Every gardener has a favorite plant—or plants.
These prized possessions may offer unmatched multi-season beauty, survive tough conditions, or be a rare plant that you have searched the garden centers every year to find. Your connection with a special plant is unique. The joy of this plant cannot be replicated, but it could be enhanced by sharing landscape space with a ‘Plant of the Year’. Garden and plant associations use rigorous criteria to recognize favorite garden plants that are also dependable. Plants of the year hold a valuable title in the gardening world.
Add a few champions to your garden for exceptional beauty and dependability.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Awarded 2023 “Herb of the Year” by the International Herb Association, ginger is typically grown as an annual or container plant in Illinois, since it does not survive temperatures below 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Commercially produced for culinary use, this tropical plant requires an 8-10 month growing season before harvest of the mature rhizome. The gnarly, tan rhizome, or underground stem, has a strong, spicy flavor that is grown for a variety of culinary uses including baked goods, teas, and soups. When used fresh, ginger is considered a culinary herb; when ground or powdered, it is recognized as a spice.
Besides culinary uses, ginger makes a beautiful ornamental plant in any garden. With a clump-forming habit, reaching three feet tall, ginger’s strappy, bright green foliage adds a tropical flair to a garden landscape or patio container. Baby ginger, or small sections of the rhizome, can be harvested after four months of growth. With the same taste and texture, these immature sections lack the tough outer skin of a mature rhizome and do damage easily. To overwinter plants in Illinois, move them indoors before temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Once inside, the plant will go dormant for the winter, losing all the foliage until temperatures warm in spring.
‘American Gold Rush’ black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia x fulgida)
A long-standing favorite of many gardeners, ‘American Gold Rush’ black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia x fulgida) was selected as the Perennial Plant Association’s 2023 “Perennial Plant of the Year”. Each year, the association highlights a low-maintenance plant with multi-season interest which is pest-free and can be grown in a wide range of climates.
‘American Gold Rush’ is a hybrid nativar; there are over 30 Rudbeckia species native to America. Its bright golden flowers with deep brown centers cheerfully cover the green compact foliage. A pollinator favorite, it is hardy and reliable, growing best in well-drained soil and full sun (at least 6 hours a day). This cultivar was bred for resistance to Septoria leaf spot, a common disease that causes plant decline and is recognized by chestnut brown leaf spots.
To encourage continuous golden blooms from early summer through fall, consider deadheading or removing spent flowers throughout the summer. The prolific blooms of Rudbeckia also make dependable cut flowers with a long vase life. If spent blooms remain on the plant, the formed seed heads will lightly self-seed in the garden. New seedlings can be dug up and replanted in a more desirable location, or seed heads can be removed before they mature. A winter garden is filled with texture when dried seed heads are allowed to remain, and songbirds enjoy the treat. Although a tasty snack for some wildlife, Rudbeckia is not preferred by deer.
Photo Credit: American Gold Rush_Proven Winners
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brittnay Haag is a Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties. Her work focuses on youth horticulture education, specifically through school gardens and Jr. Master Gardener programs. Brittnay provides leadership for three county Master Gardener programs and is responsible for developing community programs and providing expertise in horticulture and environmental sciences.