Hartley Magazine

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Don’t Miss Great Plant Picks—a Northwest website that’s good for gardeners everywhere

Hunting for new ornamental plants? The web is a terrific place to start. But good, reliable sources don’t always pop up first in a Google search.

So, here’s the Northwest’s best-kept internet gardening secret—Great Plant Picks. Started in 2001 as an outreach educational arm of the Elisabeth Carey Miller Botanical Garden in Seattle, Great Plant Picks (GPP) is a highly informative website that features photos and descriptions of 850 fascinating ornamentals.

Search for a specific plant, or choose from a series of lists. You’ll find lists grouped by type, such as roses or rhododendrons, as well as by requirements—such as shade, drought tolerance, or interesting foliage. Just click on a plant to get the information you need.

There’s also a directory of Pacific Northwest and British Columbia nurseries (and a few in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, or Georgia) that carry a selection of GPP plants. Best of all, some nurseries, like All Season Plants, Dancing Oaks, Fancy Fronds, and Joy Creek Nursery, are mail order.

Now, I can just hear your objections. You live in the muggy Southeast, or in the Zone 4 area of the Northeast, or the winter wind-blasted Midwest. What can Zone 7/8 Northwest plants do for you?

Let me tell you.

Much of what lives in your garden right now may have started life in the Northwest’s growing fields and greenhouses. Horticultural industry professionals make up the GPP jury. By the time they decide to list a vine, shrub, tree, conifer, bulb, or perennial, those plants have met ten rigorous benchmarks.

Plants must be:

    1. at least hardy in USDA zones 7 and 8;
    2. long-lived (bulbs—two year minimum);
    3. vigorous and easy to grow by the average gardener;
    4. reasonably disease and pest resistant;
    5. seasonally interesting, preferably multiple seasons;
    6. available from at least two retail sources;
    7. adaptable to a variety of soil and fertility conditions;
    8. unthirsty (except aquatics);
    9. not invasive or overly vigorous;
    10. low-maintenance—little pruning, staking, or other fussy work.

Except for #1, these requirements are the gold standard we should all be using.

And zone-wise, many of the listed plants are hardier than the minimum. If you have high muggy heat—not usually found in the Pacific Northwest—a quick perusal of the lists will sort out those plants that can’t meet your needs. You’ll still find plenty of ideas to inspire your garden dreams.