As I watch the MLB playoffs inch closer to the World Series, my thoughts turn to the question of what makes an MVP? What are those qualities found in the best standout of the year? Sheer skill, nearing perfection, is certainly a factor. Often such a performance is lightening caught in a bottle, other times it's a perennial quality that makes itself felt year after year.
An MVP is a true leader, taking charge when needed but also knowing when to step back and provide support so other role players can shine. Most importantly, an MVP improves the group as a whole, whether that group is a baseball team or, as in my case, a garden.
So I reflected on the team members of my garden this past year to find my MVP--Most Valuable Plant.
The Canadian columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) launched the season with a floriferous start, as always.
The salvias bloomed profusely, albeit only for a relatively short time.
(S. nemorosa 'Plumosa' hanging over the dugout railing.)
The astilbe made a surprise comeback from what I had thought was certain death. But this would earn it Comeback Player of the Year, not the coveted MVP. It was far too weak and scraggly for that.
I raved about my Coleus all year.
It was certainly vigorous and colorful, and I'm overwintering a portion of it, making it into a sort of perennial. Is that enough to earn it the award? Maybe, but it did nearly kill my spearmint and it hasn't proven it can go the distance and make it into next year's garden.
My Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum) was definitely a leader in this unusually rainy, gloomy season. He showed off his dusty purple blooms on tall, proud stalks. And he attracted the one measly Monarch that wandered into my yard this year.
But compared to his performance last year, 2009 was a bit of a letdown. Admittedly, the lack of sunlight and butterflies isn't his fault by any means, but he bloomed later than usual and just wasn't as vigorous as previous years or as covered in charming winged insects.
The lilac made a good showing with weeks of fragrant blooms that were so big they practically drooped off the stems. Since my forsythia languishes in shade, this is pretty much the only flowering shrub in my garden at this point.
But it wasn't just about flashiness. No, this year I decided, as the sole member of the awards committee here, that the 2009 Most Valuable Plant is...Great Blue Lobelia! (Lobelia siphilitica)
This plant has really come into its own in the past couple years, and now it's a reliable beauty despite its less-than-showy location, which is my fault for poor planning. It's reached its maximum height of about 3 feet, and this year it bloomed in late July, a little to the early side for this species, just when it was becoming apparent that the season would be unavoidably disappointing and other summer bloomers were running out of steam prematurely.
It was a nectar source for the bumblebees that hung around the Joe Pye and the goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis). Speaking of other plants, the lobelia created a rich blue contrast to that goldenrod's cheery yellow and, simultaneously, a scatter of color amidst the foliage of spent peonies and obedient plants (Physostegia virginiana). For more proof, see the header photo.
(A team player with goldenrod.)
(Flowers among the foliage.)
While managing all this, the lobelia survived constant pummeling from gutter overflow. I sited it in a poorly drained, frequently flooded spot on purpose because of its water tolerance, and even in this year's exceptional rains, it never broke a stem under the weight of the mini waterfall above it, nor did it drown in its near-permanent puddle.
I don't have as many pictures of this team leader as I should, but I can assure you this plant shared its beauty with me every day. Located just outside my front door in the back of the border, the lobelia was the first plant that greeted me as I walked outside each day.
Congratulations, Great Blue Lobelia!