It's that time of year again! The World Series is underway, and again the White Sox are nowhere to be found, although I can't say I'm surprised. They had a tough year with a lot of ups and downs. It was not unlike this year in the garden, which saw bumper lettuce harvests, crippling mini-droughts, destructive downpours, and a lovely indian summer, to name just a few happenings.
As I enjoy the garden's final act, I can't help but reflect on the performances of individual plants and their success (or failure) as a team. And so it's time to name this year's MVP, Most Valuable Plant.
To be considered for the MVP award, a plant must make a lasting contribution to the garden, both through its own beauty/productivity and by enhancing that of others.
It must truly be a team player and make the entire garden look good, but still be able to carry the team when other, less stellar, plants are struggling.
The cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) were definite contenders. They bloomed bright crimson for weeks on end, really acting as the standouts in a very robust rain garden.
But their performance was really limited to this one area of the garden, so they didn't quite make the MVP cut.
The native bee balms (Mondarda fistulosa) turned in an incredible performance. After three years of being bench-warmers, with nothing notable about them except for their preponderance for powdery mildew, these uniquely shaped flowers bloomed vigorously and became a new favorite of the bumblebees. But I think that "Comeback Player of the Year" would be a more accurate award than MVP.
The yellow coneflowers (Ratbida pinnata) had a break-out year, bringing bright yellow to a backyard border full of prairie plants. They were so vigorous, however, that they almost obscured the nodding wild onions (Allium cernuum) and rattlesnake masters (Eryngium yuccifolium). An MVP can't be overbearing; they won't be winning it this year, but will hopefully be in the running again soon.
One perennial contender (pun intended) had a surprisingly dismal year: Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatoruim maculatum). This towering favorite typically dominates the midsummer with dusty lavender flowers that are a magnet for bees and butterflies. But this year its normally robust flowers were dull and short-lived, leaving a distinct absence in the garden.
Yet into this void stepped some unlikely heroes, the purple hyssops. Both the species Agastache foeniculum and the cultivar 'Blue Fortune' started blooming in July and the are just now, in October, finishing up.
Like their rookie year last year, the hyssops made great teammates with the 'David' phloxes, creating a complementary mix of textures, shapes, and colors. The bright white of the phloxes stood out beautifully against the hyssops, but once those faded the purple spikes of flowers kept this swath of the garden colorful through late summer.
They were constantly visited by bees, mostly bumblebees.
These plants had, shall we say, eagerly re-seeded last year. As a result I removed many seedlings this spring and it left me a little irritated. I figured the seedlings that remained would definitely not flower in their first year, but I was wrong. Just as the established plants finished blooming, the younger generation took over.
And the 'Blue Fortune' cultivars were planted only last fall, but you wouldn't know it by their robust showing.
They carried much of the front garden through nearly half the gardening season; they stepped in when another player went down; they helped support pollinators; and with their unique shape and spicy anise scent they made a multi-faceted contribution.
For all these accomplishments, I say congratulations Purple Hyssops, you are the 2011 MVP!