A Peek at the 2003 Great Plant Picks

By: Tanya DeMarsh-Dodson

Tanya DeMarsh-Dodson has gardened since she could walk and has worked in the field of horticulture for more than twenty…

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If you are gardening as far south as Eugene, Oregon, or as far north as Vancouver, British Columbia, and west of the Cascade Mountains, then plants chosen for the Great Plant Picks designation are well worth considering in developing your landscape.

The Great Plant Picks Program selection committee is in its third year of building a comprehensive list of ornamental plants well suited for use in the Pacific Northwest. Plants are selected for their hardiness, disease resistance, ease of maintenance, and multiple seasons of interest. From the list of plants that will receive awards in 2003, I have selected a few woody plants that have not been widely used in gardens in the Pacific Northwest.

Davidia involucrata ‘Sonoma’. Photographs courtesy Great Plant Picks, except as noted

Davidia involucrata ‘Sonoma’. Photographs courtesy Great Plant Picks, except as noted

A real gift to gardeners is Davidia involucrata ‘Sonoma’, a selection of the dove or handkerchief tree that has been recently introduced to the Northwest. This cultivar blooms at an early age. No one now need wait the twenty years it often took for the species to produce the flower clusters that are the hallmark of the tree. ‘Sonoma’ not only flowers young, but it flowers heavily with large white, leaf-shaped bracts so plentiful it seems a flock of doves might be resting on its branches. The tree is upright in youth, broadly pyramidal with age, and can reach forty to fifty feet after many years. The leaves are bright green and heart shaped with distinctive veining and toothed edges, adding their own dynamic quality to the interplay of foliage characters in any landscape. Fall color is unpredictable and the leaves may drop without coloring, or change to dull yellows, or add fiery red and orange tones to the autumn repertoire. The fruit—round and brown—adds interest to the pattern of branches against a winter sky. The ornamental bark is orangish and marked with flaky brown patches. It is most noticeable in winter when the distraction of foliage and flower are absent. This tree blooms in late spring, a time when fewer plants are found in flower in Northwest gardens. It is free of any disease or pest problems, and grows well in sunny or partly shady sites. It is an exceptionally trouble free ornamental tree.

Malus transitoria ‘Golden Raindrops’. Photograph courtesy J Frank Schmidt & Son Co

Malus transitoria ‘Golden Raindrops’. Photograph courtesy J Frank Schmidt & Son Co

Another tree whose bloom adds ornament to a spring garden is Malus transitoria Golden Raindrops. This crabapple is unfazed by disease problems that have spoiled the ornamental quality of many cultivars of flowering crabs. Appearing in April, the white, delicate, star-like flowers are profuse. The foliage is unusual for a crab in both texture and color. The leaves are deeply cut, sometimes lobed, giving the tree a lacy appearance; they are silvery gray green when they emerge, although, by summer, they have turned to deep green. The tree is upright in youth but eventually vase shaped with horizontal secondary limbs reaching out from slender upright trunks; it will reach twenty feet in height and fifteen feet in width. The fall leaf color is not noteworthy but this is more than compensated for by abundant golden yellow fruit that persists on the tree well into December, glowing against the dark branches. Recently introduced but well trialed, ‘Golden Raindrops’ is a good choice for adding interest to your garden in more than one season. It offers a great deal and demands little.

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

Evergreen Shrubs

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ is a hybrid between two mahonias exotic to the Pacific Northwest: M. japonica and M. lomariifolia. It is one of the first of a group of hybrids to become readily available, adding a wonderful broadleaf evergreen shrub to the palate for gardeners in the Northwest. The foliage is distinctive. Each leave is held horizontally, is composed of seventeen to twenty-one leaflets, and may reach a length of up to several feet. The foliage is dark green in summer and often tinged reddish in cooler weather. It is densely held, giving the plant a compact, mannered, somewhat refined appearance distinctly different from that of our native Oregon grape (M. aquifolium). The lightly scented flowers may appear as early as December and last for several weeks. They are soft yellow and held above the foliage on spreading racemes like a crown, attracting over-wintering hummingbirds. The bark is ridged in an intricate netted pattern and adds to the plant’s ornamental value. ‘Charity’ handles sun and shade well and has shown no signs of disease or pest problems. Because it will grow to over ten feet in height and hold its older foliage for a long time, ‘Charity’ makes a great plant for screening as well as for general ornament.

Osmanthus delavayi

Osmanthus delavayi

Osmanthus delavayi is another broadleaf evergreen well suited for screening and hedges—better suited, because of its small, dark green leaves and dense habit, than many of the plants commonly used for these purposes. If left on its own, Delavay osmanthus has an elegant form with nicely layered branches. Thus, it is also a good choice for use as a specimen for accent in a mixed border. Unlike Mahonia x media ‘Charity’, this osmanthus has been fairly widely available in nurseries but not known well enough to be widely planted. Graham Stuart Thomas considers it “one of the choicest of evergreen shrubs.” Fragrant, white, tubular flowers appear in April and show well against the dark foliage. Left unpruned, Delavay osmanthus will reach ten to twelve feet in height and will usually be broader than tall; also amenable to pruning, it can be maintained at four to six feet. Neither pests nor diseases bother it, and it is reliably winter hardy. Delavay osmanthus grows well in sun or in a fair amount of shade and is tolerant of a variety of soils. It is an elegant and practical choice for almost any garden.

Cryptomeria japonica ‘Sekkan sugi’

Cryptomeria japonica ‘Sekkan sugi’

Two Conifers

Golden cryptomeria (Cryptomeria japonica ‘Sekkan sugi’) will contribute relatively consistent form and color to your garden, as do most conifers. Until recently, this selection of Japanese cedar was rarely available and little used. Its foliage has a fluffy, feathery quality not often found in other conifers. The new growth is creamy yellow and contrasts well with the lime green of the older leaves; on a gray day, this plant lights up the landscape. The habit is narrowly pyramidal and dense. When it reaches twenty feet in height, it is usually no more than six to seven feet wide at the base. Whereas most conifers require full sun to thrive, ‘Sekkan sugi’ will tolerate partial shade as well. This plant has no known pests or diseases, and tolerates pruning well. ‘Sekkan sugi’ is a stunning and useful introduction.

Sequoiadendron giganteum ‘Pendulum’

Sequoiadendron giganteum ‘Pendulum’

Sequoiadendron giganteum ‘Pendulum’ is another conifer that has only recently become more available from nurseries; it will add drama to any garden. Weeping giant sequoia, as it is known, is a selected form of one of the largest trees on earth, yet, in our gardens, it maintains an acceptable stature. Its habit provides the drama: it grows tall and pencil-like but twists unpredictably and throws out limbs at odd angles. It looks as though it might have come from a garden created by Dr Seuss. The tree is cloaked in blue green, spicily scented foliage, which hangs cord-like from the branches. The trunk quickly becomes stout; the bark is reddish brown and shaggy, adding to the ornamental effect. Weeping giant sequoia can reach thirty feet in height and five feet or so in width at the base. It requires sun, well-drained soils, and water while it is establishing; after that, its demands on a gardener are minimal.

Vitis vinifera ‘Purpurea’

Vitis vinifera ‘Purpurea’

A Colorful Grape

Purple-leafed grape (Vitis vinifera ‘Purpurea’) is a vine that has only recently become much more readily available. A selection of the grape used most for making wine, this one is purely ornamental. The leaves emerge reddish green with a metallic sheen in spring and become darker red as they age, often retaining a green undertone during the summer months. In autumn, the leaves assume deep reddish purple tones before they become crimson and drop to the ground. Accenting the foliage colors, clusters of deep purple blue black grapes are held on the vines even after the leaves fall. The gray shaggy bark also adds to its winter interest. As is true of most grapes, ‘Purpurea’ does not demand a rich soil, but does require good drainage, and appreciates a sunny site. While it will tolerate some shade, its leaf color and fruit production will be diminished. This grape will need room to grow, but can easily be contained to reasonable proportions with regular pruning. ‘Purpurea’ will give a great deal to your garden while demanding little time and attention.

In all, the selection committee has chosen over ninety plants as Great Plant Picks for 2003. I have mentioned only seven. Many other fine woody plants, perennials, and bulbs have received the award of Great Plant Pick. Any one of these plants would be appropriate choices for a garden in the Pacific Northwest to give ornament without adding tedious chores to your gardening routine. If you are curious about the other plants on the list, visit the Great Plant Picks web site at www.greatplantpicks.org. The 2003 winners will be announced to the general public in February and will be available in most retail nurseries by spring.


2003 Great Plant Picks

Perennials and Bulbs

Anemone nemorosa (1-9, 14-24)
wood anemone

Campanula garganica ‘Dickson’s Gold’ (1-9, 14-24)

Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ (4-24)

Dicentra ‘King of Hearts’

Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’ (1-9, 14-24)

Epimedium acuminatum 

Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ (4-9, 14-24)

Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’ (1-10, 14-17)

Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ (1-10, 14-24)

Iris foetidissima ‘Variegata’ (3-24)
variegated Gladwin iris

Lathyrus vernus

Penstemon ‘Blackbird’ (6-9, 14-24)

Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum ‘Variegatum’ (1-9, 14-17)
variegated Solomon’s seal

Polystichum polyblepharum (4-9, 14-24)
Japanese lace fern

Primula ‘Guinevere’

Veronica peduncularis ‘Georgia Blue’ (2-9, 14-24)

Shrubs and Vines

Actinidia kolomikta (male form) (1-9, 14-17)

Berberis darwinii (5-9, 14-24)
Darwin barberry

Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’ (3b-6, 15-17)
true dwarf boxwood

Clematis viticella ‘Madame Julia Correvon’ (2b-9, 14-17)

Clematis ‘Duchess of Albany’

Clematis x durandii (1-9, 14-17)

Cotinus ‘Grace’ (2-24)

Daphne x burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’ (2b-6, 14-17)

Daphne odora ‘Aureo-marginata’ (4-10, 12, 14-24)
variegated winter daphne

Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’ (4-24)
golden elaeagnus

Fatsia japonica (4-9, 14-24)
Japanese aralia

Holboellia coriacea

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Nikko Blue’(3b-9, 14-24)

Ilex aquifolium ‘Ferox Argentea’ (4-9, 14-17)

Ilex crenata ‘Convexa’ (3-9, 14-24)

Kalmia latifolia ‘Minuet’ (2-7, 16, 17)

Mahonia nervosa (2b-10, 14-24)
longleaf mahonia

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ (6-9, 14-24)

Myrica californica (4-9, 14-24)
Pacific wax myrtle

Nandina domestica Moon Bay™ (4-24)

Osmanthus delavayi (4-9 14-24)
Delavay osmanthus

Physocarpus opulifolius Diabolo (PBR) (1-10, 14- 17)

Prunus laurocerasus ‘Otto Luyken’ (4-6, 15-17)

Rhododendron ‘Jean Marie de Montague’

Rhododendron ‘Snowbird’

Rubus pentalobus (4-6, 14-17)

Stachyurus praecox (4-6, 14-17)

Syringa pubescens subsp. patula ‘Miss Kim’ (1-9, 14-16)

Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ (4-9, 14-24)

Viburnum davidii (4-9, 14-24)

Vitis vinifera ‘Purpurea’ (4-9, 14-24)

Trees and Conifers

Acer palmatum ‘Emperor I’ (2-10, 12, 14-24)

Acer palmatum ‘Shaina’ (2-10, 12, 14-24)

Acer palmatum ‘Shindishôjô’ (2-10, 12, 14-24)

Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’ (2-10, 12, 14-24)

Acer palmatum ‘Tamukeyama’ (2-10, 12, 14-24)

Acer palmatum ‘Ukigumo’ (2-10, 12, 14-24)

Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Orangeola’ (2-10, 12, 14-24)

Acer Pacific Sunset™

Azara microphylla (5-9, 14-24)
boxleaf azara

Betula albosinensis var. septentrionalis (3-11, 14-24)

Betula jacquemontii (3-11, 14-17)

Calocedrus decurrens (2-12, 14-24)
incense cedar

Cercidiphyllum japonicum (2b-8, 14-16, 18-20)
Katsura tree

Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Morioka Weeping’
(syn. C. japonicum var. magnificum f. pendu lum)

Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Green Arrow’ (2-6, 15- 17)

Chamaecyparis obtusa (2b-6, 15-17)
Hinoki false cypress

Clerodendrum trichotomum (5, 6, 15-17, 20-24)
harlequin glorybower

Cornus controversa ‘June Snow’ (4-9, 14, 18, 19)

Cryptomeria japonica Elegans Group (4-9, 14-24)
plume cedar

Cryptomeria japonica ‘Sekkan-sugi’ (4-9, 14-24)

Davidia involucrata ‘Sonoma’ (4-9, 14-21)

Gingko biloba ‘Autumn Gold’ (1-10, 12, 14-24)

Larix kaempferi ‘Diane’ (1-9, 14-19)

Magnolia denudata (3b-9, 14-24)
Yulan magnolia

Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ (3b-9, 14-24)

Magnolia x kewensis ‘Wada’s Memory’ (2b-9, 14- 24)

Magnolia liliiflora ‘Nigra’ (2b-9, 14-24)

Magnolia sieboldii (4-9, 14-24)
Oyama magnolia

Malus ‘Adirondack’ (1-11, 14-21)

Malus Red Jewel™ (1-11, 14-21)

Malus ‘Strawberry Parfait’ (1-11, 14-21)

Malus Sugar Tyme™ (1-11, 14-21)

Malus toringo subsp. sargentii ‘Tina’

Malus transitoria Golden Raindrops™

Metasequoia glyptostroboides (3-10, 14-24)
dawn redwood

Nyssa sinensis 

Parrotia persica (2b-7, 14-17)
Persian parrotia

Picea orientalis
Oriental spruce

Pinus leucodermis (2-11, 14-24)

Prunus x yedoensis ‘Akebono’ (3-7, 14-20)

Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’ (2-9, 14-21)
weeping willow-leafed pear

Sequoiadendron giganteum ‘Glaucum’ (1-9, 14-23)

Sequoiadendron giganteum ‘Pendulum’ (1-9, 14-23)
weeping giant sequoia

Styrax japonicus ‘Emerald Pagoda’ (4-9, 14-21)

Styrax obassia (4-9, 14-21)
fragrant snowbell

Trachycarpus fortunei (4-24)
windmill palm

Trochodendron aralioides (4-9, 14-24)
wheel tree

Tsuga canadensis ‘Pendula Group’ (2-7, 17)
weeping Canada hemlock

Tsuga heterophylla ‘Tharsen’s Weeping’ (2-7, 24-17)

All selections in the Great Plant Picks have been chosen for their suitability in USDA hardiness zones 7 and 8, which covers most of the Pacific Northwest, west of the Cascades. In the list above, zone numbers in parentheses refer to Sunset zones in the latest Sunset Western Garden Book (when available) and have been provided as an aid for readers beyond the Northwest. Plants may not perform equally well in all of the Sunset zones noted.

To learn more about Great Plant Picks, please visit our website at www.greatplantpicks.org. There you will find photographs, fact sheets, selection criteria, and current evaluation reports. To join our mailing list, please call (206) 363-4803.