And the Winner Is…


It’s that time again.  Horticultural associations that exist mostly to hand out awards to themselves do exactly that.  The Perennial Plant Association has announced its pick for 2008 Perennial Plant of the Year.  And the winner is — a purple cranesbill geranium! My God!  It’s revolutionary!  It’s a ground cover, it’s an attractive front of the border specimen plant, it blooms, it creeps around the garden unmolested by pests or disease…in other words, it is — exactly like every other germanium!

Now, there is nothing wrong with the geranium.  We like ’em. They bloom a long time, they crowd out weeds, and if you happen to have chickens in the backyard, they will pretty much bloom in spite of the chickens pecking and scratching. But to choose a geranium (in this case, ‘Rozanne’) takes sheer, unfathomable boredom with the plant kingdom.  I can think of no other excuse.

The seedsmen, not to be outdone, have names 2008 the Year of Rudbeckia and Eggplant. (The seedsmen are the National Garden Bureau, and such a cozy group are they that they have put an antitrust statement on their website to make it clear that all is aboveboard).    Not one to play favorites, the NGB declines to name any particular variety of eggplant or rudbeckia; they simply roll them out and ask that you please grow more of them.

And it’s not like there aren’t interesting plants out there.  I point you to Annie’s Annuals, garden goddesses of Northern California, who are discovering so many interesting plants every day that they can’t be bothered with a plant of the year. Instead, they post a Plant of the Month. You could spend all day browsing their POTM archives and not find a single plant that you’re already growing in your garden. Consider Miss January, Cheirolophus burchardii:

"Rare, exciting, fast and easy to grow, this Canary Island native is
evergreen and almost everblooming as well! Quickly growing into a dense
and rounded 4’ tall shrub-like mound, it continually pops out lots of
fluffy globe-shaped lavender flower balls well displayed above the
sturdy branching stems and attractive Spring-green lance shaped leaves.
Drought tolerant, though it looks best in rich well-drained soil with
some summer water, it makes a good sized, nice, round-formed addition
to any garden. Attracts bees and butterflies and makes nice cut flowers
year around!"

And that’s just THIS MONTH!  Really, plant industry associations–if you can’t give us something to get excited about, who will?


  1. Amen to that. We started using ‘Rozanne’ how many years ago? And sure we love it but we’re kind of over it by now. Maybe this is just a ploy to make us gardeners feel smug and ahead of our time. I predict an Eryngium will win next year…

  2. That or one of those nice new hybrid echinaceas Kris.

    We should consider a web-gardeners plant of the year award to throw out something more interesting.

  3. I come at this from the retailers end and I agree that the PPA has come up with some really lackluster choices over the years. I think much of the voting is based upon ease of production and how widely adaptable the plant is to areas around the country. Better to have regional winners and be able to offer more exciting plants. By the way, the 2009 winner is Hakonechloa.

  4. Geranium,Rubeckia, Eggplant ???
    Those are as exciting as a dead fart.

    They need to get out more often.
    Perhaps a trip to Annie’s will re-ignite some minor sense of creativity and originality.

    [Big whoopie cushion sound]

  5. And I like Rudbeckia.


    Rudbeckia maxima (Black-Eyed Susan)
    SunZone: 5-9 80″ tall Origin: USA
    Web-Only! This overlooked drought-tolerant native can be found from AK to TX, growing in seasonally moist roadside ditches alongside old tires, beer cans, and cigarette butts. Research into whether the abundance of motor oil in these sites is actually essential for plant growth has been inconclusive. This unique black-eyed Susan has a deciduous basal rosette of waxy blue foliage resembling a collard (that’s sort of like a cabbage to you northern folks). In late spring through early summer, the flower stalks rise to over 7′. At the top of each stalk are 2-3″ wide, brown-centered, yellow daisies…WOW! After flowering, we leave the seed stalks as a delicacy for goldfinches. Pot size: 24 fl. oz (709.77 ml) #00355


    Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’ (Sweet Coneflower)
    SunZone: 4-8 60″ tall Origin: USA
    Web-Only! (syn: R. ‘Quilled Form’) I first saw this amazing drought-tolerant selection at Larry Lowman’s Ridgecrest Garden in AK. This selection of the prairie streambank native is from a population in Montgomery Co., IL. Rudbeckia ‘Henry Eilers’ makes a 4′ clump of fragrant (vanilla) foliage, topped in early August with long flower spikes. Instead of the typical flat, yellow-gold flowers, each petal looks as though it has been plugged into a light socket. The unusual “rolled” petals create the look of a quill. Mother Nature must have gotten a real kick watching botanists trying to make this fit into one of their taxonomic keys. You’re just going to have to get one and see for yourself. Pot size: 24 fl. oz (709.77 ml) #05275


  6. Gloria,
    Have you seen Geranium maderense ?
    Sure the low growing scrambling G. Rozanne will bloom for several months but it is no traffic stopper like G. maderense.
    The foliage is amazing 360 days a year – deep serrated large 4 to 12 inch wide medium green leaves that lend an exotic tropical flavor to any garden and then you have the 4 to 5 foot tall greenish to purplish stalk topped with a HUGE HUGE 3 foot ( plus ! ) wide head of rose pink flowers.
    This biennial is amazing.
    Here in my zone 9 garden it could be considered a re-seeding pest, but I dig up the small seedlings in the late winter and pot ’em up for friends and trades.
    Mine commonly reach heights of 4.5 feet tall and 3 .5 feet flowering wide.

    This is one geranium that would stop freeway traffic during non commute hours !

  7. Hey Michelle Derviss,

    Deborah was the [MMMmmmm, But I like Rozanne and Annie’s Nov 2007 plant of the month was Geranium maderense.],post.

    I am the Rudbeckia post…Gloria.

    Thank you for the information.

  8. “By the way, the 2009 winner is Hakonechloa.”

    Hey, that’s not a bad choice; I’d like to see Hakonechloa used more. And I certainly prefer it over any ugly ass geranium, or over practically any perennial grown mainly for flowers. Not that I hate flowering perennials, just that they mostly all suck.

  9. “…not that I hate flowering perennials, just that they mostly all suck.”

    That is, they suck independently of my hating them. I’d have to think about them to hate them.

  10. If you’d bothered to consider the organization behind the award, the purpose of the award, the selection criteria, and the previous selections, this might have taken some steam from your rant.

    Not every organization’s picks need to cater to a jaded outlook. Some have beginners, commercial landscapers, nurseries, and laypersons as their audience.

    In this case, PPA picks a plant by a vote of their members (tradespeople). Here are the selection criteria from their site:

    > Suitable for a wide range of climatic conditions
    > Low maintenance
    > Pest and disease resistant
    > Readily available in the year of release
    > Multiple season of ornamental interest
    > Easily propagated by asexual or seed propagation

    Didn’t see creativity, originality, or being cutting edge on that list, because they’re not the point.

    So, why not Geranium ‘Rozanne’? It’s one of the very best geraniums, for everyone from gardeners to the businesspeople who serve them.

    Last year’s pick was Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low.’ We’ve all heard of it, but it’s no less a great plant. The rest of the previous winners tend to be like that.

    I’m with you on looking out for new and exciting plants, but it doesn’t mean yesterday’s news is bad news.

  11. I was a bit puzzled by the choices of both the NGB and the PPA, because they are less than unusual. They are stellar plants, with little problem to them, and I have plenty of rudbeckias and cranesbills of various types throughout my yard.

    But I wonder if the plants chosen by these organizations are selected because they also will grow for a very wide range of gardeners and hardiness zones? We’re not all living in California, after all. While some of the offerings at Annie’s are glorious, they’d mostly all be annuals for me in my zone 5b maritime garden.

    I think it’s up to plant breeders, garden writers, and yes, bloggers of all types to come up with some exciting recommendations. Some of us have been doing that in the blogosphere already this month. Helps to get us through January.

  12. John was right on. The whole point to this award is to recognize plants that are reliable and can reasonably be expected to perform for non-gardeners or intermittent gardeners in a wide range of conditions.

    If we supply plants that work, then people feel better about gardening and don’t quit because of frustration and not having ‘a green thumb’.

    (Of course, another purpose is to sell lots of plants!)

  13. Amy’s often right and always amusing, but her comments on Geranium ‘Rozanne’ are just about exactly 180 degrees off-target. Amy obviously hasn’t grown Rozanne, or she’d have some idea why it’s a PPA POY. She’d at least know what color its flower is, and she’d know that it’s NOT like every other Geranium. It’s not just a good Geranium, it’s a great perennial — period.
    Full disclosure: I’m a PPA Board member and I work with the company that owns the patent on ‘Rozanne’. I wouldn’t take Amy’s comments personally if they were aimed at some of our other proprietary varieties, or at some other admittedly puzzling PPA POY picks. But this is simply an unfair, uninformed cheap shot at a great garden plant.
    I’m also a member of GWA. Responsible garden writers owe it to their readers to do their homework before praising or damning a plant. But then, responsible writers indulge in rants rather rarely, and this site is dedicated to the form, so I suppose it’s unfair of me to expect informed, responsible prose here. Rants are much more fun to write, and to read, when they’re unencumbered by facts.

  14. I complained about the PPA POTY last year, so Amy’s not the only one who yawns at these selections. I also got a similar response from John Friel, one of the PPA board members who said:

    — It’s not really all about promotion. Yes, the PPA is an industry association, and most of our members need to keep the bottom line in mind. But we’re not all mega-growers, or even plant sellers. We also count as members many educators, students, garden writers, photographers, plant breeders, designers, and representatives of public gardens and arboreta.

    — Do you want an exciting new plant, or a proven reliable plant? Choose one. Introducing new plants is wonderful, invigorating, profitable and essential. But promoting a hot cultivar that hasn’t been tested thoroughly, and/or can’t be found at retail anywhere, is a great way to disappoint gardeners and damage credibility. ”

    But if a lot of us gardeners–and I’m in zone 5 and have Rozanne–are bored, then I still say kick it up a notch, PPA.

  15. Gee, I’m feeling very plebeian at the moment. I actually like ‘Rozanne’ – a lot, I might add. I’m more about foliage, texture, bark, and berry than flower so when I opt for flowers, I want them to work very hard while asking for very little from me. And ‘Rozanne’ does that in spades.

    btw, I also like a lot of very, cool, out-of-the-ordinary plants.

  16. Rudbeckias make me cringe, perennial geraniums make me yawn… but I admit, I’m a little excited about the eggplant selection! I was a little astonished at what a pretty plant this is, independent of the small, shiny, delicious produce it creates.

  17. Thanks for the welcome, Michele! I’ve been lurking for a few months now and finally couldn’t resist popping off.

  18. Thanks for the welcome, Michele! I’ve been lurking for a few months now and finally couldn’t resist popping off.

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