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Plant Select Petites: small plants with large appeal

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Pat Hayward serves as executive director of Plant Select—a nonprofit brand hybridizing experts from Denver Botanic Gardens, Colorado State University and the growing industry in Colorado. Plant Select’s palette of durable plants for Western gardens is a popular program introducing perennials, trees, shrubs, ground covers, grasses and vines.
Last year, Plant Select branched out, introducing a new line of “Petites.” Hayward answered questions about Plant Select’s Petites.

Q. Why did Plant Select decide to introduce Petites, and when was the introduction?
Pat Hayward: A group of people came to us wanting to have a “sub-program” dedicated to smaller, very hardy plants for high altitude gardeners, for permanent containers and for rock gardens. They felt there was a demand and a need for special promotions because Denver really is a hub for rock gardening and alpine plants. They felt we had the resources not found anywhere else in the country.

Q. Was last year the first year for Petites?
Pat Hayward: Yes, the first year was 2013.

Q. How many Petites in the Plant Select picks so far? How many do you anticipate introducing next year?
Pat Hayward: The goal is to introduce three new plants each year and to include a variety of plant types. We now have six Petites and have already picked the three new candidates for 2015.

Q. Who are the experts picking the Plant Select Petites?
Pat Hayward: The group includes Panayoti Kelaidis and Mike Kintgen, senior curators at Denver Botanic Gardens; David Salman of High Country Gardens; Lauren Springer-Ogden; Kirk Fieseler and Karen Lehrer from Laporte Avenue Nursery in Fort Collins; and Bill Adams of Sunscapes Rare Plant Nursery.

Q. Are most of the Petites native plants? Or where do they come from, primarily?
Pat Hayward: They are from all over the world. The requirements are that they be hardy--we try for at least a USDA zone 4--they’re of smaller stature, and that they have more to offer than just pretty flowers. Many are from higher altitudes, but not all.

Q. What are the criteria used to make Petites selections?
Pat Hayward: Plants chosen for this program should meet the following criteria:
1. Have a high “cute factor”
2. Be small plants suitable for rock gardens, "hell strips," containers, patios, small gardens, roof gardens or fairy gardens.
3. Be adaptable to the region
4. Include unusual plants that deserve to be grown more, but are often produced in smaller quantities because of production challenges
5. Look good in a pot
6. Have special qualities that set them apart
7. Be attractive in or out of bloom

Q. What are the best applications of Petites in Front Range gardens?
Pat Hayward: Permanent containers such as hypertufa troughs, rock gardens, small space gardens, and even outdoor, perennial fairy gardens.

Q. Let's talk about permanent containers with Petites: Why is this a growing trend?
Pat Hayward: Container gardening has primarily been about annuals, vegetables and herbs. Most people don’t know that with the right container and the right plants, they can have attractive pots year round with plants that survive for many years. The hypertufa troughs we feature on many of our promotions are based on traditional English and European farm troughs. They don’t freeze and crack.
Another option is to plant in plastic pots and drop those into larger decorative pots with a few inches of bark chips as a sort of liner between the two pots. This acts as insulation to protect both the plants and the decorative pots. These are great options for people with small gardens, patio gardeners, renters, and people who want beautiful gardens but don’t want all the work and also for people who appreciate living beauty on a smaller scale.

Q. When can gardeners get Petites at their favorite garden centers?

Pat Hayward: Early April through the season for as long as the inventories last.

Q. And when can we get them out? Are they frost and cold tolerant enough to endure our unpredictable Springtime in the Rockies weather changes?
Pat Hayward: Many of them have already been hardened off (acclimated to the current conditions) by the growers, but consumers will want to ask when purchasing whether the plants have come from a greenhouse or from the outdoors.

Q. Does Plant Select offer plants for all sun conditions?
Pat Hayward: Most of the alpine plants come from sunny conditions with no trees, obviously, but we are trying to select plants for a wider range of conditions when we can.

Q. Do all the Petites have similar needs in terms of water, soil, sun?
Pat Hayward: So far, the ones we’ve selected are pretty adaptable to similar conditions.

Q. Please list a few places where people can find Petites. And are the plants always marked with a Plant Select label?
Pat Hayward: Yes, Petites have their own label. We’re currently updating our listing, but I do know that Nick’s Garden Center, Tagawa Gardens, Eaton Grove Nursery, Fossil Creek Nursery, Jordan’s Floral Gardens, Pope Farms and Urban Roots will definitely be carrying them.
I just sent word out to see who’s selling the Petites and am getting a lot of response. We already have twice as many places selling Petites as we did last year. Check this link for an updated list of places to purchase Plant Select Petites.

Q: How do gardeners know whether a plant belongs to Plant Select’s Petites palette?
Pat Hayward: The Petites have their own special label.

Q. How are you using Petites in your own garden?

Pat Hayward: I have a few areas that are dedicated to small plants and have many of them in my Masonville low-water gardens. I also have some of them--Clematis scottii, Geranium dalmaticum, Heuchera pulchella and dwarf pinyon pines--in more traditional garden areas. I’m planning to do some new hypertufa troughs this spring, too.

Q. Anything else you'd like to add about Plant Select Petites?
We have two great videos filmed at Laporte Avenue Nursery (wholesale and mailorder only) at the peak of bloom talking about rock gardening in general and hypertufa troughs.(Click this link to view videos.)

Our website plantselectpetites.org has pages with pictures for inspiration, ideas for companion plantings written by Lauren Springer Ogden, ideas and soil recipes for different types of container gardens written by David Salman, a page on patio gardening with design ideas and suggested plants written by Lauren Springer Ogden, more on rock gardening written by Panayoti Kelaidis, and a list of garden centers committed to selling Petites.

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