In the Garden:
Middle South
March, 2012
Regional Report

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Brunnera 'Jack Frost' is a bit of eye candy in the shade garden.

Chillin' with 'Jack Frost' Brunnera

I wasn't a bit surprised to read that Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' has been selected by the Perennial Plant Association as the Perennial Plant of the Year for 2012. I've kept watch on the newer cultivars of brunnera for several seasons, especially those featuring heavily-variegated foliage, and enthusiastically agree they're eye candy for the shade garden.

It's important for Middle South gardeners to note, however, that these plants aren't for everyone. Brunneras, commonly called Siberian bugloss and native to Eastern Europe, require consistent moisture and are not happy in hot weather.

In fact, in Armitage's Garden Perennials (second edition), Allan Armitage describes the plants as doing well in zones 3 to 7a, but says to expect the species and older cultivars, such as 'Variegata'' and 'Hadspen Cream', to struggle.

'Jack Frost' and its newer kin, 'Looking Glass' and 'King's Ransom', are less persnickety in their demands for cool soil and ample moisture. However, even they may suffer to some extent in the unbearable months of August and September.

So, why should you give 'Jack Frost' a go?

As you would guess from its name, Jack's foliage is unmatched. Stunning, heart-shaped leaves are frosty silver with green venation and a thin green margin. Airy clusters of tiny, clear blue flowers reminiscent of forget-me-nots (Myosotis) stand above the plant's 15-inch tall and 18-inch wide mounding form in spring. As flowers fade, the leaves quickly mature to 5 or 6-inches wide.

The bold foliage of 'Jack Frost' plays nicely against ferns, hostas, and other shade-loving perennials. In addition to beds and borders, it can be used under tall hardwood trees as an informal ground cover, as filler between shrubs, or in containers made for low-light conditions.

Plus, the brunnera looks fabulous for a long period of time -- from early spring well into summer. It has no maintenance requirements beyond supplemental irrigation during dry spells, and is relatively free of pests and diseases. Even deer find it unpalatable.

The Perennial Plant of the Year program, which began in 1990, has given garden consumers a long line of winners. Previous picks include 'Becky' Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum superbum) in 2003, 'Walker's Low' cat mint (Nepeta racemosa) in 2007, and blue wild indigo (Baptisia australis) in 2010. Winners must be suitable for a wide range of growing climates, require little maintenance, have multi-season interest, and suffer little to no trouble from pests and disease.

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