Plants Of The Year and then some

A daffodil is lit up by a sunbeam.

Daffodils are in the spotlight this year thanks to the National Garden Bureau. Shot in my living room, April, 2016.

In the calm of late winter, just before interest in seed-buying and plant-planning gets truly serious, gardening aficianados and various plant brands herald their choices for Plants Of The Year. Sure, we know that these accolades almost always coincide with various public relations and marketing campaigns but what’s the harm? If the Vancouver Courier can lobby for making 2017 the year of the moss-dwelling Tardigrade (see the oddly compelling video at the bottom of this post), then why not decide that this is also the year to celebrate a gorgeous Magnolia or the humble Cabbage? Here’s a short review of this year’s esteemed plants by a variety of associations and my highly opinionated FIRST EVER Ministry Of The Fence 2017 PLANTS OF THE YEAR list:

The National Garden Bureau has declared winners in four categories, um, just because they can.

  • Bulb of the Year – Daffodil
  • Annual of the Year – Pansy
  • Perennial of the Year – Rose
  • Edible of the Year – Brassica (not a plant but a family)

I wasn’t able to ascertain exactly why the NGB chose these particular plants for distinction although there’s no denying they all have their merits. You can find historical information and detailed planting tips for all the plants on the NGB website.

A Golden Chain tree in full bloom.

The Golden Chain Tree gets my vote for not only giving a spectacular springtime show but it helps out as a nitrogen fixer. Shot in Oakville, ON, (zone 6b) in June, 2015.

The Perennial Plant Association has named Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year™, citing as inspiration for the choice “the buzz about bees and butterflies” and how the plant supports insects and birds. Though Butterfly Weed has been getting a great deal of promotion over the past couple of years (David Suzuki kicked off the Got Milkweed campaign in 2014), the fact that the Monarch butterfly is still struggling is reason enough to keep encouraging gardeners living along the butterfly’s migratory route to continue planting it.

Meanwhile, the International Herb Association has declared 2017 the Year of Coriander/Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum). It’s a bit of a mystery as to why this herb was chosen. A promise of more information to follow on their website is tantalizing. However, the members of this group seem not as concerned about the ‘why’ as the ‘what’. They’ve already decided on their picks for future recognition right through to 2020. Spoiler alert: For 2020, it’s Rubus spp. (Blackberries, Raspberries, et al.) Can’t wait! Check out Herb Of The Year™ for the complete list.

Every year since 1955, the Garden Club of America has identified “a stellar” North American native plant to receive its Montine McDaniel Freeman Medal for Plant of the Year. The medal was established to highlight underutilized, but highly worthy, native plants in the U.S. Ashe Magnolia (Magnolia ashei) is Plant Of The Year for 2017. “Long-lived, tolerant of heat and resistant to diseases, deer and insects, this magnolia is an ideal specimen tree for the small garden,” says Lucy Rhame of the GCA. It’s hardy in USDA zones 6 to 9.

A field of Lupines and other wildflowers.

Lupines. Shot in Owl’s Head, Maine, (U.S. hardiness zone 5b) in June, 2016.

So all this has me inspired to give my own shout-outs to plants I think deserve a second look this year. Without further fanfare, I present to you the Ministry Of The Fence Plants of 2017:

  • Herb of the Year – Basil. Never mind that basil is very easy to grow. The point is how you’ll dazzle dinner guests by barely lifting a finger–plates sprigged with deepest purple Osmin Basil leaves, for instance, or the elegant burgundy flower bracts of Cardinal Basil. Find seeds for these plants, plus 49 other varieties of basil, at Ontario-based Richters.
  • Tree of the Year – Golden Chain tree. In springtime, Laburnum x watereri hybrid may look like the consummate high maintenance ornamental but it’s really a resilient and hard working tree at heart. Not only does its roots fix nitrogen, converting the gas into usable compounds accessible to other plants, but it’s surprisingly tolerant of pollution and heavy clay soil (so long as it’s well drained) making it a terrific option for an urban garden. Oh! And it attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, too.
  • Bulb of the Year – Garlic. I could’ve nominated this veg for edible of the year but that would be so 2016. Instead, it’s time to look at garlic for its value as an organic alternative to pesticide, too. If you’re going to plant a Canadian Shield™ rose in honour of Canada’s 150th this spring, drop several garlic bulbs into the planting hole while you’re at it. The pungent bulbs can repel aphids and greenflies as well as kill black spot fungus.
  • Edible of the Year – Dandelion. Here’s your opportunity to mess with your neighbours’ minds. Plant dandelions purposefully in the front row of your raised veggie bed or in a flower border. Yes, you’ll get raised eyebrows but you’ll also get a super healthy addition to your salads. Dandelion leaves are a very good source of folate and Vitamins A, C, E, K and B6 plus Calcium. Try Burpee’s heirloom Dandelion Salad Greens seeds, a variety imported from Italy that’s more flavourful than your run-of-the-mill backyard weeds.
  • Perennial of the Year – Lupines. These lovely flowers native to Canada have a rep for being finicky but that’s possibly because some gardeners have forgotten the golden rule of “Right Plant, Right Place”. If you live in an area that doesn’t get very hot summers and you have a spot where it’s difficult to grow much because of very sandy or gravelly soil, Lupines may be your spectacular solution. Try Wild Lupine seeds from Coldwater, Ontario-based Wildflower Farm or choose one of the hardy hybrids available at larger garden centres.
  • Annual of the Year – Miniature coleus. When you want to add a punch of brilliant colour and texture in a container planting, coleus delivers beautifully. But sometimes the plant can quickly overwhelm its neighbours. Enter miniature coleus–all the colour and texture but growing into a cute mound only 4″ to 12″ in height. This is going to be my new go-to filler in container plantings.

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