Friday, February 26, 2010

And the Oscar goes to ...

The Academy Awards presentation is a show I always look forward to watching. I guess I'm a little starstruck, because I enjoy seeing all the stars in their designer gowns and waiting for the opening of the envelopes to find out which actors and actresses are chosen as the "best" for this year. The irony is that most years I'm lucky if I have seen even one of the nominated movies.

Oscar Night is still a week away, but gardeners don't have to wait that long to find out who the new stars in the garden will be this year. Several organizations have already announced their winners.

'Zahara Starlight Rose' zinnia has been named as a bedding plant award winner by All-American Selections. When I first saw this photo in a seed catalog, I knew I had to have these zinnias, even before I knew they had been chosen as an AAS winner. You know I love zinnias, and this new rose and white bicolored flower has captured my heart. Some of its other winning characteristics, according to AAS:

  • proven resistence to fungal leaf spot and powdery mildew
  • heat and drought tolerant
  • "a perfect plant for the novice or experienced gardener because it is so undemanding with a maximum number of blooms." (AAS)
  • Height and width: 12-14 inches

  • Another AAS winner is this Gaillardia F1 'Mesa Yellow.' It's touted as the first hybrid blanket flower with a "controlled plant habit and prolific flowering." In other words, it does not get "tall, loose and floppy." Other traits:

    attracts butterflies
  • has a neat, mounded growing habit, but can also cascade down the sides of containers
  • wind and rain resistant
  • blooms earlier than other cultivars
  • Height: 16-18 inches
  • Width: 20-22 inches
I don't usually plant snapdragons but the new 'Twinny Peach' may change that habit this year. The AAS called it "a snapdragon without the snap." The double flower form also ensures lots of blooms in unique pastel shades. Other winning traits:

  • easy to grow
  • heat tolerant
  • flowers all season
  • flower color: pastel shades of peach, yellow, and light orange
  • Height: 11.75 inches
  • Width: 7.75 inches

In the Cool Season Plant category, this viola took the top award. 'Endurio Sky Blue Martien' is described as having "sky-blue" blooms, though the photo looks lavender to me. Characteristics:

  • flowers throughout the winter in the South; provides two-season color in the North
  • spreading, mounding habit
  • Height: 6 inches
  • Width: 12 inches

For more information on these four plants as well as the complete list of winners, check out the AAS website. I am starstruck, for sure--I've already ordered seeds for the first three flowers, and I'll be looking for these lovely little violas in the garden center in a few weeks.

And now for the grand finale, the most coveted prize of all--the 2010 Perennial Plant Association's Plant of the Year. The envelope, please . . .

And the winner is . . . Baptisia australis! No award ceremony was necessary to convince me of this plant's winning ways. As soon as I saw masses of these at the Lurie Garden during last year's Spring Fling, I had to have this native plant in my garden. Luckily, I found one last summer at a local nursery, and although it will be awhile before it looks as full as this one at the Lurie, I'm looking forward to seeing those striking violet-blue blossoms this spring.

What do judges look for in choosing the Plant of the Year? Its beauty is important, of course, but also "its durability, suitability to a wide range of climate types, low maintenance, multiple season interest, and easy growing nature."* Baptisia, also known as false blue indigo, has all that and more:

  • besides blue, other cultivars are available that produce yellow flowers or white (the native Illinois wild indigo, Baptisia alba)
  • takes a few years to reach a 4 x 4 size, but is long-lived
  • spring bloomer, good companion with spring bulbs
  • after blooming, produces decorative seed pods suitable for dried arrangements
  • hardy in zones 3-9
  • "Once established, baptisia is one tough cookie with its drought tolerance and adaptability."*

    My garden certainly won't win any awards; in fact, as I've admitted before, it's quite a modest garden compared to so many others I've seen on other gardening blogs. But I hope by summer's end to have some of these award-winners taking the spotlight in my garden this year.

    * Images (other than the baptisia) and information taken from AAS website. Quotes taken from the gardening column published in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and written by Sandra Mason, the horticulture educator with our local Extension Office and a lively, knowledgeable instructor for several of the Master Gardener classes I'm currently taking.


  1. I enjoyed seeing all the award winning flowers. Just the other day I bought some zinnia seed. Of course, they weren't this pictured winner but they'll do.

    I have Baptisia but mine doesn't look anything like the one pictured. Maybe in a few years. It's still a baby right now.

  2. I think I preferred these to the other Oscars Rose :) A most enjoyable post and again so nice to be reminded of Summer flowers. I tried to pick my favourites but found I had chosen all of them! The Snapdragon does look particularly pretty though and they always do quite well in my garden, it does look nice with the double flower and the Gaillardia reminds me that mine was absent last year and as they attract the butterflies will be worth replacing, that one sounds nice and compact.

  3. I've decided I have to grow Snapdragons this year because they can bloom into December. I can imagine that new one paired up with the darkest crimson Snapdragon. I think you will love your Baptisia. I hope you gave it plenty of room, as at maturity, it takes up as much space as a small shrub. I have two of them now, and the foliage is just a great as the blooms.

  4. I love the zinnia, too and must have it! I have baptisia seeds to share with you and beckie...You'll have access to them if you are after me in the seed swap or i can send them to you. So you can try and grow more of the beauties. They are, too and I agree with MMD~you will love them and have to have another and another! xogail

  5. Every garden is an award winner in my book due to the love of the gardener of all of the plants-or of only one plant-it's the connection that is the star in my mind. That being said I love love love baptisia. Mine are small too. Mighty small and I hear it takes about 5 years to get big. I need to add more award winners.

  6. Indeed, you have some winners, Rose :)

  7. I really like the 'Twinny Peach' snapdragon. I think the color is just gorgeous, and the flowers are so interesting! Baptisia was certainly a deserving winner. I added a couple 'Starlites' to one of my borders late in the season, and I'm really excited to see how they do this year!

  8. I love that blue-violet Viola, what a beauty. The Baptisias are among my favorite perennials, even though I have to go to special lengths to keep them from being devoured by voles.

  9. I wouldn't bet on your garden not winning an award. It produces some really lovely flowers and shrubs.
    The snap dragons look lovely but never when I plant them.

    Nuts in May

  10. Very pretty, Rose. Nice post. Aren't we getting excited that Spring is nearing?? ;-)

  11. Thanks for this appetizer for the oscars, Rose! I like to see the gowns and hairdos and shoes, and have rarely seen the movies as well. Although this year I did see Avatar, but the stars won't be quite the same as on the big screen. Those flowers look yummy, and baptisia was a show stopper at the Lurie, I agree! Of course they probably had a hundred plants of it to make that splash. :-)

  12. I would much rather look at these beautiful flowers than watch the Oscars on tv. I see you have had a red-breasted nuthatch at your feeders. Lucky girl. I haven't seen one yet this year.

  13. I love zinnias and that one is a beauty!

  14. I love all of the new flowers, but I have a soft spot for Violas. You and I are alike. I love to watch the Oscars, more to people watch since I rarely see the movies up for nominations. I wonder what that says about the movies I choose to see ?

  15. I'd love to grow that Baptisia but I'm not optimistic about how they'd fare in my climate. I'll have to do some research.

  16. Susie, according to the articles, baptisia takes several years to reach its potential. Now I'm wondering how old my plant was when I bought it.

    ShySongbird, Yes, this snapdragon caught my eye, too. My gaillardia tend to be short-lived, so I'm hoping this one does well here.

    MMD, I didn't realize snapdragons could last that long. My baptisia has plenty of room, except there is a burning bush behind it. If it needs a little more space, guess which plant is going to get a severe pruning?:)

    Gail, I have one baptisia seed from you in a milkjug already outside, but I'd love to try more! If they all germinate, I could have my own little Lurie exhibit:)

    Tina, Thanks for those lovely words. The article said it takes at least three years for baptisia to really shine.

    Joey, I like the "old faithful," too, but it's nice to try a few new varieties.

    Rose, I'm not that fond of snapdragons, usually, but these look so pretty. It was love at first sight with the "Starlights"!

    Sweet Bay, Oh dear, I didn't know voles would attack baptisia--thanks, I'm going to be on the lookout for those little critters now.

    Maggie May, Thank you; my garden is small, but I plant it for sheer enjoyment, not any awards:)

    Shady, I'm excited that February is finally coming to an end! March may still be wintry, but at least there's a promise of spring.

    Frances, I enjoy the gowns and hairdos, too and wondering how they can walk up those stairs in those high, high heels:) I think the Lurie has inspired many of us to attempt our own little mini-Luries.

    Lisa, Thank you--now I know I identified this bird correctly in the GBBC! I kept thinking I was seeing a chickadee until I noticed its beak. I've had one or two visit daily for a month or more.

    Robin, I've fallen in love with the "Starlight," too.

    Noelle, Hubby and I rarely get to the movies these days; I usually wait till they come out on DVD. I usually see more children's movies in the theater than anything else:)

    Cindy, Baptisia are supposed to be drought-tolerant and hardy to zone 9, so check them out!

  17. Those are some great picks Rose!

    Baptisias are old favorites of mine - I started a few seedlings last year - hope they come back. I started some 'alba' seeds (from Monica's seed swap,) a couple of weeks ago - I know it will be two or three years before they bloom, but they're such beauties they'll be worth the wait.

  18. I just saw A Single Man. Colin Firth was nominated for best actor in it, I think. It was visually stunning, well acted and original. I was very moved, but the elderly ladies leaving the theater joked about getting their money back. I enjoyed your floral Oscars. The Baptisia australis remind me of Maine lupines. Lovely!

  19. Love that sweet little viola face :)

  20. Rose, I also fell in luv with Starlight Rose Zahara zinnia when I saw the picture in my Jung Seeds & Plants catalog. I've ordered the seeds.

    I planted just one baptisia australis last fall. Do you think it will look like the ones at Lurie Garden by this summer?


  21. Hi Rose, I'm never one to have the latest and greatest of anything first. (And I don't tend to see very many first-run movies, either... I tend to wait and get them free from the library once they're on DVD.) That being said, I do like the zinnia, but the Mesa gaillardia look so much like coreopsis to me that I don't quite see the need to have developed them. Or maybe I'm just cranky. :)

  22. Hi Rose, the issue with your milk jugs while you're in AZ isn't so much that it will get warm enough for them to sprout, but that the soil *may* get a little dry. So shade would help with that. Make sure the soil is plenty wet before you leave. Also, it's funny what you said about me writing user manuals, because that's just what I spent the first 10 years or so of my career doing. :)

  23. That peachy snapdragon is to die for.

    I grow a lot of Baptisia in my own garden and just love it's luscious blue color.

  24. Well I didn't know they had awards for plants! It's fair enough as they're much more beautiful!


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