There’s a big difference between Britain and North America in the ways in which awards are given to plants. In Britain, there’s really only one award that’s worth anything: the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM). The award has just been completely revised and updated, and the new RHS hardiness ratings applied to each of the just over 7000 ornamental and edible plants that now have the award.
Of course in a small country - England is the size of Pennsylvania – one award is fine for everyone. In North America, with its vast variety of climates, having just one award is far less useful. However, it’s only fair to say that the All-America Selections do a good job within narrow parameters by focusing only on seed-raised plants – ornamental annuals, herbs and vegetables. But, being industry-funded, they are not impartial and independent. And the Perennial Plant Association has its Perennial Plant of The Year™ award, chosen each year by the Association’s members.
But it’s local awards that count, so here in Pennsylvania we have the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Gold Medal Plants program, which features 212 plants but only cover trees, shrubs and vines – no perennials, annuals or edibles. In Missouri there’s the Plants of Merit scheme, covering 228 plants, although the only edibles included are ornamental ones. From the Elisabeth Carey Miller Botanical Garden in Seattle, WA, there’s the Great Plant Picks scheme with just under five hundred plants, but no edibles or annuals.
In the south there’s Athens Select, from the University of Georgia, which picks the best heat- and humidity-tolerant plant varieties while the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden has its FlameProof™ Plant Award, which at present includes over 350 plants, but only those that perform “from May right up until first frost”.
This American focus on state-by-state awards of course makes perfect sense, which makes it especially pointless for North American nurseries to crow about their plants having the AGM, an award for top performers in Britain – it’s just not relevant. Although occasionally a plant is good enough to be awarded on both sides of the Atlantic: Weigela Wine and Roses (‘Alexandra’) has an RHS AGM, and is also a Pennsylvania Gold Medal plant.
But I was interested to see that Helleborus x hybridus, given the Perennial Plant of The Year™ Award in 2005, has just been cut from the AGM list; rightly, it is seen as far too variable and gardeners just can’t be sure of getting a good plant under that name. And the whole point of all these awards is to recommend plants that gardeners can depend on.