Great plant picks for your garden

Each year horticulture experts gather with the staff of the Elisabeth Carey Miller Botanical Garden in Seattle to evaluate perennials, bulbs, shrubs, vines, trees and conifers that do well west of the Cascades. Their selections are released annually as the Great Plant Picks. Over the years, the experts have come up with a total of more than 300 choices to help us select the best for our gardens.

Their demanding criteria requires that all plants are hardy in our area, are long-lived and easy to grow by a gardener of average experience. They should be reasonably pest and disease resistant, be adaptable to a variety of soil and fertility conditions, not require excessive moisture and have a long season of interest. In addition they must be available from at least three retail sources and not be invasive. Perennials shouldn't require staking, continuous deadheading nor frequent division. Bulbs need to last for at least three years, and trees and shrubs should require little pruning.

There are 85 Great Plant Picks for 2005. We'll talk about the shade-loving perennials this month and bulbs, shrubs and ferns next month. Shade varies from no sun at all and heavy shadows (deep shade), full shade (no sun but lighter than deep shade), bright shade (very little sun but lots of light), dappled shade (under deciduous trees where some sunlight reaches the ground), part shade (this can vary from just a little sun to six hours of sun) to part sun (more than six hours of sun but less than full sun). Many shade lovers need moist, but not wet, soil. They have evolved in forest settings and the closer you come to replicating those conditions, the better they will thrive.

These are some chosen for 2005. They are specific cultivars, so both the common name and the botanical name will help you find them in local nurseries. You may even find a very few at stores that don't specialize in but carry plants.

The white wood aster, Aster divaricatus, is an aster that can take shade. The tiny white daisy-like flower blooms with a yellow eye that gradually darkens to a rich burgundy. It thrives in bright shade and once established will tolerate dry shade. It reaches 12 to 18 inches high and can create a clump to 30 inches wide.

Siberian Bugloss, Brunnera macrophylla `Jack Frost,' is a slowly-growing ground cover with large heart-shaped, silver leaves with intricate tracings of dark green. It is highlighted in the early spring by sprays of small blue flowers with white centers. It grows well in part to full shade and will reach 24 by 30 inches.

False Solomon's Seal, Smilacina racemosa boasts a fragrant cluster of pure white tiny flowers at the ends of its graceful arching stems, followed by the showy red berries in the fall. Growing to 36 inches tall, it will gradually form a clump 24 inches wide.

Creeping forget-me-not, Omphalodes verna, is another useful ground cover that will even grow under rhododendrons. With dark green leaves and bright blue spring flowers, it likes rich, moist soil. It grows 8 inches high by 12 inches wide.

Another desirable ground cover, Epimedium x rubrum (Barrenwort), highlighted by star-shaped, rose red flowers, boasts small heart-shaped leaves attractively brushed red as the foliage emerges in the spring after the flowers start to fade. It will be 12 to 15 inches high and spreads about 4 inches a year.

With so many plants to pick from at our local nurseries, The Great Plant Pick committee has made it much easier for the average gardener to choose plants that will do well in our gardens. Seek out these superior choices and make your gardening easier.

Contact Linda, at She welcomes questions and will respond to as many as possible.

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