Winter can be depressing. One good remedy is to have something exciting to anticipate. Among gardeners, it’s said that winter lasts from the first snow to the arrival of the first garden catalogue. I go one better. The “What’s New” lists are already appearing, so I can sort of skip winter entirely.
I’m in the wrong business. I’m too much of a plant collector. I just LOVE plants, so a trip to the nursery for a project involves bringing back more plants for me than for the customer. Not great for the budget…although it’s VERY good for building knowledge. I get to see how things really grow, where, and, more importantly, where and when not!
What’s exciting for next year’s garden? Believe it or not, an annual—Non-stop Mocha Red Begonia has caught my eye. The deep red flowers against the chocolaty-purple foliage are striking and it sets off the rich, red flowers stunningly. I took one for myself from the Landscape Ontario trial gardens and no one could believe, of all the plants there, that I liked an annual (I’m somewhat famous for my love of perennials and natives).
A nativar is a cultivar (or selected variety) of a native plant. There’s a debate in the eco-world that nativars may, or may not, be food for the same creatures that feed on the plants as they grow in the wild. Whether or not they’re perfect, they do help biodiversity, in varying degrees. They’re also real public pleasers and anything that can get natives or their offspring into gardens is good by me. A great example is the newly introduced Ginger Wine Ninebark which has dark pink seedheads, white flowers and orange-red foliage that later turns burgundy. An excellent feature for modern smaller gardens is its compact nature.
There are some amazing PeeGee Hydrangeas on the market now, including the amazingly red Diamond Rogue—a neat colour for the garden in late summer, and fall, with interesting seedheads in the winter as well. Just keep in mind that they get much larger than folks leave space for. The number of times I’ve seen them right next to a path or drive when they’re going to get eight to 12 feet high and wide, is terrifying.
I wouldn’t say everything herein is BRAND new. Some things came out last year and I’m only just confident writing about them.
It’s been a while since I got jazzed about roses, and I didn’t think it would ever happen again, but this year has TWO exciting releases. Technically, the first was released for the Canada 150 celebrations, but the Canadian Shield rose from Vineland will be more readily available this year. Deep burgundy early foliage followed by vibrant red flowers all summer make this a great plant. It has the bonus of being super hardy. Also, Sheridan Nurseries will be growing and selling the At Last rose, which looks and grows like the classic rose that we grew up with. It has salmon flowers, great disease resistance, hardiness and beautiful foliage. Many new roses are not fragrant, but this one is. I’ve been growing both these plants in my garden this summer and I’m very impressed.
In the perennial world, there’s a new Hibiscus that’s equally great for rain gardens or regular flower beds. It’s aptly named Airbrush Effect for the way the various pinks in the petals fade into each other. Be patient with them in the spring. Perennial Hibiscus are very late to emerge.
Even though some are beautiful, I really don’t trust the new varieties of Echinacea, AKA purple coneflower. They’re so heavily blooming that they often don’t have the energy to make it through the winter. If you’re going to plant them, disbud them for the first year (even though it may break your heart) and you’ll have a better chance of them overwintering. Also, if you’re planting them for butterflies or other pollinators, avoid the types with the pompom flowers. They look amazing, but all those petals stop insects from getting to the nectar and pollen.
I’m always wary of “Flower-de-Jour” syndrome. We fall for a plant, such as Goldstorm Rudbeckia, and we overplant the heck out of it, opening it up to disease problems and making us just plain tired of it. Still, the Perennial Plant Association always has a Perennial Plant of the Year. For 2017, we voted for Butterfly Milkweed, which is a phenomenal plant for Monarchs and a beautiful garden plant overall. It needs to be planted in an area with good drainage. It looks GREAT with purple coneflower. For 2018, we’ve chosen a wonderful ornamental onion by the name of Allium Millennium which blooms for weeks, has extreme drought-tolerance (as did its predecessor in 2017) and is beloved by pollinators. Check out the photos and fall in love.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I’ll probably write about it again before next summer, but this’ll get you going. I haven’t provided photos for every plant here, but if you’re reading this, you’re already online, so it’s easy to cut and paste to search for more info. At the very least, this whets your appetite to start thinking about all the new plants that we can play with in the spring, which is just around the corner. Honest!
Sean James is Milton’s Gardener. A horticultural expert, a designer, a gardener, an ecologist and teacher; one garden at a time, Sean designs and plants eco-compatible, efficient, aesthetic, symbiotic gardens using philosophies and practices that are rooted in promoting native botanicals, edibles and responsible species.