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Originally published Friday, February 15, 2013 at 12:01 PM

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Great Plant Picks thrives as our go-to source for what works

A talented team of nursery people, designers and plant breeders comes together twice yearly to cull plants for the program.

Special to The Seattle Times

Local news partner - Plant Talk

Valerie Easton writes in her blog about gardens and the people who make them.

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FOR A DOZEN years now, plant experts have gathered to fiercely debate over what plants are stellar performers here in the Northwest. The Great Plant Picks program has compiled a highly curated collection of 910 exceptional plants chosen specifically for our climate and growing conditions. Can there be any decent ones left to choose for 2014 and beyond?

Not a problem, according to Richie Steffen, curator at the Miller Botanical Garden. His enthusiasm is reflected in the talented team of nursery people, designers and plant breeders who gather twice yearly to cull plants for the program. Volunteers all, the committee members are every bit as keen to evaluate and tussle over which plants to recommend as they were on Day 1.

Great Plant Picks debuted here in Pacific NW magazine in February 2001 and has gone on to become both an interactive website (www.greatplantpicks.org) and a partner of The Seattle Times, which designs and produces the annual GPP poster, also included in today's magazine.

GPP criteria are all about grow-ability and availability:

• All plants nominated have to be hardy in USDA Zones 7 and 8.

• Selected plants must be long-lived, interesting in more than one season, reasonably disease- and pest-resistant, and refrain from spreading about too aggressively.

• GPP picks must be vigorous and easy to grow by a gardener of average experience.

• Committee members don't just sit around talking plants. Over the years, the program has set up evaluation sites at nurseries and public gardens. "We've been watching these plants long enough now to distinguish between them to determine which ones are best," says Steffen.

• The GPP website has been redesigned; depend on it like a trusted buddy who reminds you what really is good for you, no matter the temptation of the untried and untested.

Yearly themes draw together new and old picks that fit specific garden situations and dilemmas. "With higher-density housing, gardening space has decreased, along with our time to devote to it," explains Steffen of this year's "Big Impact-Small Spaces" theme. Check out the poster for plants that are compact, slender and low-growing enough to work well in tight areas, as well as tough enough to tolerate less-than-perfect urban conditions. You can pick up a free poster at Booth No. 2154 anytime during the show.

The 2013 roster includes 82 new picks. Here's a sampling; find complete descriptions and photos on the GPP website.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "petal & twig." Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.

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