Check out some of the exciting perennials displayed at OFA’s Short Course in July. Plus, here’s a look at the Perennial Plant Association’s 2013 Perennial Plant of the Year.

As much as we’d all love to have unlimited air miles and free baggage check on each trip, we can’t be everywhere. So many shows to attend, so many events to take in, so many plants to see and touch. The displays at OFA’s Short Course, held in Columbus, Ohio, offered a glimpse of what’s available – some are familiar favorites and some are new selections. But all are sure to find their way onto your palette and your customers’ wish lists. Featured here are just a few of the tempting assortment.

‘Illumination Flame’ digiplexis

Photo courtesy of Sally Benson

Bred by Thompson & Morgan and shown at Short Course by Pacific Plug & Liner, Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’ is a real standout. It’s a cross between Digitalis purpurea and Isoplexis canariensis and displays the best of both breeds. Rich, sturdy, dark green foliage supports dramatic spikes of glowing flowers in blends of pink, orange and cream. Reaching nearly 3 feet tall with an 18-inch spread, ‘Illumination Flame’ is hardy in zones 8 to 11 – but those who like to push the boundaries with patio tropicals are sure to increase demand.

Platinum Blonde’ lavender

‘Platinum Blonde’ lavender (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Momparler’), displayed by Cultivaris, sports variegated foliage in delicate shades of light green and cream. Blue flowers emerge in summer. The plant was bred in Spain, where it’s claimed that this lavender is hardy to -10F, but hardiness is still being determined in the U.S. Given full sun and average soil with good drainage, ‘Platinum Blonde’ will grow up to 2 feet tall with an 18-inch spread.

‘Honey Rose’ foamy bells

Heucherella ‘Honey Rose’ – bred by Terra Nova Nurseries and shown at Short Course by Blooms of Bressingham partners – continues the trend of blending rich autumn colors in the year-round garden. Young leaves emerge a warm, coral-rose with dark veins and when mature, the deeply incised and lobed foliage may appear slightly ruffled. The mounding plant grows about 8 inches tall by 12 to 14 inches wide, with delicate flower stalks that reach 12 inches in part to full shade. Hardy in zones 4 to 9, this compact plant attracts butterflies.

Inset photo courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries

Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’

2013 Perennial Plant of the Year

It’s a graceful addition to the shade garden, growing proudly in low-light areas where many others fail to thrive. Soft green, almost feather-like leaves gently variegated with white tips and margins are held aloft on slender, arching, reddish stalks. The parallel-veined foliage turns brilliant yellow in fall. In spring, delicate, white, bell-shaped flowers – often emerging with a tinge of green – dangle beneath the foliage.

Photos courtesy of Walters Gardens

This variegated Solomon’s seal grows 2 to 3 feet tall and spreads by rhizomes to form colonies – although it’s well behaved. It enjoys moist, humusy soil, but adapts readily to average conditions in partial to full shade in zones 3 to 8.

For its strength and beauty, and for all the plant contributes to the landscape, Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ has been selected as the Perennial Plant Association’s 2013 Perennial Plant of the Year.

Announcing the selection, the PPA states, “Variegated Solomon’s seal is a classic beauty for the shady woodland garden or the part-shade to full-shade border. It is a great companion plant to other shade lovers including hostas, ferns and astilbes. The sweet fragrance will enhance that walk along a pathway on a spring morning. Flower arrangers will find the variegated foliage to be an attribute for spring floral arrangements. And finally, this all-season perennial offers yellow fall foliage color.

There are no serious insect or disease problems with variegated Solomon’s seal. Plants may be divided in the spring or fall. The white rhizomes should be planted just below the soil surface. Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ is a very easy perennial to grow and will enhance any shade garden, especially a more natural one.”

Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’, recipient of the Perennial Plant Association’s 2013 Plant of the Year award, offers unusual charm to the shade garden.

A bit of plant lore enhances the charm of this woodland wonder. The PPA adds, “The genus Polygonatum, native to Europe, Asia and North America, is a member of the Asparagaceae family. It was formerly found in the family Liliaceae. Regardless of its new location, members of Polygonatum are excellent perennials for the landscape. The genus botanical name (Polygonatum) comes from poly (many) and gonu (knee joints) and refers to the many-jointed rhizome from which the leaves arise.

The common name Solomon’s Seal has several proposed derivations. The first is that the scar that remains on the rootstock after the leaf stalks die off in the fall resembles the seal impressed on wax on documents in the past. The second source is that John Gerard, the English botanist and herbalist, suggested that the powdered roots were an excellent remedy for broken bones. He also felt that the plant had the capacity for “sealing wounds,” which was why the perennial received the common name – Solomon’s Seal.”

‘Butterfly Kisses’ coneflower

Photo courtesy of Sally Benson

One of a bouquet of Echinacea introductions, ‘Butterfly Kisses’ was bred by Arie Bloom in The Netherlands and shown at Short Course by Plants Nouveau. This petite coneflower is as sweet as its name, sporting bubblegum pink flowers atop 12-inch stems. Blooms emerge with lime-green centers that soon develop to deep pink, then fade to a rich, golden yellow as the season ages. Introduced as part of the Cone-fections™ Series, this sturdy coneflower enjoys full sun and average soil in zones 4 to 9.

‘Curly Fries’ hosta

Who’d know this is a hosta? ‘Curly Fries’, displayed at Short Course by Walters Gardens, offers a bit of a twist on a garden staple. Slender, rippled, yellowish green leaves arch to only 6 inches tall and spread to 16 inches, offering a petite counterpoint to larger, blue-leaved specimens. Lavender flowers top the clump in midsummer. It’s happy in part to full shade in zones 3 to 9, and is especially suitable for containers.

About the PPA Plant of the Year program

Geranium ‘Rozanne’, PPA 2008 Plant of the Year
Photos courtesy of Walters Gardens

Each year since 1990, the Perennnial Plant Association has selected – by vote of its membership – an outstanding perennial that has proved to be a standout among its peers. In order to be recognized as Perennial Plant of the Year, a selection must be suitable for a wide range of growing climates, require low maintenance, display multiple-season interest and be relatively pest- and disease-resistant. The plant must also be readily available in the market during the year it’s promoted.

Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’, PPA 1999 Plant of the Year

Previous winners have included such notable market favorites as Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ (2012); Geranium ‘Rozanne’ (2008); Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ (2004); Phlox ‘David’ (2002); Calamagrostis ×acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ (2001); Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ (1999); Penstemon ‘Husker Red’ (1996); Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’ (1992); and Heuchera×micrantha ‘Palace Purple’ (1991).

Calamagrostis _acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, PPA 2001 Plant of the Year