Darwin Perennials Day 2018: A Must-See Perennials Trial

I recently attended the Darwin Perennials Day at Ball Seed, and what an impressive perennials trial it put together. Gathered together on a muggy, June day in West Chicago, perennial vendors and young plant producers talked with guests about new plants and new trends, trying to unearth some nuggets on both sides of the business.

But really, it’s all about the plants. Beyond the vendor tents, the perennials trial awaited review and revel. The plants were laid out in raised beds, clearly labeled as to variety, breeder, and planting date. Our host, Darwin Perennials (which has posted its own recap of the event), was front and center with its new introductions. Leland Toering, Sales and Marketing Manager at Darwin Perennials, walked our team through and provided us with insight and information on what Darwin thinks will be its best new plants.


Here are my favorites:

Coreopsis ‘Super Star’ – This is the most exciting new coreopsis I’ve seen in years. Huge flowers, up to 2½ inches in diameter, significantly larger than anything else on the market, covered this beauty. All of the plantings here had a perfect habit, with attractive foliage, about 12 inches tall and wide, that will eventually reach about 16 inches tall and wide by the end of the season. It is not part of a series, and I was told that it is both frost and heat tolerant. The plugs were not vernalized and were planted in March of 2018. The plants were absolutely covered in blooms. ‘Super Star’ is an all-summer bloomer, not stopping until November. It is ideal for most of the country, being cold hardy in Zones 5 to 9.

Coreopsis ‘Electric Sunshine’ – This is a gorgeous plant with a strong, upright habit, attractive thread-like foliage, and covered with blooms of a beautiful soft, lemon yellow and a contrasting red eye-ring. If this was hardy north of Zone 8, it would be my favorite, but it isn’t. Tender coreopsis have been available in the past, but they have never been successfully added to growers’ annual or color programs. If ever there was one to try it again with, ‘Electric Sunshine’ is the one. It’s big and bold, growing up to 24 inches tall, and ever-blooming.

Iberis amara ‘Summer Snowdrift’ – Although it looks similar to the old-fashioned Candytuft that was once a staple in the trade, it is a completely different animal. It is later blooming, with flowers starting about the time the old-fashioned one stops, and continuing all summer. It was striking and attractive enough to make an impression. It has a tidy, mounding habit, growing 12 inches tall and wide, with rich green foliage that doesn’t brown out with a frost. Plants are first-year flowering with no vernalization needed. ‘Summer Snowdrift’ makes an attractive and interesting annual in the North and a short-lived perennial in the South. It is hardy in Zones 6 to 9.

Echinacea ‘Sombrero Tres Amigos’ – It was a little early in the season to evaluate echinaceas, and the ‘Tres Amigos’ were still on the small side, but the plants appeared to have great vigor. The yesterday, today, and tomorrow feature of the flowers was just starting to show. I like the look and think they are going to be a hit at retail and in gardens. The Sombrero series has been one of the most reliable groups of coneflowers for finishing reliably and consistently, wintering well in Northern gardens, and being even across the series for habit, bloom time, and vigor.

Salvia nemorosa ‘Marvel Rose’ – This was introduced last year and didn’t get a tremendous amount of attention. It was by far the most impressive salvia in the trials, and Ball was comparing salvias from a number of different breeders. The large flowers are an attractive rose-pink and contrasted beautifully with the green-gray, heavily textured foliage. The habit is nearly perfect. I think it’s time to give this one a second look. I know that I’ll be recommending it.

New Perennials From Kieft Seed
Kieft Seed, a part of PanAmerican Seed, was also represented in the perennials trial. Several of their new introductions stood out to me:

Coreopsis grandiflora ‘Double the Sun’– The very earliest blooming coreopsis, this is sure to be a future best-seller. It is two to three weeks earlier to bloom than ‘Early Sunrise’ and other cool-season flowering forms. It has a compact habit, growing 12 to 14 inches tall and wide, with attractive medium-green foliage and semi-double golden blossoms. This will be an ideal choice for quart and gallon production, with a reliably quick crop time of five to seven weeks from a plug.

Dianthus Rockin’ Series – Dianthus ‘Rockin’ Red,’ the new Sweet William intro from last year, turned out to be a surprisingly strong seller. It’s easy to grow, first-year flowering with no vernalization required, and has an attractive habit and show-stopping color. Now PanAmerican Seed is adding more colors, with ‘Rockin’ Purple’ and ‘Rockin’ Rose Magic.’ These could be an excellent addition for both annual and perennial producers for early and mid-spring color sales.

 Leucanthemum ‘Madonna White’– Planned for a 2020 introduction, this seed-grown, first-year flowering Shasta daisy looks to have it all. Plants had compact habits of attractive, dark-green foliage, with pure white, gold-centered daisies held just above the leaves. They have such a perfect appearance that I could see them being sold as an annual, perennial, or color crop in quarts. And with no vernalization required, the costs for production will be minimal, too.

This is my fourth trip to visit the trials at Darwin Perennials Day, and every year the perennials trials have been better planned and executed. As well as the presentation has become, I think this is turning into one of the can’t-miss perennials trials for the U.S.