tough plant, hardy to Zone 4, good in full sun to part shade and happiest in well-drained soil. All of which means that most Maine gardeners can find a place where it will work.

It produces bright spikes of magenta flowers in mid-summer, with bright green foliage. Nancy thinks lavender-pink describes the color better than magenta. While it mixes well with plants such as grasses, Asclepias tuberosa and echinacea, the wiry stems also make it an excellent cut flower, the association says in its announcement, but so far, we have just enjoyed it in the garden.

For gardeners interested in growing plants that help the environment, “Hummelo” is a bee magnet. It was covered with bees during tests at the Chicago Botanical Garden, and we have seen bees on it in our garden, too. Its name stems in part from its attractiveness to bees; Hummel is German for bumblebee.

“Hummelo” was bred in the late 1990s by famed German plantsman Ernst Pagels, the association said. The stachys varieties he used are native to Europe and Asia.

The stachys Mainers are most familiar with are lamb’s ears or Stachys byzantina, which my wife and I also grow. Some local nurseries also sell Stachys officinalis, a likely parent of “Hummelo.” Given this prestigious award, my guess is they will be selling “Hummelo” this year.

All-America Winners

All-America Selections is the other national organization that presents garden awards. Its prizes go to plant introductions rather than tried-and-true selections that have succeeded over several years.

I look forward to these selections because Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow often has a winner. Last year it had two: the cayenne pepper Red Ember and the grape tomato Valentine, bringing to an even dozen the number of the company’s All-America winners.

Johnny’s was not among the winners this year, however.

My favorite of this year’s winners is Nasturtium “Baby Rose,” bred by a European company. A compact variety that is good for growing in containers as well as in the front of garden beds, the Baby Rose won’t need support as some climbing nasturtiums do. It will blossom throughout the season. While technically nasturtiums are perennial, they can’t survive cold Maine winters, so gardeners here must plant them each year. Both the flowers and leaves are edible, and have a peppery flavor that gives the plant its name; in Latin, nasturtium means nose twist.

Three other top winners are also annuals.

Begonia Viking XL Red on Chocolate has unusual reddish brown leaves and is covered with vibrant red flowers. It is larger than most begonias, blooms all summer in shady to mostly sunny locations, works well both in containers and in garden beds and is disease resistant.

Wave petunias have been around for years, and the Carmine Velour introduction this year was among the highest-scoring plants, with judges impressed by the color. The blossoms can be up to 2.5 inches across and don’t require deadheading because, according to the description, new blossoms pop up and cover the spent blossoms. It’s another plant that works well both in containers – including hanging baskets – and in the landscape.

Marigold Big Duck Gold won favor for producing larger-than-normal, long-lasting golden yellow flowers on larger-than-normal plants. Nancy and I aren’t big marigold fans, so we won’t be growing these.

A melon, two tomatoes and a snacking pepper were the edible All-America winners:

The Melon Orange Silver Wave, a Northeast winner, is the most striking among the bunch. It produces 5-inch oval melons, up to six fruits per vine, with a silvery rind and orange flesh. The melons can be grown in containers or in the ground; in either case, use trellises to ward off diseases.

Pepper Just Sweet has four lobes like a bell pepper but is smaller and has “nice thick walls,” according to the association’s description. The plants have a strong, bushy habit and don’t need staking.

 Tomato Fire Fly produces sweet-tasting pale yellow to white fruits that are smaller than cherry tomatoes. The vines grow 6 feet tall and require staking.

Tomato Red Torch is a prolific, early-season producer of striped, 1.5-inch-long tomatoes. The vines grow 5 to 6 feet tall.

Cary Award-winners

The Cary Awards are given by Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts, for plants that grow well in New England gardens. The awards have been running late for the past couple of years, so I wasn’t able to include them in last year’s awards story – or this year’s either, as the 2019 awards haven’t yet been announced.

One 2018 winner is the Atlantic white cedar, Chamaecyparis thyroides, a native evergreen that can grow 50 feet tall; cultivars are shorter and slower growing. It has blue-green foliage and is especially attractive in winter. I don’t have any personal experience with it, as it’s too big for our yard.

Another 2018 winner also confirms our ability to select plants. It is the bottlebrush buckeye, or Aesculus parviflora – we planted one a couple of years ago. It’s a multi-stemmed Maine native that grows 8 to 12 feet tall. Its dark green leaves show a bit of red when they come out in the spring. In July, the bush is supposed to produce long, skinny white panicle flowers, creating a cloud of white. Ours has been growing well, but so far has not blossomed, which is not unusual for a young plant.

The bottlebush buckeye tolerates dense shade, so we put it under our neighbor’s Norway maples, hoping for blossoms in an area where little else manages to bloom. One of these days, the long white spikes will be exciting.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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