Annuals, perennials, shrubs, even trees, assailed us all season. We started out viewing new plants in April at the California Spring Trials and watched these newbies and their older siblings in trials, gardens and field days. As of this writing, I just returned from Newfoundland, where I checked out new plants about as far east as this continent goes. Containers, ground beds and baskets have been filled, looked at and admired throughout this land. Here are some thoughts on the four crops that keep filling my radar screen almost everywhere I go.
A Quiet Winner: Nepeta
The genus has been around greenhouses and landscapes for many years, but in the last couple of years, breeders have expanded it and consumers have discovered it. This is one of the best plants to combine with roses and as rose sales continue, so should nepeta. It is easy to propagate and produce, looks good on the retail shelf, flowers in spring (and again, if managed properly) and is available in half a dozen cultivars.
My favorites are ‘Six Hill’s Giant,’ (old, but still excellent), ‘Walker’s Low’ (easily available, well marketed), ‘Purple Haze’ (best landscape plant with roses) and ‘Cat’s Meow’ (best compact form).
The Most Cussed (Yet Still Loved): Echinacea
I have railed about too much, too soon, with too little information, resulting in my daughter wanting to know why plants keep dying. But enough of that, you’ve heard this before: Echinaceas are fabulous — truly — but have been misunderstood by everyone. The fancy colors garnering all the attention are no longer E. purpurea, and as beautiful as the salmons, yellows and oranges may be, their vigor and perenniality have been diluted — ergo, they often do not overwinter.
As long as everyone knows that the fancy ones must have at least one winter in the container and be sold only in spring (never in the fall) and that whites and purples can be sold any time, less cussing and more loving would occur. No fear, new cultivars will continue to appear — like flowing lava, there is no stopping their advance.
My favorites are ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ (the very best for colors, and from seed), ‘Kim’s Knee High’ (old, but still excellent), ‘PowWow Wild Berry’ (best of the compacts) and ‘Colorburst Orange’ (too early for my daughter, but I have been impressed).
The Most Admired: Begonias
Wax begonias are like your best accountant — absolutely essential, but rather boring. Let’s keep them coming! The noise, however, is emanating from an unlikely source, Rex begonia hybrids. Who would have thunk? Grandma’s houseplant is now being admired in containers and even in ground beds everywhere. They will not outsell bacopa and calibrachoa, but anyone who has seen them is excited. I can’t say that for many other annuals out there. Breeding Rex hybrids is not new, but there are now enough choices and visibility that they need not be thought of as a novelty plant anymore.
My favorites are the Jurassic series (good marketing, good plants, will pave the way for others) and the Shadow series (excellent breeding, should become much more common).
The Most Exciting — New Veggies
It seems to be the new gospel that women buy flowers and men are stupid — but actually men buy vegetables. The movement of almost all breeders to enhance their veggie selections and delivery methods has everyone excited. There’s lots of potential out there. But potential is a difficult mistress. I admire the breeding for patio vegetables, and tomatoes will always rule the roost for veggie sales. Bigger fruit on small plants, huge yields on single plants and fantastic results on grafted plants. This trend is not going away any time soon.
My favorites are ‘Big League’ (decent sized fruit), ‘Rapunzel’ (this is likely fantasy land to believe they will look like the photo in my garden, but a man can dream) and the grafted tomatoes, Mighty’Mato, (incredible yield, but too expensive, hope they can reach the public).