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Presenting 2013 Perennial Plant of the Year...

There may be no force in the natural world more difficult to contain than the avid gardener awaiting the arrival of spring! With the official start of spring on March 21, people are anxious to take advantage of the first balmy day to dig and plant, eager to reap their brightly-blooming rewards. While some cold-tolerant varieties may be planted in early spring, much Mid-South planting should wait until after the average frost date, April 15.

With this in mind, Memphis Botanic Garden scheduled its 2013 Spring Plant Sale on April 19 and 20, when the frost has passed and gardeners can choose from the greatest variety of annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs, and edibles to bring their gardens and landscaping to life after the long winter.  

Officially, the Garden’s sale is titled Spring’s Best Plant Sale, a moniker that holds particularly true this year, with the offering of the Perennial Plant of the Year, as designated by the Perennial Plant Association. Given the prestigious nature of this award, we should probably refer to this over-achiever by its scientific name, Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum.’ However, to gardeners who know and love this hardy specimen, it is commonly called Variegated Solomon’s Seal. There are some rather intriguing folk stories behind this name, but we’ll talk more about that later. For now, let’s discuss the reasons that this plant has long been such a favorite among gardeners worldwide, and why it works well in our local growing conditions.

Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’

Common names: Variegated Solomon’s Seal, Striped Solomon’s Seal, Fragrant Solomon’s Seal, Variegated Fragrant Solomon’s Seal

Winter hardy USDA Zones 3 to 8. Memphis is Zone 7

Partial to Full Shade.

Prefers moist, well-drained soil.  Slightly acid PH, as we have in the Mid-South, is desirable.

Average mature height is 18” to 24“.

Blooms are small, fragrant, bell-shaped flowers carried in pairs on arching stems. Its bright, variegated, ovate foliage glows, even after blooms finish in spring, making it noticeable when most other shade plants have turned green in mid-summer. It is a nice contrast to the bright colors of spring-blooming plants. In fall, foliage turns a bright canary yellow, for a final season of interest before winter.

Memphis Botanic Garden Director of Horticulture, Rick Pudwell, notes that Solomon’s Seal has no serious insect or disease problems. “I have seen it prosper next to hostas that had been decimated by voles. I highly recommend this plant as one of the best choices for the shady perennial garden.”

All of these qualities make Variegated Solomon’s Seal a useful addition to shady perennial borders, woodland gardens, or other naturalized areas. It is extremely long-lived. Plants in older gardens have remained in place for generations, forming large colonies over the years.


You’ll want to do a good job preparing your soil, because you will only need to plant this species once. If you choose to divide or move Solomon’s Seal, early spring before growth commences or fall after the first hard freeze are the best times. Plants that are grown in containers can be planted throughout the growing season, as long as care is taken to keep them well watered.  

Now, back to that name. “Solomon’s Seal” has several possible sources, dating to ancient times. One possibility is that the scar remaining after the herbaceous stalks die off in autumn resembles the wax seal on a document from times long ago. Another theory holds that the powdered roots were a remedy for broken bones, and that a poultice made from the plant had the ability to “seal” wounds. Stories and garden lore like these, while interesting, also help us to identify with our garden’s inhabitants and remind us that gardening has a long, valuable history.

Now that you’re sold on the Perennial Plant of the Year, chomping at the bits to get your hands into the dirt and add these superstars to your landscape, how about a preview of other treats that will be offered at Spring’s Best Plant Sale?

If you didn’t plant all the trees and shrubs you wanted last fall, (when roots have the mild winter season to take hold) soil will still be cool enough for these woody additions to root before the heat of summer. The variety of trees and shrubs at the Garden’s sale is impressive, and quality is top-notch, so don’t overlook this opportunity to add new bones and structure to your landscape.

  While the showy “Annuals” section of the sale is always popular, don’t miss the massive selection of shade plants and perennials, including additional variations of Solomon’s Seal. These will serve you well, year after year, in creating a lush, green oasis of your own.  Add to these the variety of vegetables, herbs, container plants, and more, and you can bet there’s not a corner of your lawn you won’t be ready to dig up and replant on the next beautiful spring day!

Spring’s Best Plant Sale will be held in the Pine Grove at Memphis Botanic Garden, 750 Cherry Road, on April 19 and 20, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is free to the public, with Garden staff and Master Gardeners to assist with plant selection and care tips.

Best of all, your purchases will help “grow” more than just your own backyard…proceeds from the sale benefit the Garden’s educational and horticultural programs. Call 901-636-4100 for more information, and we’ll see you at the Garden!

Posted by Memphis Botanic Garden at 9:42 AM


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