Looking for a few good garden performers this spring? Tired of being overwhelmed by the mountainous selection of plants at your local garden center? A number of growers associations have made it a little easier to find a few good plants. Each year they select the cream of the crop to be their plant of the year. These plants are tried and true garden performers. So consider these plants for your garden as you are browsing the aisles at the local garden center this spring.
Perennial Plant of the Year
'Goldstrum' Rudbeckia. Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii 'Goldstrum'.
The Perennial Plant Association has selected 'Goldstrum' rudbeckia as the 1999 Perennial Plant of the Year. It has been acclaimed internationally as one of the most popular perennials for the past 50 years. Rudbeckia fulgida is native to many parts of the United States. However, as with many North American natives it only became popular in the US after selection and cultivation in European gardens.
This bold, mid-summer blooming beauty has golden yellow flowers with dark brown centers. 'Goldstrum' is a long-blooming, low-maintenance, and long-lived perennial for full sun to partial shade. Blooming normally begins in July and often continues to October. It is easy to grow and has a compact habit reaching 18-30 inches on sturdy stems that rarely require staking. It is a reliable performer in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 9.
'Goldstrum' is best used in mass plantings in borders with ornamental grasses and other late blooming perennials. In addition, it is an excellent source of nectar for butterflies and seeds for birds in meadow gardens.
Tree of the Year
Red Oak Quercus rubra.
The Iowa Nursery and Landscape Association has selected the Red Oak as 1999 Tree of the Year. The red oak is one of Iowa's most common native oaks. It is also an excellent landscape tree. The red oak tolerates urban pollution, grows faster than most other oaks, and is less likely to be damaged by wind and ice storms than many other trees. Although the red oak will grow on a variety of sites, it prefers well-drained, acid soils in full sun.
Red oak is a large tree reaching 60 to 75 feet tall and wide. It has a conical shape when young that gracefully becomes more rounded with age. The leaves are a dusty-bronze red when emerging in spring before becoming a lustrous dark green in summer. By fall, the leaves change consistently to a vibrant russet-red or red before leaf drop. The acorns are an excellent food source for wildlife since the fruit are one of the first of the landscape oaks to ripen.
Herb of the Year
Lavender Lavendula sp.
The International Herb Association has announced the selection of lavender as the 1999 Herb of the Year. Lavender has been long revered by women and men of all ages for its distinctive, fragrant leaves and flowers. For centuries, lavender has been a key ingredient in soaps, shampoos, perfume, lotions, sachet bags, potpourri, and seasoning blends.
Lavender is an integral part of herb gardens. It also makes a good addition to perennial borders, annual gardens, and as edging for shrub borders. The flower spikes that appear in summer can range in color from white to pink to purple. The flowers are often used for decorative arts and crafts.
Lavender prefers a sunny site and well-drained soils. While lavender thrives in many areas of the country it is not reliably cold hardy in many areas in Iowa. Iowa gardeners should select cold hardy cultivars, such as 'Munsted' and mulch the plants with straw in the fall. Another possibility would be to grow lavender in pots. The potted lavender can be brought inside in the fall and placed in a bright sunny window.
This article originally appeared in the January 15, 1999 issue, p. 4.