Today’s post comes from Richard Hawke, plant evaluation manager at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois, who is introducing a fabulous plant that has been named Perennial Plant of the Year.
If you’ve not heard of the Perennial Plant of the Year, now is the time to take note. Aralia ‘Sun King’ (Zones 3–9)—the 2020 winner—is the perfect introduction to the Perennial Plant Association’s signature program. Its glowing golden leaves and bodacious stature rule the shady garden. I coveted ‘Sun King’ for years but just couldn’t see how to fit it into my pint-size garden. After many wistful moments leaving garden centers empty-handed, I finally made a spot for ‘Sun King’ last year. I’m sure the half-dozen plants that lost their place might balk at my move, but I have no regrets!
‘Sun King’ is a slow starter the first year or two but with age will reach 4 to 6 feet tall and wide. It’s also a bit slow to emerge in the spring, so be patient. The large golden yellow leaves are decidedly tropical in demeanor, but ‘Sun King’ is hardy in USDA Zones 3–9.
Umbels of pollinator-friendly creamy white flowers add interest in summer.
‘Sun King’ grows best in partial to full shade, and morning sun enhances the leaf color. Consistent soil moisture guards against flagging and/or crispy leaves in dry spells or too much sunlight.
Leaves are more chartreuse than golden in deeper shade.
Whether golden yellow or chartreuse, the foliage complements an array of colors, such as the orange of this coneflower (Echinacea hybrid, Zones 5–9). The bold texture and bright leaves are great foils for shade-loving hostas, ferns, Brunnera, Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra, Zones 5–9), and Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum species).
The luminescent leaves lighten up even the darkest corners of the garden.
‘Sun King’ makes an impressive focal point, or it can be massed for a dramatic show in larger landscapes. Where in-ground space is limited, ‘Sun King’ can be easily grown in big pots.
‘Sun King’ was “discovered” by plantsman and plant explorer Barry Yinger. On one of his less daring expeditions, he found ‘Sun King’ in a garden center atop a department store in Japan. Thank you, Barry!
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