Great Plant Picks

For 15 years the pros at the Miller Botanical Garden publish a yearly list of outstanding plants for maritime Pacific Northwest gardens. Great Plant Picks is an educational outreach program committed to building a comprehensive palette of outstanding plants.


Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ –  2003

The Great Plant Picks crew staffed a booth at the recent Northwest Flower and Garden show in Seattle. To date GPP has featured more than 900 exceptional plants recommended for gardeners living west of the Cascade Mountains from Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada.

That said, even if you don’t live in a Zone 8 climate similar to the northwest United States, it’s still worth looking at the selections.  Many will work in colder winters.

Returning home with the GPP list I discovered I had many of their previous years’ picks in my own garden. All told their website database has 922 plants listed. Click a winner’s picture to go to the GPP website entry for plant.

Great Plant Pick 2012

Campanula portenschlagiana – 2009


Sarcococca ruscifolia (Sweetbox) – 2009

sarcacocca-buds - 2009

Sarcococca buds

Ilex crenata 'Dwarf Pagoda'

Ilex crenata ‘Dwarf Pagoda’ –  2012

Ilex crenata 'Dwarf Pagoda' detail

Ilex crenata ‘Dwarf Pagoda’ detail

This year’s selections featured crocuses, hardy fuschias, hellebores, epimediums and a few confiers.

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The Elizabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden (full name) is the former residence of Pendleton and Elisabeth Carey Miller. The Millers purchased five acres of land in 1948 with expansive views over Puget Sound and the Olympic Peninsula. Elizabeth C. Miller died in 1994 and the garden was left in her will to serve as a resource for the horticultural community.

Elizabeth C. Miller also founded a library at the University of Washington. Many serious gardeners west of the Cascade mountains visit the library and the adjacent University of Washington Botanical Gardens.

The library contains over 15,000 books and 500 periodicals on gardening techniques. Works cataloged include selecting and growing ornamental plants, vegetable and herb gardening, pests and diseases, garden design and history, northwest gardens to visit, horticulture in urban environments, botany and plant ecology, environmental science and native floras from around the world. The library boasts nearly a thousand current mail order catalogs from the United States and Canada, with an emphasis on Pacific Northwest nurseries.

A Gardener Poet and Okinawa Elders

Dahlias with going to seed grass and parsley

Dahlias and grass  arrangement

You might wonder what a poet laureate of the United States and the elders of the Japanese island of Okinawa have in common.  Simply that gardeners live longer.

Whether you are growing vegetables in a p-patch or tending a backyard perennial border, evidence suggests the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of working the land are an “age old” fact.  In Japan on the island of Okinawa researchers have studied the island elders, especially those folks who have made it to one hundred.

According to Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones, “…almost all Okinawan centenarians grow or once grew a garden. It’s a source of daily physical activity that exercises the body with a wide range of motion and helps reduce stress. It’s also a near-constant source of fresh vegetables.”

Balloon Flower

Balloon Flower

Buettner adds, “…older Okinawans have eaten a mostly plant-based diet most of their lives. Their meals of stir-fried vegetables, sweet potatoes, and tofu are high in nutrients and low in calories. The vine, Goya aka “Bitter Melon” (Momordica charantia), with its antioxidants and compounds that lower blood sugar, is of particular interest. While centenarian Okinawans do eat some meat, it is traditionally reserved only for infrequent ceremonial occasions and taken only in small amounts.”


Throughout his long life of 101 years (1905-2006), Stanley Kunitz created poetry and tended gardens. A small book, The Wild Braid:  A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden, was published a year after he died. The book grew out of conversations between Stanley and Genine Lentine, also a poet. Many of their talks took place during daily rounds at Stanley’s seaside garden in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

The Round

Light splashed this morning
on the shell-pink anemones
swaying on their tall stems;
down blue-spiked veronica
light flowed in rivulets
over the humps of the honeybees;
this morning I saw light kiss
the silk of the roses
in their second flowering,
my late bloomers
flushed with their brandy.
A curious gladness shook me.

So I have shut the doors of my house,
so I have trudged downstairs to my cell,
so I am sitting in semi-dark
hunched over my desk
with nothing for a view
to tempt me
but a bloated compost heap,
steamy old stinkpile,
under my window;
and I pick my notebook up
and I start to read aloud
the still-wet words I scribbled
on the blotted page:
“Light splashed…”

I can scarcely wait till tomorrow
when a new life begins for me,
as it does each day,
as it does each day.

—Stanley Kunitz from The Collected Poems, 2000.

Room for a White Garden?

While writing a previous post I stumbled on this blog created by eight employees of the Sissinghurst Castle Gardens in Kent England, part of the UK National Trust, which has been protecting historic green spaces since 1864.

Yucca Bloom

Yucca bloom in my garden

The gardens contain Vita Sackville-West’s famous white garden.

The Sissinghurst gardners wrote that  “…the concept of an actual white garden, or Vita’s ‘Grey garden’ was not properly conceived until 1939. This is when Vita imagines a garden full of white, silver and green plants…”

Their post got me thinking about what was blooming white in my own garden.




White hydrangea

Hydrangea serrata 'Shiro Fuji'

Hydrangea serrata ‘Shiro Fuji’

Primula seiboldii

Primula seiboldii

Clematis 'Huldine'

Clematis ‘Huldine’