Recently, the Perennial Plant Association selected Brunnera Jack Frost as Perennial of 2012. Many of my garden writing colleagues reported this news as the innocuous, recurring, marketing strategy that it is; except for one who was unhappy. This garden writer argued that such awards are responsible for taking exquisite, unusual, and beautiful perennials and turning them into common, over used ones. I disagree.
I believe that how a plant is used, that is, where it is placed and how it is combined with other plants, is more important than its exclusiveness. There are flowerbeds around the world that have been designed effectively with the most common perennials, and yet they capture our attention with their artistry.
For example, a wild Rudbeckia perennial self-seeded in one of my most successful flowerbeds. I used to dislike this plant; I was never a fan of its gold and black coloration, and it is seen in almost everyone's garden on the street. Nevertheless, combined with the taupe-brown tone of the home’s façade, the yellow Rudbeckia’flowers looked amazing; they took my garden design to a level higher than I could ever have imagined possible.
I do not feel that my professionalism is compromised when an exquisite, rare, unusual plant earns award-winning status and becomes ubiquitous. I am unmoved when these gifted plants are used in every parking lot across the country. What I do care about is that they will be used. I, for one, will continue to design with them.
From a business perspective, it is effective marketing to designate one perennial as special. At the nursery or in a mail order catalogue, when a plant is flagged to be out of the ordinary, it draws consumers’ attention. That may determine which plants the customer will buy.
While this tactic may be of no value to seasoned, knowledgeable gardeners, I’ll bet it comes in handy for the less-than-omniscient gardener, overwhelmed by the vast number of plant options. Believe it or not, some are delighted to have choices made for them in the guise of an award winning perennial. It makes the selection of plants easier.
So thanks, but no thanks, for the Perennial of the Year awards. I don’t need them, neither do any of my colleagues. However, I know many gardeners who do. Anything that helps a homeowner create a more beautiful garden is an asset to our industry.
With this year’s selection of Brunnera Jack Frost our secret is revealed. Now, EVERYONE will know about the sublimely beautiful shade plant that turned all my clients’ sunless gardens into sculptural collages. The texture of its foliage is a work of art and the white highlights on the green leaves capture daylight to make this plant glow in the shade.
Brunnera Jack Frost will illuminate a dark spot in the garden, from early spring until late fall. In spring, mature clumps of this no-care perennial will produce frothy bouquets of light-blue flowers to touch the hearts of all.
Oh! I forget to mention its elegance. Holy Cow, what elegance! In every garden, no matter how messy or haphazard the flower composition, this plant exudes serenity and good taste.
If this perennial becomes over used, as it surely will by the end of the 2012 season, some designers will feel uncomfortable using it to create a flowerbed with an original, exclusive vision. That is exactly what lies at the heart of the disdain for the Perennial of the Year award. It may be good for retail business, but as designers, it’s not good for ours. Few, if any, should sympathize with us. Instead, rejoice that another great plant has been "found".