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Into the Garden: Silvery 'Jack Frost' is showy, versatile

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Perennial Plant Association selected the Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' as the 2012 Perennial Plant of the Year.

Siberian bugloss, brunnera, heartleaf brunnera and false forget-me-not are common names for this perennial. It grows 12 to 15 inches tall and will spread to 20 inches. With blue flowers in the spring, frosty-silver leaves with green veins throughout the growing season, it's a multiseason plant.

The Perennial Plant of the Year designation began in 1990 to showcase a perennial that is a standout among its competitors. Perennials chosen are suitable for a wide range of growing climates, require low maintenance, have multiple-season interest and are relatively pest- and disease-free.

If you are looking for an excellent perennial for your next landscape project or for something reliable for your gardens, make sure to check out the Perennial Plant of the Year archive list at www.perennialplant.org. For information about other perennials, be sure to search the website's plant database.

I wrote about 'Jack Frost' several years ago when it was included in Tracy DiSabato-Aust's book, "50 High-Impact, Low-Care Garden Plants."

The criteria for DiSabato-Aust's list of 50 include the high-impact traits of multiseason interest, colorful foliage, long-lasting bloom, outstanding texture and architectural form. Her checklist of low-maintenance criteria includes: long-lived, heat- and humidity-tolerant, cold-hardy, deer-resistant, insect- and disease-resistant, minimal or no deadheading required, prospers without heavy fertilizing, doesn't require staking, infrequent or no division required for four or more years, infrequent or no pruning required to maintain decent habit, appearance or best flowering, noninvasive and drought-tolerant. Each of the author's 50 plants meet many or most of these criteria.

DeSabato-Aust writes that 'Jack Frost' Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla) is a perennial favored for its silver-frosted heart-shaped leaves with green veins. After flowering with baby-blue flowers in April and May, the leaves continue to enlarge during the summer, eventually reaching 6 to 8 inches.

The Perennial Plant Association calls 'Jack Frost' a real scene-stealer and very adaptable.

"It fits along the front of a shade border, in a shade container, or naturalized along a stream bank. The silver coloring of the foliage lights up a darker garden from spring to fall

"Brunnera is an excellent companion to hostas, ferns, epimediums, hellebores and heucheras, which also like the same shady, moist conditions.

"The rough leaf texture makes this perennial less palatable to browsing deer," they conclude.

I have 'Jack Frost' in a shade garden with heucheras, hostas and ferns. It's delightful.

Leaf mold

Horticulture magazine has interesting information in the January/February issue about leaf mold:

"Leaf mold is the residue of fallen leaves, after they've been broken down by weather, water and microorganisms. It is a soft, crumbly, brown material that takes about a year to form in nature. You can speed up the process by sealing leaves -- dampened first -- in black plastic bags. Small leaves can go in whole; larger leaves should be chopped or shredded first. Poke holes in the bags to provide some air circulation. Set the bags aside and within about six months the leaves will turn to leaf mold.

"Leaf mold can be spread on the garden like a mulch. It serves to suppress weeds (if piled three inches thick) and it improves the soil structure as it breaks down further. Leaf mold also supports the beneficial soil organisms that keep soil healthy.

"Instead of making leaf mold in bags, you can also chop the leaves and spread them on the garden in the fall. Contact with the soil will help them break down. The bag method, however, is advantageous in areas where high winds might blow the chopped leaves away, or in fire-prone areas where spreading dry leaves on the ground would be risky and possibly banned by law."

Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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