Each year when nurseries roll out their new plants, it makes me think of what my dad would say every time I showed him one of my new plants: “Oh, we have one a lot like that growing in the pasture.” His comment puts into perspective that there are few new plants but there are dozens, if not hundreds, of changed or improved plants sold in nurseries each year.
Desired traits in plants have changed over the years. For instance, it was all about disease resistance in the 1930s. The trend in the 1950s was for larger flowers and dwarf plants. Variegated foliage was a hit in the 1970s, while improved fall colour captivated the 1980s. More recently, drought resistance, longer bloom times, and four-season plants have captivated developers.
Nursery owner Bob Osborne of Corn Hill Nursery in New Brunswick says often the improvements or changes in new plants aren’t noticeable. “I’m looking for something that is unique about the introduction,” he says. “I don’t know if I can handle another hydrangea or coral bells. I have seen some very remarkable new introductions but have found that quite often new varieties are no better than what has come before.”
So while you may think you’ve found the answer to your gardening dream, keep an open mind and see how it does in your garden. To make sure you find the plants you are looking for, talk to your local nursery owner in January and ask them to order exactly the plant you want. This way you won’t have to drive around the country searching, and perhaps miss out entirely. And remember, what seems new to you may have been growing in your dad’s pasture all along.
Here are my top picks of plants worth checking out at your local nursery in 2015.
Little Ragu Sweet Bay (Laurus nobilis ‘MonRik’)
While this new introduction can only be container grown and brought inside for the winter in our region, it is worth the effort. The new growth of narrow leaves emerge chartreuse on unique red stems and then become a rich, sage green. You can use the fresh or dried leaves for cooking. The scent is more noticeable than other bays and will add fragrance to your home during the winter months. The plant requires plenty of sunlight and moderate watering.
Ember Waves Western Aborvitae (Thuja plicata x standishii ‘MonPin’)
This conifer is beautiful in spring and summer with bright yellow new growth tipping the older chartreuse cedar-like foliage. But fall and winter bring out its most striking feature when it turns deep gold with brilliant orange tips. Deer and disease resistant, it will do best in a zone 5B unless you have a well protected micro-climate. It can grow to seven metres tall and 2.5 metres wide and requires full sun.
Crimson Kisses Weigela (Weigela ‘Slingco 1’)
These bright lipstick-red flowers with a white eye of this weigela will stand out in most gardens. The reason to choose this weigela over others is that it blooms in spring and repeats again throughout the summer. It has a compact size of one metre high and wide, and can grow in containers.
Love Hearts Dicentra (Dicentra ‘Love Hearts’)
A small plant that grows well in a shade border, Love Hearts is special because it blooms from late spring until the first autumn frost. The blooms are heart-shaped in creamy white and edged with purple, held high above the foliage and good for cutting. It should grow well in any Maritime garden and will spread, but not become invasive.
Double Play Blue Kazoo Spirea (Spirea Double Play ‘Blue Kazoo’)
The name Double Play refers to the fact that this plant has both attractive foliage and flowers. This one has blue leaves that have new growth splashed with burgundy and wide clusters of tiny white flowers that bloom in spring. It is resistant to deer and attractive to butterflies. In autumn the leaves turn red.
Pink Wonder (Scaevola aemula)
If this annual performs as well as they say, it’ll be a show stopper. It’s easy to grow, enjoys beds or containers, blooms all summer, doesn’t need deadheading, and spreads beautifully in a bed or spilling out of a pot. However, it only grows to 33 centimetres.
MiniFamous Double Purple Calibrachoa (also known as mini petunia)
A mini rose without the thorns in a new vibrant purple colour, this annual offers a semi-trailing habit and early flowering that continues all summer long. It’s useful in beds and containers.
Montbretia (Crocosmia ‘Prince of Orange’) (Available only at Veseys in North America)
If you like orange in your garden, don’t miss this stunning new addition. Planted in full sun, it will grow to one metre tall. The brilliant orange and red flowers bloom in mid to late summer and attract butterflies like a magnet. The blooms are also good as cut flowers and the seed pods in the autumn are excellent for flower arranging as well. It is a more prolific bloomer than earlier varieties and the blooms are closer together, giving an eye-catching show. They grow from corms and should be treated like dahlias and dug up before the ground freezes and stored over winter. However, you can give one of two of them a deep mulch of branches that may allow them to over-winter outside.
Anytime Quartz Pansiola (Viola x wittrockiana)
What’s so special about another pansy? This one is heat tolerant and will bloom throughout the summer even in warm climates, and right up to a hard frost. Just plant them and forget them—except to admire them anytime during the growing season in your garden. They also do well in containers and deadheading isn’t necessary.