New plants must have a reason for being. They should be part of the concept of solution gardening, that is, what problems do they help solve in the landscape. I am sure I could wax poetic on dozens of new offerings, but I have concentrated on just a few that have caught my eye, and the eyes of many of my colleagues.
Solution: Fragrance, rose companion
I love the fragrance, the functionality, and the color of nepetas in general. We have seen a lot of dwarf forms, with corresponding dwarf blooms and vigor. I like ‘Neptune’ because it is still relatively small but provides a large flower display. All nepetas, particularly the medium to large ones, are wonderful companions to roses. And if truth be told, roses need companions.
Digitalis ‘Pink Panther,’ D. ‘Arctic Fox’
Solution: Upright form, pollinator plants
Landscapers and designers still favor foxgloves because of their upright stately form, a must for any garden design. Both these selections are sort of pink — ‘Pink Panther’ is actually rose-purple — but they both appear to be long flowering in the garden. And pollinators will bury themselves in the finger-like flowers, spreading pollen everywhere.
Heliopsis ‘Burning Hearts’
Solution: Nativar, pollinator plant
All the late-summer daisies are useful for providing color in a sometimes-tired landscape, an occurrence that commonly happens in Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern landscapes. Heliopsis has been forever big and yellow, and while this selection is certainly not dwarf, it provides vigor and handsome red and yellow flowers. It’s another late summer pollinator plant as well.
Solution: Moist areas, season-long foliage
Breeders have introduced some quite wonderful ligularias in the past, especially those with bronze foliage. ‘Pandora’ is going to be a winner because of its smaller habit (about 12-inches tall) and handsome purple foliage all season. It bears the same ugly yellow flowers, but let’s not get greedy.
Verbascum ‘Plum Smokey,’ V. ‘Dark Eyes’
Solution: Upright form, repeat flowering
Mulleins are a roadside weed, quite spectacular, but nevertheless not a plant often included in typical designs. I hesitated a little before recommending these because I wanted to see more than pretty faces. However, the faces on these selections are indeed handsome. The form is similar to digitalis, and they have shown to be repeat bloomers north of Zone 7.
Buddleia (Buddleja) Pugster Series
Solution: Pollinator plants, cut-back shrub
There is nothing new about butterfly bush, but recent hybrids have made it far more useful than the big weedy shrub of the past. Everyone loves anything with butterfly in the name, and this relatively new Pugster series will have designers and landscapers salivating. The flowers are larger than most others, and at least three colors are available. If plants do get out of hand, they may be cut back to the ground in early spring and be better than ever. For what it is worth, buddleja is the correct spelling.