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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Wonders of "Plant Select"

Any chance you're interested in perennials that are colorful, but still Colorado tough? Trees and shrubs that look right at home with a Rocky Mountains backdrop, but still have enough eye appeal to turn heads? How about ornamental grasses that seem exotic, but perform like veterans in this challenging climate? Details of these gardening temptations and dozens more are the focus of Plant Select.

What is Plant Select?

Plant Select is a remarkable program run jointly by Colorado State University and Denver Botanic Gardens along with in-put from landscape and gardening professionals, like our experts here at Tagawa Gardens.

Plant Select's goal is to find plants that thrive from the High Plains to the intermountain regions. The program is now in its fourteenth year of promoting plants that are under-used, under-appreciated, and in some cases, virtually undiscovered until they enter the Plant Select evaluation process.

Most of the Plant Select winners need only moderate to very little watering, once they're "established." That generally means they need a couple of seasons of growth to develop the robust rootsystem that will help them become drought-tolerant. The Plant Select varieties are largely low-maintenance and fairly pest-free.

For example....

Okay, let's talk specifics. One of the 2011 Plant Select winners that's on the top of my "must have" list is "Grand Mesa" beardtongue. Here is the official Plant Selection description: "Stunning cobalt blue spikes in early spring last for nearly two months. Dense mat of evergreen rosettes turn a lovely orange-red in winter." I mean really. Who wouldn't want a few of these in their garden?

Like all Plant Select winners, Grand Mesa beardtongue had to survive a three- to five-year testing and review trial before it could even be nominated for inclusion. If the plants don't make the mark, they don't make the list.

Another 2011 winner that will find its way home to my garden: "Blonde Ambition" blue gramma grass. Plant Select calls it "An impressive highly ornamental form of Western native grass with tall, upright stems. Showy chartreuse, aging-to- blonde seed heads hold their straight shape and are displayed high above the foliage through the winter." Need I say more?

A Mix of Old and New

Some of the Plant Select winners have been around for a while, but simply haven't received the attention they deserve. One of this year's winners is Partridge Feather. It's soft and silvery, but tough as nails. My 110-pound black lab, ("Jake," just for the record) used it for years as a bed during his afternoon nap. Jake is gone now, but the Partridge Feather has never missed a beat. It's still big and thriving, and sends up tiny yellow flowers which you can keep or snip off, depending on your preference.

Let's not overlook Plant Select's great list of trees and shrubs. One of my favorites (now growing happily in my back yard) is "Hot Wings" Tatarian maple. What a stunner! It has brilliant red samaras. We called this sort of winged seed "helicopters" as kids. The Plant Select description says "Hot Wings' scarlet red samaras contrasting with the rich green foliage gives it a "Christmas in July" appearance. Slow-growing, but worth the wait.

Need design help?

You're in luck! Plant Select offers beautiful pictures of a variety of free, downloadable landscape plans and ideas. The illustrations help you see what plants play well with eachother, and show exactly how to contrast colors and textures for a lush, natural-looking garden.

Where to next?

Your next stop should be at the Plant Select website, http://www.plantselect.org/
Pictures of all of the winners, their latin names, their mature size and growing conditions and several landscape plans are laid out in a very user-friendly way.

Or just come see us at Tagawa's. We have dozens of the Plant Select winners, with plenty of advice and encouragement to help you get up and running on your own impressive Plant Select garden.