By Cindy Haynes
Iowa State University
As I sit in my cozy office and watch the students trudge through the snow, I ponder the upcoming gardening season. I am excited about the possible additions and changes to my landscape -- who wouldn’t be dreaming of spring already?
This time of year brings a flurry of catalogs and magazines with pretty pictures of plants and announcements of award winners. While you might think that these “award winners” are ways people in the industry get together to sell more plants (this is true enough) -- the evaluations are generally rigorous. Only the best of the best can successfully “jump the hurdles” to become an award winner.
Perennial Plant of the Year
One such award winning plant is Golden Hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’), the 2009 Perennial of the Year. Every year members of the Perennial Plant Association vote for a winning plant entry. Perennials that are nominated must be attractive, suitable for many areas across the country, low maintenance, pest and disease resistant, and readily available to the public. This year’s winner is the latest in a long line of good perennials for the garden.
Other past winners you might recognize include: ‘David’ Phlox, ‘Karl Foerster’ Feather Reed grass, ‘Goldsturm’ Rudbeckia, Russian Sage, ‘Becky’ Shasta Daisy, ‘Magnus’ Purple Coneflower and ‘Moonbeam’ Coreopsis. Winning this award puts Hakone grass in good company and is guaranteed to garner attention from gardeners and landscape professionals.
Hakone grass has glowing, yellow-green leaves with a cascading effect and grows to about 18 inches tall and wide. It prefers partial shade and fertile, well-drained, moist soils. This grass is striking as a specimen or small grouping when combined with other shade-loving plants. The textural contrast of the narrow golden leaves next to a bold, golden-edged hosta makes for a stunning combination. Mass plantings are equally effective, in particular when used as an edging arrangement in the border.
Golden Hakone grass has few pest or disease problems and is not favored by deer. Matching this plant to suitable conditions, however, is a major consideration prior to planting. For best performance in Iowa, Golden Hakone grass should be located away from exposed sites with strong winter winds. It is considered hardy to zone 5 (central and southern Iowa), but some protection in winter increases chance of survival. Hakone grass also insists on a good, fertile, well-drained -- but moist -- soil. Sites with too little or too much water, such as a heavy clay soil, are quick ways to kill it.
All American Selection Winners
Another of the plant evaluation processes is the All-American Selection Winners program (AAS). Every year several new annual flowers and vegetables are selected as winners. Flowers and vegetables are tested and judged on their performance across the country. Plants are promoted in a number of garden catalogs – many times they are featured within the first couple of pages.
This year’s winners bring variety to the vegetable garden. ‘Honey Bear’ squash is an acorn squash with a sweet flavor and compact plant habit. Unlike other acorn squash ‘Honey Bear’ is resistant to powdery mildew, so even the later-bearing fruit tend to ripen fully since the plants don’t succumb to this disease. As with any acorn squash, ‘Honey Bear’ stores well and can be enjoyed months after harvesting.
‘Lambkin’ melon, another AAS winner, is a gourmet melon noted for its sweet, aromatic, juicy, white flesh. This oval shaped melon produces several two to four-pound fruits per plant. The thin yellow skin, early ripening and excellent keeping quality make it worth trying in the garden this year.
‘Gretel’ eggplant is another vegetable award winner from AAS. Gretel produces pure white, elongated fruits – not the dark purple fruits like many eggplants. The compact plants can be grown in large containers and are noted for ripening early. The fruits also are more forgiving for harvest, remaining tender even as they mature beyond the typical three to four-inch fruit size.
All American Rose Selection Winners
Several All American Rose Selection (AARS) Winners are named each year. This year, the quest for low maintenance, long-blooming roses brings us ‘Carefree Spirit’. This rose is a relative of the popular ‘Carefree Delight’ rose, an AARS winner in 1996. Carefree Spirit is the first rose to endure the new “no fungicide spray” policy for AARS shrub roses and come out a winner! The cherry red, two-inch diameter blooms have a whitish eye and fade to pinkish red in the summer. The compact habit (five feet tall) and long blooming characteristics are likely to continue the fondness consumers have for the Carefree series.
Words fail me in describing the coloring of Cinco de Mayo. This floribunda rose celebrates its place in the sun with large flower clusters that I can only describe as a blend of rusty-red and lavender-smoke. Its five-foot habit, fruity fragrance, glossy foliage and quickness in repeating blooms make it a great garden addition -- then you can attempt to describe the flower color to your friends.
Another rose winner is notable for its elegance and charitable purpose. Pink Promise is a hybrid tea rose selected by the National Breast Cancer Foundation to represent the continued compassion and promise for those affected by breast cancer. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this rose will be donated to the National Breast Cancer Foundation for education and early detection. Apart from the motivation to grow this rose to support a worthy cause, Pink Promise holds its own as a worthy garden plant as well. Plants are vigorous upright growers with excellent disease resistance and continually bloom during the growing season. The flowers are a blend of pinks with lighter outer petals and darker centers. And to top it off, the flowers also are highly fragrant. What more could you want?
All of the plants mentioned hold promise for stunning landscapes this year. Now you have to decide which (or how many) you want to add to your garden this spring. Good luck!