It's October, and you know what that means--it's baseball playoff season! Baseball fans across the country are cheering on their favorites, hoping they can make it past the playoffs into the World Series. We have been watching some Brewers' games, since they are Youngest Daughter's second-favorite team, and keeping an eye on the Cardinals, the favorites of some friends and misguided extended family members. But I can't get too excited about any of the games this year, since my team, those loveable losers, were out of contention for the pennant by the first of June. After last year's disappointing Cubs' season, we looked to the garden for candidates for post-season awards, and it seems only logical that we do that again this year.
This year's Silver Slugger Award goes to--drum roll, please--the Hyacinth Bean Vine! For the non-baseball fan, the Silver Slugger is awarded to the player with the most impressive offensive stats, such as batting average and on-base-percentage. Despite adverse conditions this year, the Hyacinth Bean never went into a slump. Its sheer size made it an imposing figure at the plate, looking more like an offensive lineman than a first baseman. In fact, it might have also been awarded the Golden Glove for fielding percentage, except that it had a habit of running into other players on the field. Its enthusiasm at times had to be curbed by the manager.
Hyacinth Bean's home run stats were off the charts, producing beautiful purple blossoms like this throughout the season as well as the shiny purple bean pods this fall. A free agent, it was signed to only a one-year contract while the head office debated a permanent replacement at this position, possibly a clematis or another climbing rose like the one on the other side of the arbor trellis. But its performance as well as the devoted fan base of hummingbirds this season may warrant a contract extension.
In professional sports there are no walk-ons. But if there were, Cleome would be the clear winner of the Walk-On Award. One cleome plant in the lily bed last year, pulled in late September, resulted in many seedlings in the same area this year. At first, their appearance wasn't welcome, since the roster was already full and they seemed to upset the team chemistry. But when the rest of the position players went into a slump in August, the Cleomes stepped up to the plate and carried the team through the late season. They've developed quite a fan following, too, especially the bees. ( By the way, if you notice a brown blur in the background, that's the assistant manager giving some motivational words to the benchwarmers.)
There were so many candidates for Rookie of the Year this season that it was almost difficult to choose a winner. The Beautyberry was a strong contender, especially since several of the new shrubs purchased this year had a disappointing season. It is hoped that another year of maturity will produce better results with them, but the Beautyberry was a consistent performer all season long, finishing strong with these beautiful purple berries.
Incidentally, last year's Rookie winner was a no-show this year. 'Wendy's Wish' Salvia apparently signed with a team in Oklahoma, because she was unavailable for contract negotiations this spring. (I've notified local agents, i.e., garden centers, to please stock her next year!)
Despite the number of candidates, the clear-cut choice for Rookie of the Year in 2011 goes to the Agastache 'Heat Wave.' This newcomer started out as a scrawny seedling in May and quickly put on bulk to grow to three feet tall and at least the same width. It began blooming some time in mid-July and has dazzled everyone since with its showy pink/purple flowers. Besides being a unanimous choice of the judges, it's been a hands-down favorites of the fans as well--bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds swarm it for autographs every day.
This superstar laughed at droughty field conditions and took the heat of late summer in stride. In fact, it was also a strong contender for the MVP award as well. While a few players have won both the Rookie of the Year and the MVP award in the MLB, it's rather unusual. In 'Heat Wave's' case, the only barrier to its receiving both awards is a concern whether it can repeat its stellar performance next year. Some research on Agastaches has revealed that they aren't particularly fond of the wet, cold winters common to Illinois, so we must wait and see whether it returns for another season. If it doesn't, the general manager has assured us there will a contract extended to a new 'Heat Wave' (or three) next year.
And now for the most coveted award of all--the MVP of the 2011 season. Last year's winner, 'Lucky Lemon Creme' Lantana, was replaced this year with a more colorful player .... (sorry, its name on the roster is illegible). It performed every bit as well as last year's winner and has been signed to a long-term contract for the lily bed border. However, its playing time was reduced somewhat due to salary demands. In garden language, that means that while I was able to buy a flat of lantana seedlings last year, this year all the varieties of lantana I found were available only in 4-inch pots. Trying to plant the same number as last year would have meant spending five times as much, so I opted for a smaller section of lantana with Profusion zinnias filling in the rest of the border. Next year I'm going to scout in more places for the flats so that I can have a full border of these butterfly magnets.
Another candidate for MVP would have to be the Shasta daisy 'Becky.' It is one of those solid performers that often go overlooked, but deserves praise for its consistency. A little more encouragement this year (i.e., more frequent deadheading) has resulted in non-stop blooms from June through October.
Another possible choice for this award might be the hostas. Veterans of the shade garden, they avoid the glare of the spotlight, unlike some of the other more colorful members of the team. But they were the Cal Ripkens of the garden, bringing their A-game every single day from May through September. Only now, as the season winds down, are they beginning to show a few signs of exhaustion.
It was a close race, but the winner of this year's MVP Award goes to the Hydrangea 'Limelight.' Some voters were a little upset, charging that those of us who selected 'Limelight' were fickle and thinking only of what looked good now, rather than all season. There might be an element of truth in that claim because it has only been blooming for two months. But baseball fans still remember "Mr. October," and 'Limelight' will no doubt also linger in garden fans' memories through the long off-season. Besides, it was a superstar compared to all the other hydrangeas on the team who produced very few hits this year. And to be honest, there was somewhat of a sympathy vote here, as 'Limelight' survived what could have been a life-threatening injury when a large limb fell on it as the groundskeeper was trimming a nearby locust tree. Thankfully, it was still intact when the limb was removed and the chainsaw-wielding groundskeeper properly chastised. It continues to impress the crowds today with its white blooms turning to a lovely shade of pink.
I'm sure other garden managers have their own candidates for awards, and I'd love to hear about the choices. As for me, the season may not be over yet, but I'm already heading off for spring training-----planting tulips and daffodils!