When I visit a grower or retailer, they often ask me what’s new. I have spent many years staying on top of all the new items breeders have introduced, so I am supposed to know what is new. Most of the time, however, it is the other way around. I am asking them what’s new. That growers are producing thousands of varieties and retailers have them on the bench, tells me that either I am getting older and more senile, or there are simply too many new things for one person to keep up with. I choose the latter.
New annuals fly into the market every year, but the trialing protocols for new annuals are well-established. There is only a handful of large annual breeders, and they routinely send out new material to trial grounds across the country. Keeping my hand in the annuals game is challenging, but not impossible.
On the other hand, staying abreast of new perennials is a struggle. There are many more small perennial breeders, and they cannot afford, or are not interested in, sending plants out and waiting for the three years it takes to determine the performance of a perennial. They just seem to appear.
However, as challenging as staying up-to-date is, and as many difficulties as there are in seeing trials across the country, great plants find their way to the top. At least to my top.
So here are a few of my favorites from 2014. They are not necessarily the newest, but are without a doubt, some of the finest performers.
• Angelonia: I am recommending some of the Archangel series, particularly ‘Archangel Dark Rose’ and ‘Archangel Dark Purple.’ Also, the Sungelonia series, particularly ‘Sungelonia Blue.’
• Caladiums: Still overlooked, but some exceptional ones worth considering are ‘Summer Breeze’ and ‘Blushing Bride.’
• Digiplexis: I have tried my best to ignore this plant, but people love it when it is in flower. It will be an annual in much of the country, but the Illumination series has been a good start, namely ‘Illumination Flame’ and ‘Apricot.’
• New Guinea Impatiens: I liked what I saw in the Ruffles series, particularly ‘Ruffles Red.’ The Bounce series should also sell well. I like the performance of ‘Bounce Red.’
• Otomeria: Nobody knows this plant. It looks like a cross between verbena and pentas. For excellent performance, I love ‘O’Premiera Pink,’ but the red is also eye-catching. Fabulously overlooked!
• Taro (alocasia): The tropical look will not go away. Taro is highly functional in landscapes and containers. ‘Mojito’ and ‘Mayan Mask’ are not among the newest introductions, but they keep me coming back for another look.
• Carex: I have little doubt that carex will continue to soar in popularity. There are so many from which to choose. I pick ‘Evergold’ as one ready to take off.
• Epimedium: I add this because it has been ignored for so long, and it is time to give this plant its due. I see it for sale from many more growers than ever before, so numbers are available. The varieties are all good. Start with a couple and get the finest shade groundcover on the maket today.
• Heucherella: There are now dozens from which to choose. My eyes keep resting on the Falls series, particularly ‘Sunrise Falls’ and ‘Redstone Falls.’ I also feel ‘Solar Power’ should be on everyones list.
• Panicum: It is impossible not to offer switch grass. Be sure you have ordered ‘Northwind,’ the Perennial Plant Association’s Plant of the Year. Another excellent choice is ‘Cape Breeze.’
• Schizachyrium: ‘Little Bluestem’ is one of our finest native grasses, and ‘Standing Ovation’ is one of the best.
So there you have it — some Armitage choices I’d like to see offered by growers, brokers and retailers in 2015.