2007 Introductions: Perennials, The thrill of discovering new plants every spring never fades

2007 Introductions: Perennials

The thrill of discovering new plants every spring never fades


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Kym Pokorny for The Oregonian


They say nothing in life is a sure thing except death and taxes.

We beg to differ.

The arrival of new plants each spring is equally certain and far more pleasant.

Even if we didn’t have 3 gazillion plant breeders and collectors to bring us the newest and coolest, we’d still get a parade of plants each year. Without any help, nature serves us surprises through natural selection and mutants.

As you walk the aisles of your garden center, you may feel as if every combination imaginable has already been developed. Such an idea! How would we cope without the knowledge that not only spring comes every year, but so do the new perennials?

New may not necessarily be better, but it sure is exciting.

Just like spring.

Acanthus mollis ‘Tasmanian Angel’ (variegated bear’s breeches): Judging from the Northwest Flower & Garden Show, the first variegated bear’s breeches is set to take gardeners by storm. Even for those of us who don’t like Acanthus, this baby is a must to bring brightness and unusual texture to shady gardens. Just enough white variegation makes it so much more interesting than the plain green ones. Tall stalks of pink and cream flowers appear in late summer. Give it moist but well-drained soil. Stock is still fairly limited, so prices will be high. Forms 2-by-2-foot clump in three years. Zone 4. (Terra Nova, Xera Plants)

Anemanthele lessoniana (wind grass, gossamer grass): A very pretty ornamental grass from New Zealand. Green under normal circumstances, it colors up to sunset shades in winter or if drought-stressed in summer. Throws up feathery flowers in late summer. Totally worthy of a place in your garden — if you can find it. Can take some shade, but best color in full sun. Gets about 3 feet tall, 4 feet wide. Zone 8. (Rare Plant Research)

Baptisia x variicolor ‘Twilite Prairieblues’ (false indigo): Introduced after six years of development by the Chicago Botanic Garden, this new Baptisia has the benefit of strong stems that stay upright even in strong winds. If that’s not enough, this member of the pea family cranks out the flowers (violet with yellow bottom petals) — as many as 100 spikes a season, which lasts from mid-May through June. Full sun. 3-5 feet tall, 4-5 feet wide. Zone 4. (Log House)

Coreopsis ‘Jethro Tull’ (tickseed): We’re not sure if this is named after the rock band or the 18th-century agriculturist, but we’ll take it either way. A two-month (June-August) blooming season offers plenty of time to enjoy the unusual flowers with fluted yellow petals. Deadhead to keep plant blooming. Full sun. Wider (18 inches) than tall (12-15 inches), this compact Coreopsis makes a good ground cover. (Skagit Gardens)

Cotyledon ‘Chalkstick Fingers’: As we move into the Year of Succulents (our prediction), this pretty thing from South Africa will find a home in many a garden. Spiky, bluish-silver foliage nicely sets off the pink flowers. If planted in a well-drained southern aspect and protected in winter, it can grow into a small shrub. Full sun. Zone 9. (Rare Plant Research)

Delphinium elatum ‘Chocolate’: What’s your fancy? Dark chocolate? Milk chocolate? White? Oh, why choose? Have it all with a new English delphinium in delectable shades of brown and cream. The eye-candy blooms, some veined, some picoteed or stippled, some swirled with color, wink from strong, statuesque stalks up to 8 feet tall. Blooms from June through July. Don’t worry, these treats are calorie-free. Plant in sunny but not baking-hot spot in rich, well-drained soil. 6-8 feet tall. Zone 3. (Log House exclusive)

Drimia maritima syn. Urginea maritima (sea squill, sea onion): At the size of a soccer ball, the bulb is dramatic enough. But wait till you see this Mediterranean giant bloom. The lilylike foliage dies down as summer wears on, and then a 4- to 5-foot stalk emerges with hundreds of fragrant, star-shaped white flowers with prickly white stamens. Plant this puppy and amaze your friends! Full sun. Zone 9 if grown elevated in a container; Zone 8 if planted in fast-draining soil. (Available in the Northwest for the first time at Rare Plant Research’s open house May 19-20.)

Echinacea purpurea ‘Green Envy,’ Echinacea ‘Tiki Torch’ and Echinacea ‘Summer Sky’: The race for Echinacea supremacy continues at a fast clip. Can we get enough? Not yet, apparently. Here are three to hit the market this year that we think are worth your attention. ‘Green Envy’ (3-4 feet tall and wide) takes a cool approach with bright green, rounded petals with an orange blush near the deep green button cone. Lightly scented. ‘Tiki Torch’ (24 inches tall and wide) is the darkest of the orange offerings and comes complete with a big cone also tipped with orange. Spicy scent. The newest in the Big Sky series and the first bicolor coneflower, ‘Summer Sky’ (30-36 inches tall, 18-24 inches wide) is centered with an orange cone with light orange petals overlaid with a rose halo. The most fragrant in the series. Plant all in full sun. Give plenty of fertilizer and water. All Zone 4. ‘Green Envy’ (Log House); ‘Tiki Torch’ (Terra Nova); ‘Summer Sky’ (Xera)

Erysimum ‘Jenny Brook’ (wallflower): Discovered in 2001 on the west coast of Wales, this charmer can’t help but catch your eye. The clusters of multicolored flowers bloom in pastel shades of pink, peach and lavender that are so pretty we want to paint our bedrooms in these colors. Give this hardworking perennial a prominent spot in the sun because it’ll bloom for you from spring into late fall. 18-24 inches tall. Zone 7. (Log House)

Euphorbia ‘Glacier Blue’ and ‘Shorty’ (spurge): Which Euphorbia will you grow? It would be fun to try them all, but that’s a bit impractical. Instead, focus on two new ones: ‘Glacier Blue,’ a compact, icy beauty with cream-edged blue foliage and flower bracts that echo the foliage and add to the show February through May. Or ‘Shorty,’ another, duh, short plant, but this one with blue-green foliage that softens to a softer green with red tips in fall. Color intensifies in winter, and bright yellow flowers appear March through May. ‘Glacier Blue’ is 12-15 inches tall, 18 inches wide. ‘Shorty’ is 15-18 inches tall, 15 inches wide. Both prefer full sun and are hardy to Zone 7. (Skagit Gardens)

Gaillardia ‘Dakota Reveille’ (blanket flower): Sunrise, sunset. You choose the time of day, and this blanket flower will give you the colors. A tight center bud starts out an incredible lime green with red tips before opening into big, round flowers densely filled with red-throated, trumpet-shaped golden petals. Compact and mounding habit makes it a great border or container plant. Long blooming and great for cut flowers. Birds love the seed heads in fall. Full sun. 20-24 inches tall. Zone 3. (Log House)

Heuchera ‘Midnight Rose’ (coral bells): After complaining bitterly the past couple of years about the number of Heuchera cultivars on the market, we’ve decided to shut our yaps. Yes, there is a reason for a new Heuchera, and the evidence is right here. We’ve never seen another like it (and we’ve seen lots). The cabernet-colored foliage is speckled and spotted with a sprightly rose pink. Flowers? Who really cares. But if you must know, they’re insignificant wands of cream. 10 inches tall, 16 inches wide. Sun to part shade. Zone 4. (Terra Nova)

Musa ‘Brown’s Red’ (banana): Not the best name ever, but we can forgive that after a glimpse at the gorgeousness of this red-splashed banana. Not exactly hardy, we included it anyway because, well, just because. Burl Mostel of Rare Plant Research, which is introducing it to the West Coast, says ‘Brown’s Red’ is an improvement over Musa zebrina. We say go for it. Excellent for containers. Full sun. 7 feet tall. Zone 10, but its relatively short stature makes it far easier to overwinter in the house than taller cultivars. (Rare Plant Research)

Petasites frigidus var. palmatus ‘Golden Palms’ (golden coltsfoot): Want to catch someone’s attention? Plant this moisture-loving ground cover that startles the world when it sends up 1-foot-wide metallic golden “palms” in early spring. Give it part sun for best shimmering color. Will be difficult to find, but persevere and be rewarded. 12 inches tall, spreading. Zone 6. (Terra Nova)

Salvia nemorosa ‘Sensation Rose’ (sage): A very hardy new dwarf salvia that perks up the front of borders or containers. Strong stems hold really nice rose-pink flowers that attract bees and butterflies. Full sun. 10-12 inches tall, 12 inches wide. Zone 4. (Skagit Gardens)


Log House Plants (www.loghouseplants.com), Rare Plant Research (www.rareplantresearch.com), Skagit Gardens (www.skagitgardens.com), Terra Nova Nurseries (www.terranovanurseries.com) and Xera Plants are wholesale growers that supply nurseries and garden centers throughout Oregon and Washington. Log House and Terra Nova list retailers on their Web sites. In addition to supplying retail garden centers, Rare Plant Research opens to the public once a year (see Web site). To make sure the plant you want is stocked, call ahead to your favorite garden center. Often, if they don’t have what you’re after, it can be ordered.