Gardeners take note: If you're not keeping up with the Perennial Plant Association's Perennial of the Year winners, you're missing out on a tremendous resource that lets you know the best plants to have in your garden.
Announcing the 2010 perennial of the year: Blue False Indigo, Baptisia australis, and Amorpha fruticosa (desert false indigo). What? You thought there was supposed to be only one winner? Well, there is one official winner declared by the Perennial Plant Association: Baptisia australis. The others, except for Amorpha fruticosa, are names for the same plant. What's a little surprising to me is the fact that my American Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants has no listing  for "Baptisia australis." They list "A. fruticosa" under the genus Amorpha in the Fabaceae family of plants: Amorpha - "Genus of 15 species of deciduous shrubs from North America, found in dry, often sandy areas, such as prairies, scrub, and hills, and sometimes in woodland and on riverbanks." Their listing of the variety A. fruticosa has in parenthesis "Bastard indigo," and "False indigo." There's one photograph of A. fruticosa and it looks nothing like PPA's 2010 winner, Baptisia australis.
I hope I've not confused anyone by listing the different names above. I wanted to use this as an example of how it can sometimes be confusing when trying to find a particular plant. As a writer and researcher I have to determine the distinction from one or the other of many different varieties of plants (hybrids and open pollinated). This is why it's important to know the botanical versus the common name when you're hot on the trail of a new perennial you've decided you must have in your garden. Luckily, Baptisia is one of the more common perennials and it's found in gardens nationwide.
"The Perennial Plant of the YearTM program helps consumers select plants that perennial industry experts find to be outstanding and easily grown," said Steven Still in a press release. Dr. Still is the Executive Director of the Perennial Plant Association (Hilliard, Ohio). The award program for Perennial of the Year (POY) began in 1990; that year saw Phlox stolonifera take the award. Heuchera ‘Palace Purple' won in 1991, followed by Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam' (1992), Veronica ‘Sunny Border Blue' (1993), and Astilbe ‘Sprite' (1994), for the full listing of past winners visit PPA's Web page, you'll find the link at the end of this article.
Choosing the winner is a relatively simple process - it's based on the biggest vote getter. Perennial Plant Association members nominate plants they've evaluated and submit these for review. A selection committee takes it from there and after they've scrutinized the candidates, 3 or 4 plants are chosen to go on the ballot. PPA's Web site lists the following criterion that helps them decide the winner:
Suitability - does the plant have the capability to grow well within a wide range of climate conditions?
Low maintenance - always tops on my list of features is a plant's ability to practically grow itself.
Disease/pest resistant - this is an extremely important qualification for any plant that's going in my garden.
Availability - the winning plant must be readily available at most nursery/garden centers throughout the country (PPA didn't mention Internet garden centers, but finding plants online these days is relatively easy).
Four season interest - well, practically, for some plants. Baptisia dies back to the ground in winter, but you'll get plenty of showiness from bloom time in spring to snowfall and dieback in winter.
Propagating principles - asexual and seed are the means of reproduction looked at by the selection committee, the committee determines the ease by which a plant may be propagated.
If the above criteria is met and exceeded, a plant is on its way to becoming the Perennial of the Year.
A member of the legumes, Baptisia can be found in my garden, thanks to my wife who received a specimen from a friend who used to own a local herb growing business. She lost the tag (or was it I?) so we don't know the variety name, but I'm not complaining because it hasn't affected the plant's ability to do what a POY should. Baptisia like full sun, situated on a plot of ground with good drainage, and that's where our clump is located. I say clump now because we've had our plant long enough for it to form into its mature shape and size of 3 to 4 foot tall and wide, a nice shrub-like plant that is perfect for the back border in my wife's herb garden. This is one of those "first year sleep, second year creep, third year leap" perennials and it's obvious why it was chosen as the 2010 Perennial of the Year.
 The author regrets a mispelling of "baptisia" in the original article. This resulted in an inaccurate search in The American Horticultural Society A-Z encyclopedia of Garden Plants (Revised US Edition 2004). Be adivised that Baptisia (False indigo, Wild indigo) is listed on Page 160 with B. australis as a named variety within that listing. The author apologizes for any confusion this might have caused.