One of the ways gardeners take heart during the long winter months is by basking in thoughts of the bigger, showier, hardier plants they will procure once spring finally arrives.
There are always lots of new plants to choose from and this story highlights some of my favourites coming on the scene. All of these plants are hardy in Atlantic Canada and are easy to maintain.
In the red-hot category is the perennial Fruit Punch ‘Marischino,’ a dianthus hybrid. These double, hot cherryred blossoms practically sizzle against the silvery blue, cool foliage. But that’s not all it has going for it: Marischino has the spicy dianthus fragrance, it blooms in flushes all summer, and it’s draught and salt tolerant. It also attracts butterflies and resists deer. You can even eat the blossoms.
Marischino grows about 25 cm tall and 30 cm wide: great for along walkways or the front of beds. It grows best in full sun to light shade, and likes loose, well-drained, neutral to slightly alkaline soil.
A cooler choice is the Perovskia atriplicifolia “Denim ’n Lace,” commonly known as a cultivar of Russian sage. The lace-like, bright sky-blue flowers attract hummingbirds and resist deer (yes, this is becoming a requirement in many areas). It’s a tall perennial with strong stems, about 70 cm high and just as wide. It works well as a border plant or a large container plant. It grows best in full sun and well-drained soil, and can withstand some drought. With a bloom time of midsummer to mid fall, the flowers are great dried or cut for bouquets.
If you are looking for real flower power, the summery ‘Berry Awesome’ rose mallow hibiscus hybrid will deliver. The huge, ruffled, lavender-pink flowers measure 20 cm in diameter, and bloom from midsummer to early fall when garden colour is limited. Although a perennial, it masquerades as a dense shrub growing up to 120 cm tall and 150 cm wide. It attracts hummingbirds, resists deer, and will grow in almost any soil. For the best flowering, plant in full sun.
Filipendula ‘Red Umbrellas’ is also known as dropwort or dwarf meadowsweet. It attracts foliage, flower, and fragrance lovers with its crimson-veined, finely cut leaves. Its umbels of fluffy pink flowers in early summer have a sweet fragrance. A midsize perennial, this one grows to 75 cm, and prefers moist (not wet) soil and six hours of sun for best performance.
In honour of Monarch butterflies, and to raise awareness of their need for habitat, you might want to plant a bed of milkweed in your garden. This year, a new cultivar is available: Asclepias ‘Monarch Promise.’ This annual has red, green, and cream foliage, with red and orange flowers. Milkweed prefers moist soils and sunshine, and groupings of plants is best for the butterflies.
With all the new varieties of coneflowers in the past several years, I didn’t think I could possibly be enticed by another until I saw Echinacea ‘Rainbow Marcella.’ Growing 45 cm tall and wide, this perennial is covered in sherbet-coloured blooms from early summer until frost. Starting out in shades of orange and yellow, the blooms age to soft raspberry pink. Each flower blooms at different stages of maturity, creating a lovely rainbow of colour.
Incredibly hardy and long lasting, this echinacea requires full sun and well-drained soil; devoid of diseases and pests, it’s great for borders, containers, mass plantings, butterfly gardens, and cut flowers.
No collection of plants is complete without roses and there is a special English rose available in 2016. One that David Austin describes as “possibly the best rose we’ve ever bred.” ‘Olivia Rose Austin’ is a landmark English Rose introduction. “It’s achingly beautiful, fragrant, and as close to disease-free as we’ve ever seen,” says Michael Marriott in a recent press release about the introduction. He’s the technical director and senior rosarian of David Austin Roses in Albrighton, England.
Marriott notes that the rose has an extraordinarily long flowering season, starting three weeks earlier than most other roses, overlapping with lilacs and wisteria, and continuing to bloom all summer until frost, with full-blown flushes of blooms that follow in quick succession.
Named after David Austin’s granddaughter, the rose has soft pink flowers in the old-rose formation, opening to a lovely cupped rosette. The medium strong fragrance has distinctly fruity tints, and the dark green foliage shows off the flowers.
For top performance in our area, roses need sun: six or more hours a day. If you have enough room in your garden, these English roses look lovely planted in tight groups of three of one variety. They will grow together and form one dense shrub.
Roses do best if they do not have to compete with other plants, particularly trees. Prepare the soil well before planting, and add lots of well-rotted manure, or slow-release fertilizer, as roses are heavy feeders. Repeat bloomers such as ‘Olivia Rose Austin’ will require feeding throughout the blooming season. Roses do not like wet roots, but do require deep watering at least once a week if there has been no rain. Mulching is beneficial to keep moisture in the soil and the ground cool.
All of these plants should be available in good garden nurseries this spring. To make certain you will find them, contact your favourite nursery in January and ask them to order the plants you want. In fact, making friends with your local nursery is one of the best decisions you’ll ever make for your garden. Staff will be more than happy to introduce you to all of the new plants available each year.