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2014 Perennial of the Year

Perennial of the Year 2014

by Jean Atkinson, Richbar Golf and Gardens

And the winner of this year’s Perennial of the Year is Panicum virgatum Northwind, Northwind Switch Grass. Only two other grasses have been given this prestigious award in the past, Calamagrostis Karl Foerster in 2001 and Hakonechloa macra Aureola in 2009.

All nominations must satisfy various criteria such as having multiple seasons of ornamental interest. This ornamental grass has a very sturdy upright form with wide blue-green foliage which creates a vertical and formal look to the garden. It is a medium to tall clumping grass with a height of 120-150 cm. (48-60”) The tan plumes in late summer and golden yellow fall foliage also add interest later in the season.

Other criteria include: low maintenance, relative pest and disease resistance and suitability for a wide range of climatic conditions. Northwind Switch Grass grows easily in full sun to part shade and is adaptable to most soils. It slowly spreads into stiff clumps and can be easily divided in the spring. It has a deep root system making it very drought tolerant. It doesn’t have any known pests and apparently the deer don’t even like it. It is classified as a zone 4 plant.

Ornamental grasses have so much to add to the garden. They give it movement. When the wind blows it makes the garden come to life. My favorite ornamental grass is Molina Skyracer for its very graceful form and impressive height 180cm. (6ft.) Award winning Calamagrostis Karl Foerster is reliable, drought tolerant and stately in the landscape. Festuca is valuable for its small dense mounds of tufted blue foliage. We have a new variety this year called ‘Beyond Blue’, apparently the bluest of all Fescues. These all combine nicely with Rudbeckia , Russian Sage and taller sedums.

If you are hesitant about trying ornamental grasses in your garden, why not try them in a large container first. A container with a mix of grasses looks fabulous and is yet so simple to pull off.

And for all you Hosta aficionados out there, the Hosta of the year is Abiqua Drinking Gourd. I couldn’t agree more. It always gets noticed in my garden with its unique cupped foliage. The seer suckered blue leaves add beautiful colour and texture. It is also slug resistant.

If you are a beginner gardener I would highly suggest both ornamental grasses and hostas in your garden. You will be rewarded and your confidence will bloom!

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