Since 1990, the Perennial Plant Association (PPA) has sponsored the Perennial Plant of the Year® program. Each year members select a superior performing perennial to highlight and promote. Nominations are made by members and winners are decided by ballot. Criteria for nomination includes it must perform well across a wide range of climates, be widely available and easy to propagate in order to supply demand, be relatively low maintenance and easy to grow so the average gardener has a high likelihood at being successful with it, and the plant displays ornamental appeal over a long portion of the growing season.
The 2009 Perennial Plant of the Year® winner is golden hakone grass (macra ‘Aureola'). The golden-green foliage and soft, cascading habit has made this shade tolerant perennial grass a favorite for years among gardeners. With a limited selection of ornamental grasses that are tolerant of shaded locations, golden hakone grass is a great addition. In these darker, shaded garden locations, the glowing, golden foliage easily stands out, often serving as a great focal point. Plants are clump forming, grow slowly, and do not need frequent division. In fall the foliage can take on pink and bronze tones.
The graceful, arching growth of hakone grass typically reaches a foot or so in height and is commonly used in group plantings or as a border plant with other perennial. It provides a great accent in texture and form and mixes nicely with other common shade-tolerant perennials like hostas. The foliage form is reminiscent of a compact growing bamboo making this grass a nice choice to include in Japanese gardens and gardens in general where one is trying to create an Oriental flavor. The small flowers golden hakone grass produces in summer are not readily noticeable.
Photo 2: The foliage of golden hakone grass contrasts nicely with many other plants. Mary Meyer
The botanical name of this plant (Hakonechloa) is derived from the region in Japan where it is native (Hakon) and the Greek word for grass (chloa). It does best in moderately moist, acidic, well-draining soils high in organic matter and is adapted to openings in forests. Partial shade is best for this plant as full sun can cause some burning and lead to quicker drying out of soils. The deeper the shade, however, the greener the foliage color becomes.
Golden hakone grass is often listed as hardy to zone 5. However, many Minnesota gardeners in zone 4 have been successful with it. It has consistently survived year after year in many Minnesota locations without any special protection. Providing some insulation in more exposed locations and in zone 3 is recommended.
Besides Perennial Plant of the Year® winners, other great performing perennials tested as part of the University of Minnesota Annual and Perennial trials are featured at: www.florifacts.umn.edu
Past Perennial Plant of the Year® winners
2008 Geranium ‘Rozanne’ (not reliably zone 4 hardy)
2007 Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’
2006 Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Feuerhexe’
2005 Helleborus x hybridus
2004 Athyrium niponicum 'Pictum'
2003 Leucanthemum 'Becky'
2002 Phlox panniculata 'David'
2001 Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'
2000 Scabiosa columbaria 'Butterfly Blue' (not reliably zone 4 hardy)
1999 Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii 'Goldsturm'
1998 Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus'
1997 Salvia 'Mainacht' (May Night)
1996 Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red'
1995 Perovskia atriplicifolia
1994 Astilbe 'Sprite'
1993 Veronica 'Sunny Border Blue'
1992 Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam'
1991 Heuchera micrantha 'Palace Purple'
1990 Phlox stolonifera