'Northwind' Will Blow You Away! An Interview with the Perennial of the Year

AUG 04


Winning awards isn't just for movie stars, musicians and the like; plants also compete for accolades. Each year since 1990, the Perennial Plant Association nominates a number of perennials that can stand up to some tough criteria: relative disease and pest resistance, suitability for a wide range of climatic conditions, low maintenance, availability and multiple seasons of interest. The members vote and a winner is chosen. This year, the worthy perennial selected by the association is Panicum virgatum 'Northwind' - or 'Northwind' Switch Grass.

Now let's get up close and personal with 'Northwind' to find out what made her worthy of the title Perennial of the Year. Here is our exclusive interview with this year's garden champ:

Stadler Nurseries: Congratulations on being selected for such a prodigious award! How does it feel?
'Northwind': It is truly an honor - I am one of only three ornamental grasses to win the award so being named Perennial of the Year is very special to me.
SN: How exciting! So, let's get to know you better. Now is your chance to unabashedly brag. Tell us, what makes you stand out above the rest?
N: (As she rustles her grassy sprays): I'd love to talk about myself! As you can see, I have blue-green foliage that stands out in a crowd. My leaves reach five feet tall and are topped by golden-yellow, finely-textured flower panicles, making my full height about six feet. I maintain a slender, upright figure of about two feet wide.
SN: Stunning! And to enhance your beauty, what conditions help you thrive? 
N: I love sunshine! I perform best in full sun, but am versatile enough to be able to tolerate some light shade. Once I get established I am drought tolerant. And as far as soil goes, I am adaptable to almost anything.
SN: Even the clay and rocky soil around here?
N: I am easy to grow - I can pretty much go anywhere!
SN: That being said, do have favorite hang out spots?
N: Absolutely. I love being in native, meadow- or prairie-style gardens. I also enjoy adding texture to a sunny border garden. My height is great for hiding electrical boxes or providing privacy screens around pools and patios. And don't forget to bring me inside; my foliage and plumes are useful in flower arrangements.
SN: This all sounds to good to be true - don't tell us you're deer resistant too?
N: Deer seldom bother me. And if you can believe it, I have never had any serious problems with insects or diseases!
SN: Northwind, we are liking you more and more! Speaking of, 'Northwind' is a different name - can you tell us about it?
N: Yes I can. My full name is Panicum virgatum 'Northwind'. Panicum is actually derived from the Latin, pan, for bread because for centuries species of panicum were used to make flour. The name 'Northwind' is a little more current. In 1983 Roy Diblik selected the grass after growing it from a collection of seeds from plants in South Elgin, Illinois. He named it 'Northwind' after opening Northwind Perennial Farm in 1992.
SN: Very cool story! Thank you for sharing and for telling us about yourself. You, my dear, sound like a true garden gem!

We think it is safe to say to all the gardeners out there, if you are looking for an outstanding perennial to add graceful texture to a sunny garden, look no further than Northwind Switch Grass!