Grab your garden notebooks and write it down, the 2012 Perennial Plant of the Year is Brunnera m. 'Jack Frost' PP13859.
Don't ask me what all of that means, I just call it Brunnera 'Jack Frost.'
This variety of Brunnera was introduced in 2000 by Walters Gardens Inc. of Zeeland, Mich. and according to their website (www.waltersgardens.com), the plant also was a runner-up for the award in 2010. The plant chosen that year was Baptisia australis.
You may wonder why you should care what the Perennial Plant Association has to say. The reason is because they are the ones who pretty much set the standard for what you find in your garden centers. The PPA is made up of professional growers from all over the country who not only research and cultivate new and existing plants, but they sell them as well. Since the business of plants is ... well, their business, they have to promote only the best in the industry. Otherwise, the customers won't be happy, and no one wants that.
The Perennial Plant Association keeps up with all of the latest research going on within the botanical world. They promote the use of perennials with their plant selections, which are voted on by the membership, and they award scholarships to undergraduate students with an interest in perennials because they are the future of the industry.
So when the PPA announces a plant they believe will be a hit in your garden, you will probably want to snag a few or more for yourself.
I was excited to see Brunnera as next season's pick. I love this plant. Ten years ago, I had never heard of it, but I did know about the tender perennial Myosotis sylvatica, commonly called Forget-Me-Not. The first time I saw the flowers from the seeds I sprinkled over my garden more than 30 years years ago, I was in love. The flowers on this plant are blue. Not purple or lavender as most ''blue'' plants are often called, but really, truly blue, like the sky is blue.
If I lived in the south, I would have these plants all through my garden. But up here in the cold, sometimes cruel, north, their potential for returning each year is hit or miss. The plants I grew so many years ago did come back two or three years in a row and then one spring, they didn't show. I haven't had much luck with them since.
And then someone told me about Brunnera. These plants are not Forget-Me-Nots and shouldn't be mistaken for those tiny mouse-eared plants, but if you don't care that Brunnera has much larger leaves and is a little bigger plant overall, you will be happy with the clusters of flowers that wave over the top of the mounds of foliage because they are practically twins of Forget-Me-Not blossoms.
Not only that, but Brunnera leaves are variable. They can be plain green or variegated, which I simply can't resist. The variety 'Jack Frost' is particularly special because as Walter's Gardens website describes it, ''The leaves of 'Jack Frost' are intricately detailed with a crackle-like finish. Though the leaves are dark green, they have a heavily frosted overlay which allows only the green veining to show through.'' Doesn't it sound heavenly?
Like Forget-Me-Not, Brunnera is a spring flowering plant, and it is a shade lover. It is perfect to grow alongside hostas, ferns and pulmonaria (lungwort). They also like moist soil, so planting them alongside a creek bed or garden pond overflow site would be a good location. Otherwise, under a tree where the ground is always cooler than where the sun beats down is the best place for them.
Curious about what didn't make it? According to Walter's Gardens, runner's up for the PPA selection include an ornamental grass Pancium v. 'Northwind,' a variety of Heuchera (Coral Bells) called 'Caramel' and a Chelone (turtlehead) called 'Hot Lips,' were nominated. Maybe one of those will be a future Perennial Plant of the Year.
Plan your gardens accordingly.