Toronto Star column – published May 11, 2013
“To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat.” Beverly Nichols
You have given the lawn the first couple of cuts, your spring flowering bulbs are jumping into bloom and you are thinking about all of the wonderful new plants that you are going to paint your yard with as you wade into your local garden retailers on a hunt for all that is new and inspiring. It is plant-buying season.
This means that the new introductions of annuals, perennials, and all of the woody plant material will be gracing retail shelves over the next few weeks, the sellers keenly anticipating the arrival of this years’ crop of customers. That would be you and me.
As you hone your plans for your most successful garden ever, let me help you with this run-down of what is new and interesting.
This list of ‘new’ plants is derived from the extensive trials that occurred last summer at the University of Guelph, Vineland Research and Innovation Centre in Niagara, the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, and at the head office of Landscape Ontario (the industry trade association) in Milton. As Roger Tschanz states in his report, “Many of [these plants] are new releases, some are older, but are being seen again with new eyes.”
The report is titled “Ontario Garden Idols” and can be accessed on line at http://www.landscapeontario.com/attach/1363096241.Garden_Inspiration_2013_web.pdf beginning on page 14.
I do not want to appear presumptuous about your plant knowledge, so I remind you that perennials are herbaceous plants that die down to the ground each fall and come back from their root each spring.
Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit’. I am a big fan of the whole family of Echinacea. I currently have about 200 of them in my garden, including the original Prairie native Echinacea purpurea. They are very winter hardy [Zone 2], they thrive in open sunshine, are disease and insect resistant, they attract butterflies while in bloom and small song birds when they go to seed. The new ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ features a wide colour palette: choose from creamy white, yellow, neon orange, and bright red. This variety is unusual in that it blooms reliably the first year that it is in the ground. In my experience Echinacea produce their best flowering performance after their third year. Mature height of ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ is 80 centimeters or 31 inches.
Echinacea ‘Mistral.’ This is a fun, short Echinacea selection, maturing at only 40 centimeters or 15inches. The flower is described as the ‘typical purple coneflower’ with a bloom period that runs from – get this – July to October. THAT is extraordinary. I am loading up on this one!
Anemone ‘White Swan’. A vigorous bloomer from late June into November. With a blossom period that is this long on a perennial plant, you may wonder why annual flowers are needed at all! The buttercup-shaped flowers of ‘White Swan’ are pure white, with a soft purple collar [sepal]. The flowers are held well above the foliage, which, I can tell you from extensive experience with this plant, is definitely a selling feature. ‘White Swan’ was awarded the coveted Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year in London, U.K., last year. I plan on acquiring quite of few of these for my garden.
Tickseed ‘Mercury Rising’. The name alone encourages you to want this in your garden. not the Tickseed part [who came up with that?] but the ‘Mercury Rising’. The description of this flower makes you want to eat it: “exceptionally large velvety-wine daisy-like flowers have a contrasting orange button centre, appearing from mid-summer to mid-autumn.” Zone 5: north of Toronto but not as far as Ottawa. Grows to 45 centimeters (18 inches). Loves the sun.
Heuchera ‘Little Cuties’ series. I am a big fan of Coral Bells [heuchera] and this addition to an extensive family is most welcome. ‘Little Cuties’ feature a long blooming period [notice a theme here?] from mid-May until October. They perform well in full sun, part shade or full shade [you read right]. This new series is compact, so plant it near the front of a perennial border or use in on the edge of containers. Hardy to Zone 4.
Daylily [hemerocallis] ‘Early Snow’. After the slow start to spring, a name like ‘Early Snow’ may make you want to throw up. Don’t! This one is worth bucking up for. Obviously the flower is a nearly pure snow white and they are described, based on the trials, as ‘supremely beautiful and flawless’. Whoever wrote that must be a grandparent, as the rest of us just don’t use superlatives like that even when we are really impressed with something, unless it is a grandchild of course. The outstanding flower of ‘Early Snow’ overcomes the unfortunate image that the name conjures up. Bring on the summer heat for your daylilies! The flowers mature to 18 centimeters (7 inches), which is huge. Hardy to Zone 2, north of Edmonton.
These plants, for the uninitiated, are vegetative flowering plants that complete their life cycle (from flower to seed) in one growing season. For the most part they produce more blossoms than perennial flowering plants or flowering shrubs and they flower for an extended period.
Angelonia ‘Serenita’. A unique-looking plant with flowers that look like a cross between a snapdragon and a foxglove. They bloom most of the summer in a sunny location. ‘Serenita’ is a compact grower that matures to a height of about 30 centimeters (12 inches). Soft purple with a creamy white throat.
Petunia ‘Picobella Cascade’. The petunias that you grew up with have changed [as have you, by the way]. Over recent years, plant breeders have substantially improved the duration of the flowering period and the quality of the plant. No longer do petunias need constant deadheading or a mid summer hair cut to encourage a late season flush of bloom. ‘Picobella Cascade’ is a trailing, small-flowering petunia in a range of colours that include pink, red, coral, lavender, white, purple, and salmon. In the garden they grow to 25 centimeters (10 inches) and in a pot they trail over the side with a spread of up to 50 centimeters (20 inches).
Vinca (Catharanthus) ‘Cora Strawberry’. Not to be confused with the perennial vinca periwinkle (a popular ground cover), this vinca is a winner in the annual garden. I have recommended annual vinca for years where summer-long colour is required. It is a great substitute for impatiens, especially now that they are susceptible to downy mildew, which is reeking havoc with them everywhere. ‘Cora Strawberry’ is unique for its upright growth habit and two-toned dark pink centre/pink perimeter. The equally new ‘Cora Cascade Strawberry’ has a spreading habit that makes it suitable for containers. Hint: whenever you see the word ‘cascade’ in a plant name you can be sure that it trails.
That is all that I have space for here. Assuming that your garden has enough space for some flowering shrubs and vegetables, you will enjoy my column next week when I cover what is new in those two categories.
Question of the Week
Q/ Is it necessary to aerate a lawn every spring?
A/ Aerating reduces soil compaction. If your lawn experiences heavy foot traffic, core aeration will help reduce stress on the grass plants. I like to rake sharp sand into the lawn after core aerating. The sand improves soil drainage.