While attending a marriage seminar on communication, Tom and his wife Peg listened to the instructor declare, "It is essential that husbands and wives know the things that are important to each other." He asked Tom, "Can you describe your wife's favorite flower?" Tom leaned over, touched his wife's arm gently and whispered, "Pillsbury All-Purpose, isn't it?" The rest of the story is not pleasant. —Author unknown

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Baptisia, the Perennial Plant of the Year

Newer, when it comes to plants, is not always better. Take, for example, the selection of Baptisia australis as the 2010 Perennial Plant of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association.

Baptisia australis photo by PPA

Baptisia australis photo by PPA

It’s a gorgeous, easy-care North American native plant with year-round interest.

Sadly, I don’t grow it because I don’t have much full-sun space (it can take some shade but needs staking—and I’m just not up for that).

But I should find a spot for it somewhere; it’s resistant to deer browsing because alkaloids in the plant give it a bitter taste.

Plant in well-drained soil; it’s drought-tolerant once established.

It’s hardy almost anywhere, from Zones 3 to 9.

Violet-blue flowers in early summer last about 3 to 4 weeks, then create beautiful brown seed pods that look great in dried flower arrangements.

Use it in the back of the border; it grows 3 to 4 feet tall in a clump about that wide.

Don’t divide and move baptisia. Because it grows with a long tap root, once you plant it, it wants to stay put. That’s part of its low-maintenance charm.

The common name, false indigo, comes because it was used as a substitute dye for the true indigo plant. The Latin name is derived from the Greek word bapto, meaning to dip or immerse; australis is Latin for southern.

Check out plantsman Tony Avent’s article about baptisias—he calls them “Redneck Lupines.”

Where can you get it? Baptisia is available from many mail-order sources, including Tony’s Plant Delights (he carries six different baptisias), Jung Seed (with four from the PrairieBlues series developed at the Chicago Botanic Garden) and Garden Crossings, a Michigan-based mail-order company (six kinds).

Go with this oldie. It’s a goodie.

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