Plant of the year

Every creative area has its own awards: the Oscars, the Junos, and the Grammies are all fun to watch. The PPA Plant of the Year awards aren’t quite as well known, but those of us in the business still tune in to see which plant the Perennial Plant Association will name as the year’s best perennial.

As with the Oscars, part of the fun is criticizing the votes, asking “what were they thinking when they gave the award to him/her/that?” But some years, you just have to agree that the awards got it all right.

In plants, this is one of those years. “Millenium,” which is a variety of allium, was chosen as plant of the year, and there is almost nothing to critique about it.

It’s not a brand new plant – it was first registered by a Massachusetts plant breeder in 2000, which explains the name. (The spelling mistake is deliberate, but the way – the breeder registered the plant spelling it with one ‘n’, and so that is now the correct spelling for this plant.)

The award is a way of recognizing how much various landscapers appreciate a plant that’s been around for a while. We’ve been using Millenium extensively in Water’s Edge plantings for many years, and are absolutely thrilled by its performance.

Onions, chives and garlic are all alliums; the ornamental varieties, like Millenium, have had the scent and edible roots bred out of them, and focus instead on long-lasting purple flowers. Most are spring blooms, but Millenium comes to its peak in late summer, providing a great blast of colour at a time when most summer blooms are fading and the fall blooms haven’t yet come into play.

Millenium is hardy all the way from zone nine to zone three, so it grows quite well in our zone four gardens. Like most alliums, it’s a sun-loving plant that likes well-drained soil, and is quite drought-resistant. It has glossy, dark green foliage that doesn’t wilt in the mid-summer heat. The leaves are 10 to 15 inches tall, which is short for an allium, but that helps the plant to remain upright.

The blooms are perfectly spherical purple balls, and grow at a uniform height. The plants grow in tight clusters, so when the blooms emerge they create an impressive mass of colour in the garden. We will sometimes plant a large mass of them on their own, but they also look fantastic at the front of a perennial bed, backed by bright orange or yellow blooms or interspersed with ornamental silver foliage.

The blooms last for a month, and they also dry beautifully, retaining interesting structure and even holding on to a blush of colour when dry.

Most alliums tend to reseed to excess, spreading too easily if you’re not careful. But at least half of Millenium’s seeds are infertile, so the problem is much easier to control. When you do want to extend a patch, it’s easy to cut and divide a clump, either in spring or fall.

And to cap it all off, Millenium even manages to attract the right kind of wildlife. Pollinators like butterflies and bees absolutely love it, while deer, chipmunks and rabbits generally leave it alone.

If you’re looking for a great, versatile, and easy-to-care-for splash of purple in the garden, ask us about planting some Millenium. But call us soon – we placed most of our perennial orders last fall, and after the award announcement, nurseries are almost certain to run out of stock this year.



Posted in In the Garden.