Perennial Plant of the Year

By Lise Jenkins and Kit Flynn
Lise Jenkins and Kit Flynn The Absentee Gardeners -
Kit’s fence was a worthwhile garden investment - Photos courtesy of Kit Flynn

Generally speaking, I have learned to ignore the professional accolades directed at a particular plant. I well remember all the new echinaceas that hit the market about six years ago. They were all accompanied by praises — generally manufactured by the hybridizer — assuring us this was the hottest, best, newest echinacea ever to see North Carolina.

The only problem was they weren’t strong enough to last one whole growing season.

New rose varieties appear seemingly with more frequency with descriptions stating they were winners of some competition you’ve never heard of. Faced with this deluge, the gardener has to decide between the tried-and-old and the untried-and-new.

Happily, there is one yearly plant designation I always heed: “Perennial Plant of the Year.” Inevitably, these are great choices, suitable to wide swaths of the country, and readily available. Have you ever searched for a plant with glowing recommendations, only to find one obscure nursery, tucked away in a corner of a state you’ve never seen, is the only source for this plant?

The Perennial Plant of the Year typically has a long blooming season, doesn’t require hours of grooming, and is relatively disease resistant. Truly, these are the Labrador retrievers of the plant world.

The Perennial Plant Association designates this title on a particular plant. Its composition consists of representatives from every aspect of the herbaceous perennial plant industry, including hybridizers, landscape designers, retailers, and educators. Simple put, these are the people who want to put out good plants for gardeners such as you and me.

The best allium on the market, A. ‘Millenium’ (note: this is not a typo but its registered name) wears the crown for 2018 —and it’s an allium that I can only describe by using superlatives. It has a long bloom cycle, it doesn’t require staking, it’s a wonderful edging plant, and deer and rabbit leave it alone. It doesn’t cast its seeds all over like the garlic chives do, while its lavender flowers blend into all color themes in the garden. It doesn’t sulk when there’s little rain and it doesn’t choke when we get too much precipitation. Best of all, it can reside in any spot in North Carolina. This paragon of virtue also attracts butterflies.

This year I planted Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’, knowing little about it, except that it would bloom after the daylilies had petered out. It has proven to be delightful — and unbeknownst to me, it was the Perennial Plant of the Year in 1999. The whole list of past winners can be seen at:

The list includes some of my favorite old friends: Amsonia hubrichtii, Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’, and Leucanthemum ‘Becky’. Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ now happily graces my garden.

I quibble with some on the list — but then I don’t think there’s ever been a gardening list that I have accepted without question. Helleborus x hybridus was Perennial Plant of the Year in 2005. Since then it has proven to be excessively seedy to the point I’m almost inclined to term it as invasive. Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’, aka Japanese forest grass, would have trouble growing in the Piedmont and eastern Carolina. This handsome lady likes to be cool.

My advice is to print out this list and refer to it the next time you are perennial shopping. You’ll be glad you did.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email:

Lise Jenkins and Kit Flynn The Absentee Gardeners Jenkins and Kit Flynn The Absentee Gardeners

Kit’s fence was a worthwhile garden investment’s fence was a worthwhile garden investmentPhotos courtesy of Kit Flynn

By Lise Jenkins and Kit Flynn