2014 Perennial Plant of the Year — Panicum v. 'Northwind'
'Northwind' is a dark green, upright, rigid clumping grass selected by Roy Diblik from Northwind Perennial Farm. Diblik describes this grass' unique flower stalks as being similar to an arranged bouquet placed in the center of the clump of foliage. Most of the seed heads are situated in the middle of the clump, rather than arching away from it like most other grasses. 'Northwind' blooms in late summer and is a fast grower. Its foliage turns golden yellow in fall.
Switch grass gets its name from the peaceful swishing sound it makes when blowing in the wind. All parts of this grass are very sturdy, and will remain standing thru winter unless snows are heavy. This provides important cover for birds during the coldest days of winter. This grass is very versitile from a design standpoint; it is effective as a specimen, in masses, for screening, alongside ponds or streams, or even in large containers.
Panicum is native grass that is very easy to grow and is a good grass for beginners. It will grow in any soil, from sand to clay, is drought tolerant once established, and even withstands periodic flooding. Grow this grass in full sun. It will tolerate light shade, but will flop over if the shade is too heavy. Panicum is wind and salt tolerant, making it a good choice for seaside gardens or along roads that are salted in winter.
Runners up for the 2014 Perennial Plant of the Year:
Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta
(Calamint) — Calamint is a reliable ground cover that is tolerant of most soil types and is hardy in zones 4-9. It forms a compact mound of aromatic foliage that is topped with tiny white to light blue flowers in summer. Butterflies and bumblebees love the flowers, but deer avoid this plant because of its fragrant foliage.
Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum'
(Barrenwort) — This is a slowly spreading groundcover that performs well in part to full shade, including dry shade. Its leathery, serrated leaves are evergreen and they are topped with interesting short-spurred, yellow flowers held in racemes in spring. It is deer and rabbit resistant. Hardy in zones 5-8.
Hosta 'Blue Mouse Ears'
(Hosta) — This cute small hosta forms a dense clump of thick, heart-shaped, blue-green to grey-green leaves. Clusters of lavender, bell-shaped flowers are held on perfectly proportional scapes in midsummer. Several sports of this hosta have been introduced including 'Mighty Mouse', 'Pure Heart', 'Church Mouse', and 'Mini Skirt', among others. Hardy in zones 3-9.