Susan Martin is keynote speaker on “gold-standard perennials” for the Home, Lawn and Garden Day show hosted by McLean County Master Gardeners.

The event runs 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. March 3 at Central Catholic High School in Bloomington. Registration is required at http://go.illinois.edu/HLGD.

Martin gets accolades as a freelance writer, with features in Garden Gate, Michigan Gardening, Wisconsin Gardening, Minnesota Gardener and Iowa Gardener magazines. She is best known for educating growers and gardeners about how to be successful with perennials.

Gold-standard perennials, she says, “stand head and shoulders above the rest and never have a bad day in the garden.” Her latest plant obsession is the Winter Thriller series Helleborus, commonly known as Lenten Rose. It’s one of the first perennials to bloom (possibly breaking through a layer of snow), it’s evergreen, and the flowers keep their color for a very long time. Adding deer resistance gives this plant the gold standard stamp.

Martin is inspired by the New Perennial Movement, a naturalistic approach to planting by thinking how perennials relate to each other as a community of plants.

She said, “There has been a 180-degree flip in the last 10 years. Attracting bees is now a selling point for a plant, when they once would be avoided by gardeners at all costs. However, people understand now why bees are important to the garden, but they still need to rely on science-based research for accurate information, rather than opinion-based articles and infographics.”

Martin offers the following tips when buying perennials:

  • Don’t buy diseased plants, even if they are on sale.
  • Don’t buy poorly grown plants. Even plants with the best genetics will struggle if they are overly stressed.
  • Research before you shop. Everything looks good in a greenhouse, but learn what varieties will grow best in your garden during the dog days of summer.
  • If the garden centers do not have the plants you want, ask for them by name. Their aim is to please their customers.
  • Look for a fully formed root ball with healthy white roots that are not root-bound. If you feel uncomfortable doing this, ask for help. The growers will know you are a serious customer and they will want to show off their healthy roots!

The local event will include presentations from local experts and experienced Master Gardeners. Registration includes lunch, the keynote session, and sessions with Master Gardener Coordinator Sandy Mason and Hoerr Nursery horticulturist Ella Maxwell.

Also planned are workshops, vendors and exhibitors, door prizes, and a silent auction to benefit local Master Gardener projects.

Kelly Allsup is the University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator in Livingston, McLean and Woodford counties.