Meet 'Becky,' this year's star perennial plant

Professional group chooses hardy daisy as top selection for beauty, adaptability

In The Garden

January 26, 2003|By Nancy O'Donnell | By Nancy O'Donnell,New York Times News Service

Becky may sound like Tom Sawyer's girlfriend, but the Becky we're talking about here is the Perennial Plant of the Year for 2003.

Leucanthemum 'Becky' is a single, white daisy with sturdy stems that do not require staking.

Suitable for borders, containers or naturalized areas, 'Becky' grows to 3 feet in height, and begins flowering in late June. If deadheaded, the flowers will keep coming into September.

The flower took top honors as this year's perennial because experts judged it not only attractive but easy to grow and adaptable to many different parts of the country.

For those not familiar with the Perennial of the Year program, it was begun in 1990 by the Perennial Plant Association, a group of professionals within the horticultural field whose common goal is to promote the use of perennials.

Every year, these members elect a plant they feel best encompasses the following criteria: offers multiple seasons of garden interest, requires minimal maintenance, is easily propagated and can be cultivated successfully over numerous climate zones.

Just remember, the award has existed for only 13 years, so there are still many that are deserving and yet to be crowned. But if you are looking to begin a perennial garden or fill in a gap, here's a perfect place to start:

2003: Leucanthemum superbum 'Becky.' Hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9 (hardiness range for all unless otherwise noted) and requiring full sun (minimum of six hours of direct sunlight). Provide a soil rich in organic matter (so it retains adequate moisture rather than allowing it to leach right past the roots), yet one that is well drained (so the soil isn't constantly wet). Test your soil pH to ensure that it hovers between 6.5 and 6.8 (the preferred range for all the perennials unless otherwise noted).

'Becky' reaches 24 inches in width, with large 3- to 4-inch daisy blooms. Cut flower stalks to the ground after bloom, so basal foliage can rejuvenate for the fall garden. Divide every few years in early autumn. Cut all perennials back to ground level in the fall, unless otherwise noted.

2002: Phlox paniculata 'David.' A pure white, mildew-resistant, tall garden phlox that reaches upward of 40 inches with a width of 24 inches. Another perennial that enjoys an organically rich soil with excellent drainage and full sun. Blooms late July through August, sporting large, very fragrant, 6- to 8-inch wide panicles (round flower heads composed of clusters of smaller individual flowers). Excellent as a cut flower, especially if picked when the head is only about half in bloom. Divide every two to three years in early spring, once shoots emerge.

2001: Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' or feather reed grass. Locate in full to partial sun (four to six hours of direct sun) with a well-drained, organically rich soil. This grass is noninvasive, growing 48 inches tall and only 15 inches wide. The flower is a feathery, light-pink inflorescence in June. Leave standing to provide winter interest; cut back in spring. Divide every five to six years, in early fall. Often described as the "perpetual motion grass," due to its elegant movement in a slight breeze.

2000: Scabiosa columbaria 'Butterfly Blue,' the pincushion flower. Hardy in zones 5 to 10. It prefers a well-drained, organically rich soil in full sun with a pH around 7.0 to 7.2. Deadhead (pinch off spent flowers) and it will bloom continually June through August. Roughly 8 inches in height with flower stalks extending to 12 inches; the wiry, bluish foliage offers its own interesting feature. Divide in early spring, but don't cut back in autumn; simply prune out dead stalks come spring. Tolerates drought very well.

1999: Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii 'Goldsturm' or orange coneflower. Prefers full to partial sun and a well-drained, organically rich soil. One of the best known and longest-blooming perennials (July through October), not to mention an outstanding cut flower, it's often called black-eyed Susan. Reseeds rather prolifically, making it excellent for mass plantings. Reaches 20 to 30 inches in height and 18 to 24 inches in width; divide early spring, every four to five years.

1998: Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus,' purple coneflower, blooms July through September. Drought-tolerant, with a preference for full sun coupled with a well-drained soil. Excellent cut flower with its dark purple-pink, daisy-like blossoms and protruding center cone. Height of 36 inches with a spread of 24 inches; provides winter interest and will reseed if not cut down in the fall.

1997: Salvia 'Mainacht' or 'May Night' requires full sun. Prefers well-drained soil and will tolerate drought once established, but never soggy soil. Tiny dark blue flowers line 10-inch vertical spikes from May to early June. Divide in early fall, once the crown begins to die out. Fragrant plant reaching 20 inches in both height and width.

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