Plants with Impressive LinkedIn Profiles

Penstemon 'Stapleford Gem'

The Award of Garden Merit is one of the highest accolades a plant can officially acquire under the jurisdiction of the Royal Horticultural Society. I always smile at the British understatement in the official explanation:

AGM plants are:

  • Excellent for ordinary use in appropriate conditions
  • Available
  • Of good constitution
  • Essentially stable in form & colour
  • Reasonably resistant to pests & diseases

Though the wording is restrained (I often wonder how ‘excellent’ crept in there), it’s probably fair to say that AGM is the plant world’s equivalent of an impressive LinkedIn profile. It shows that influential people are willing to vouch for the variety. 

Sadly, the runner-up award (RG) didn’t really catch on. RG plants are:

  • Possible for ordinary use in appropriate conditions
  • Quite hard to find
  • Temperamentally unsound
  • You’re unlikely to end up with what’s shown in the picture
  • Afflicted by critters and/or host to at least one debilitating disease

Ok, I confess, I was only teasing about the Rather Grotty Plant award. How many bullet points did you have to read before you caught me out?

Though I’m not entirely convinced by the methodology behind the AGM (why would a list that numbers 34 penstemons not include a single hellebore?), many of my favourite cultivars are listed – the iridescent Penstemon ‘Stapleford Gem’, for example. I imagine some plantspeople lobby for their favourites and specialities more heavily than others.

The AGM may be cautiously worded, but it gives British gardeners over 7,500 tried and tested plants with good reputations that they can consider when thinking about planting schemes. That’s not to be sniffed at.

18 Replies to “Plants with Impressive LinkedIn Profiles”

  1. I think I have bought a lot of the RG plants in my time! I do love the iridescent Penstemon – it looks gorgeous in the sunlight. I have a Penstemon in my garden that is still in flower – such an easy plant to propagate too, no idea of its name or breeding, but a lovely coral colour. I may have to treat myself to some more next year 🙂 and I also love hellebores!

    1. I have a soft spot for Penstemon ‘Thorn’ which sounds a little like the one you describe, but there are so many. ‘Thorn’ is a variable coral-blush colour on a cream background – Annie’s Annuals has a great picture of it. It was looking wonderful at Kew Gardens earlier this year too – that’s where I took the picture of ‘Stapleford Gem’.

  2. I agree with you about the lopsidedness of the AGMs. For inexperienced gardeners, plants on the list are a good starting point. Trouble is, different plants perform completely differently in different conditions. I am often surprised at the number of plants that do well for me that don’t get a look in on the prizes.

    1. You make a good point – I wouldn’t have the greatest confidence in a penstemon surviving for ten years in a Lancashire garden (or two, if I’m being honest). I’ve read that penstemons last for longer if you don’t cut them back hard too early, but I could rarely be accused of that. Even one year of beauty counts for a lot, but would an AGM lead us to expect more?

    1. You’re the second person to mention a coral one. Funnily enough I would have used a picture of a coral and cream cultivar (Penstemon ‘Thorn’), but it doesn’t have an AGM.

    1. I stand corrected! Helleborus argutifolius and foetidus do have AGMs. I would still argue that these great garden plants are under-represented. It may be due to the rapid advances of breeders and their sheer diversity – but you could say the same for other plants that have over a hundred options listed. If I was pushed to name my favourite plant ever, it would be a Helleborus sternii from Will McLewin.

      1. It does seem strange that they would only list the two most common species hellebores – almost as if to disclaim responisbility if you grow a named variety.

        1. Or it might be that they secretly think “pick any hellebore hybrid you really like the look of and you probably won’t go too far wrong”, but haven’t got an award for that.

  3. Great post. Dan’s got a good point, not all plants have been trialled – even of those that have but don’t get the award there are some famous exceptions. In the grassy world the Miscanthus trials of the 1990s ‘Malepartus’ missed out, yet, it’s still the gold standard for the genus.

    1. Trials open a whole new bag of worms. They are expensive to run and enter, and it’s hard to say how far a trial under a specific soil / climate / aspect / spraying and watering regime translates elsewhere. I’ve known the World’s Favourite Rose award raise a few eyebrows and roses that their breeder only considers to be averagely scented unaccountably winning most fragrant rose awards. Luckily decisions about plants never come under a bright public spotlight, unlike decisions about the offside rule.

  4. My sympathies on the head cold! If you fell in the RG category, I’m sure it was only briefly. Besides, a certain unsoundness of temperament is required with a head cold.

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